2011 Sports Game Of The Year Awards

by Matt Bertz on Dec 27, 2011 at 04:00 AM

As is to be expected at this juncture in the console cycle, most of the development teams working on sports games are in their comfort zone, making subtle tweaks to pre-existing foundations rather than making wholesale changes or introducing big idea innovations. This was reflected in our reviews, as MLB 2K11 and Madden NFL 12 were the only major sports games that scored under an 8.0 from Game Informer this year. MLB 11: The Show introduced analog pitching. Tiger Woods solidified its career mode and included The Masters for the first time ever. The criminally underrated NHL series took a slight step back, but still offers a good experience for hockey fans. FIFA had a banner year, and NBA 2K12 would have if it weren't for the league lockout and the embarrassingly broken online experience. Read on to see which games earned our year-end sports awards. 

Best Franchise Mode: NCAA Football 12

No franchise mode made a drastic leap in quality this year, but NCAA Football 12 tweaked Dynasty mode’s solid foundation with a long-requested feature that injected coaching drama into the mix. The coaching carousel allowed users to start as an offensive or defensive coordinator and work their way into a head coaching offer by producing results on the field. Combine this with a deep recruiting system that accurately distributed talent across the teams and the ability to customize conferences, and you have a mode worthy of praise.

Best Career Mode: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12: The Masters

Centering the career mode on The Masters tournament finally gave Tiger Woods PGA Tour a cohesive structure that chronicles your rise from amateur to PGA Tour champion. Players start in the amateur ranks and must perform well to work their way onto golf’s biggest stage. The revamped sponsorship system demands you perform at a certain level to preserve your contract, and EA finally introduced the mid-round save so you don’t have to finish a leg of a tourney in one sitting.

Best Multiplayer: FIFA 12

No sports game made bigger advances in online competition this year than FIFA. Though the popular Virtual Pro Clubs and Ultimate Team mode went virtually untouched, EA Canada drastically overhauled the interface for head-to-head matchups. Now users can choose their teams, kits, and lineup changes before jumping in an online match, and the matchmaking is smart enough to pair you with a team of similar quality, which encourages fans of less-talented teams like, say, Leeds United, to take their favorite squad online. Top it off with a clever Support Your Club feature that tracks which team supporters most fervently play FIFA, and you have the makings for a destination online experience. 

Best Presentation: NBA 2K12

No other sports game came close to matching the superb broadcast-quality presentation of NBA 2K12. Steve Kerr joined legacy commentators Kevin Harlan and Clark Kellogg in the booth this year, and the chemistry between the three is fantastic. Conversations flow naturally, and when a big play happens in the middle of a discussion, the team will turn its attention to the tide-changing moment and eventually work its way back to the previous topic at hand. In Association mode the commentary also addresses league happenings, player streaks, and trades. The innovative NBA’s Greatest mode also scores big points for recreating the broadcast to match the era of the highlighted legendary teams.

Best New Feature: Precision Dribbling – FIFA 12

It seems like such a small tweak, but FIFA’s new precision dribbling mechanic is the biggest game changer the series has had since the collision system was introduced. In past iterations, it was tough to keep control in traffic because players dribbled carelessly, leaving the ball ripe for interception. The new high-fidelity system introduces touch to the equation, allowing skilled dribblers to maneuver in small spaces more effectively to buy precious seconds, locate a pass target, find a shot opening, or turn a defender.

Best Gameplay: NBA 2K12

Nearly every sports game outside of Madden had a legitimate shot at the best gameplay award this year, but NBA 2K12 takes home the award thanks to is easy-to-use but difficult-to-master controls. NBA 2K12 didn’t make any drastic overhauls over last year's superb entry; instead Visual Concepts tightened the controls to make the players feel more responsive. Player collisions look more natural, it’s easier to string together a sequence of impressive dribbling and shooting moves, the post game feels more organic, and the deep player-centric playcalling system ensures that teams attack the basket like they would in real life. Those unfamiliar with the vast array of dribbling, shooting, and post moves can learn them step by step in the newly added tutorial.

Biggest Disappointment: NBA 2K12 Online

Heavy lag. Problematic matchmaking. Frequent disconnections. No My Crew. No legendary teams. Stringent Online Association rules. The list of complaints about NBA 2K12’s online approach is long and embarrassing. Developer Visual Concepts has since cleaned up some of the issues, but once again the otherwise solid sports franchise struggled in one of the most important areas where fans like to spend their time. If it weren’t for this huge letdown, NBA 2K12 may have walked off the court holding the Sports Game of the Year trophy. 

Sports Game of the Year: FIFA 12

EA producer David Rutter promised that FIFA 12 would be revolutionary, and he wasn’t far off. It doesn’t rewrite the book on soccer games, but this year’s iteration performs like a well-oiled Ferrari. The gameplay benefits greatly from the new precision dribbling and a revamped impact engine that produces more varied results when players collide. With strong presentation, an improved career mode, and best-in-class online functionality, FIFA 12 proves that EA Canada is the Barca F.C. of sports game developers.

What was your Sports Game of the Year? Sound off in the comments section below.