In a subgenre governed by eight-month development cycles and yearly releases, there isn’t a lot of changeover from year to year. Not 2010. With high-profile cancellations like NBA Elite, bold new challengers like Backbreaker, and the return of classic franchises like NBA Jam (awesome reboot) and Tecmo Bowl (less awesome), this year sports games almost generated as much news and controversy as the moribund 2010 Minnesota Vikings. While not every title rose to the occasion and many kept running in place, several titles elevated their game with long-requested new features, jaw-dropping graphics, and even web integration. Read on to see which games earned our year-end sports awards.

Best Franchise Mode: NBA 2K11

With many of the finer details already in place, this year Visual Concepts’ Association mode received a subtle makeover in several areas. The new trade finder helps find willing suitors to unload a troubled player or unwanted contract. The draft day features more trade activity than ever before. The AI-controlled teams are more aware of when they should be starting a fire sale, collecting young players for rebuilding, or grabbing a veteran player to make a title run. Add the dynamic commentary that’s smart enough to call out player and team streaks, slumps, and trades, and you have a fantastic mode for basketball aficionados.

Best Career Mode: MLB 10: The Show

No career mode does a better job of mimicking the career path of a professional athlete than MLB’s Road to the Show. From your Double A debut to your last at-bat in the majors, the game keeps you hooked with an addictive experience system. Since the game lets you skip to your next mound visit or plate appearance, you can burn through seasons and reach the end of your career without playing thousands of nine-inning games. Though many of the defining characteristics for this mode remain in place from earlier iterations, new improvements this year include the ability to call a game as a catcher, the inclusion of All-Star festivities like the Home Run Derby, and a new career stat-tracking system that keeps tabs on your performances against every team.

Up next, the multiplayer game of the year, and accolades for the best presentation.