The lights are on
In many ways, this past console generation was a brutal one for sports video games. While other genres flourished, sports gamers were subjected to an irreversible thinning of the herd during the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360/Wii era, losing MLB 2K, 2K Sports football, NHL 2K, both NCAA basketball franchises, and seeing arcade sports games all but vanish. Competition, which breeds innovation, is weaker than ever. But that’s not to say some standout games didn’t arrive as well.
Given the much smaller pool of games, picking 10 titles to celebrate in the sports category was tough when following our End of an Era rule of excluding multiple entries from the respective franchises. If we took the other approach, the list would be littered with multiple entries from the MLB, NBA 2K, and FIFA series. We feel the final list presented here is much more interesting. If you're looking for action sports entries like SSX, Tony Hawk, and Skate, you won't find them here. For better or worse, Game Informer has traditionally classified those as action games.
Without further delay, here are our 10 best sports games of the generation.
10. College Hoops 2K8
The death of college basketball games hasn't killed the spirit of the final offering from 2K Sports. Thanks to the 2K Share functionality that allows players to create rosters and upload them for others to download, players continued to update the game well after its first year. Even after 2K shut the servers down, passionate fans have found new avenues to share rosters for each season. The signature 2K presentation featuring ESPN, an updated passing system, and the recruiting system keeps players coming back for more – as well as the fact that nobody is making new games to service this fan base.(Read our full review)
9. All Pro Football 2K8
After EA locked up NFL exclusivity and killed off the fantastic NFL 2K series, Visual Concepts eventually left the gridiron. Before it did, however, the developers made one last game centered on a fantastic idea – building an ultimate team of NFL legends. The single-player mode and lack of NFL insignias hurt the game, but it shined online as users created diverse rosters showcasing greats like Barry Sanders, Joe Montana, and Deacon Jones. We’d love to see this idea revisited with a deeper roster of players and all-star teams for each pro franchise. (Read our full review)
8. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters
While Tiger Woods the golfer has struggled in recent years, Tiger Woods the video game has fared better. The Masters edition is our favorite edition of the past generation for many reasons. The introduction of caddies and a unified career structure made a big difference. EA integrated Tiger Challenges directly into the career path, and tied equipment upgrades to meeting sponsorship challenges. (Read our full review)
7. Madden NFL 13
EA Tiburon got off on the wrong foot with Madden NFL 06, and despite the lack of competition, the studio was seemingly playing from behind for most of this console generation. Some incremental improvements helped the game find its footing toward the end of the era, but no change was more welcome than the introduction of Connected Careers in Madden 13. Featuring a news hub keeping you abreast of league news, social media chatter, online franchises with a full-fledged feature set, and a new RPG-style player progression, Connected Careers is a good foundation for EA to continue to build on with future franchise modes. (Read our full review)
6. MLB 11: The Show
No series demonstrated more consistency over the course of the generation than The Show. Each subsequent year honed the fantastic animations, excellent broadcast presentation, and addictive single-player mode that has you play your way through the minors and into major league ballparks. We give MLB 11 the nod over the other entries thanks to the introduction of analog controls for hitting, pitching, and fielding.(Read our full review)
[Read on to find our where franchises like NBA 2K and FIFA rank.]
Email the author Matt Bertz, or follow on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and Game Informer.