The lights are on
The game changes when teams enter the playoffs. The stakes are higher
and players can finally see the championship, a goal their team has been
fighting for all season, in reach. Whether it's hockey's coveted Stanley Cup or
the NFL's Vince Lombardi Trophy, every player in their respective sport strives
for the chance to say they've won the biggest honor of all.
We're currently in the midst of hockey and basketball playoffs, and
comparing any of these games to a regular season match just doesn't measure the
intensity, pageantry, or hardship. Teams fight all season to just to get
admission into the championship rounds, but once in they must prove themselves
all over again. I've been struck by just how much more exciting these games
are, and I've yet to see this executed well in a sports game. Sure, games like
NHL 10 and MLB 13: The Show attempted playoff/postseason modes, but they failed
to fully capture the intensity. Playoff games in video games have often been
anticlimactic, and I want more developers to strive to make me feel the tension
of these important bouts.
Don't get me wrong. Sports games have tried to make winning it all feel
celebratory with cutscenes, trophy presentations, and even White House visits.
That's all fine and dandy - but I want to feel a difference in the actual
matches. The road through the playoffs, and especially the final contest,
should feel much different from regular season games from a gameplay
perspective. This feels like a missed opportunity for sports games. Matches should
play out more fiercely. Ramp up the difficulty (without resorting to catch-up
AI), make the hits harder, and let the players showboat more. Heck, include
some heated exchanges. Allow the rivalries to build. Most importantly, get the virtual fans more involved.
Many sports games have tried to capture crowd involvement to some
degree, but it always feels empty, only half-realized. For instance, EA's NHL
lets fans boo an opposing competitor who deals an injury to a hometown player
throughout the series. But other than that, the crowd hardly has an impact on
the game, except for a worn-out "We want the cup" drone. The generic chanting
just isn't enough. I want crowds more involved when penalties are called, when
fights break loose, and completely erupt when their team scores or just misses.
Virtual fans should play a bigger part in a team's celebrations and defeats,
with villains and heroes on the field or the ice.
Crowd momentum can be a major factor in the playoffs, so I'd love to see
it more explored in sports game. Think about it. If you're playing terribly,
maybe part of the challenge is to win the crowd back, whether it's engaging in
a fight, landing a huge sack, or going on a scoring run when the crowd has lost
hope. Vice versa, if you're the away team, your goal could be to take the
hometown fans out of the game. Some sort of momentum meter would definitely
make games more interesting and small bonuses could arise from it, like
increasing a player's ability to take a hit or boosting their speed for a short
time. Right now, I love how NBA 2K crowds boo loudly while the opposing team
shoots their free throws, akin to a real game. More touches like these and
bigger crowd reactions during matches could make all the difference. Even in
FIFA, adding Tifos to the crowd would capture some of the spirit, since these
displays are much more likely in rivalry and important matches.
Developers also should take more advantage of using press headlines to
showcase some of the playoff drama. The playoffs are full of ups and downs,
after all. I liked how NHL noted before a game if a popular player isn't making
an impact, but having a mere sentence while a game is loading isn't enough.
Hold a press conference. Give the player or coach a chance to respond to this
accusation. NBA 2K is getting there, especially in its My Player mode, where
you approach press conferences with different temperaments and chalk up your
successes and failures to various factors.
Unfortunately, as I played through My Player, the headlines and press conferences
felt generic throughout the playoffs. The press would note if I had a good
game, but the intense pressure that's put on a star player during the playoffs
was never completely captured. If I underperformed during a game, I wanted to
see it reflected, showing that the stakes are higher. Even after in My Player I
took a team at the bottom (The Cavaliers) to win the Larry O'Brien Championship
Trophy, he still didn't get recognition or fanfare the press usually floods a
player integral to the championship win. Think back to Michael Jordan's
victories with the Chicago Bulls. The chants. The legacy. His name and face
were everywhere. During the same time, an underrated player, Steve Kerr made a
name for himself as a surprise playoff factor and earned plenty of press
because of it. Let the limelight of the playoffs show.
No matter how you slice it, there's a special excitement that comes
around playoff time. These games are hard fought, overflowing with passion, and
chock-full of intensity. Every time I play these types of matches in sports
games, I just don't find the same level of fervor or competitiveness. Sure,
it's just a video game, but shouldn't these matches at least feel somewhat
different than the regular season ones? Shouldn't I have to fight harder, up my
game even more? I want to feel like I've made it through the laborious battle,
bruised and beaten - only to overcome the odds and be crowned the ultimate
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.