best of 2015

2015 Sports Games Of The Year Awards

by Matthew Kato on Jan 13, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Now that we're out of the growing pains phase of the new home consoles, sports games are also hitting their stride. 2015 was a good all-around year for sports titles (no matter which platform you're on), offering entirely new experiences, the improvement of old favorite franchises, and plenty of modes and types of gameplay to sate everyone.

Check out the various sports categories below, and also be sure to take a look at our overall Best Games of 2015 list as well as what you the readers picked.

Best New Feature: Air Supremacy – Madden NFL 16

Madden's new passing icons (allowing you to command receivers to catch the ball on the run, make a spectacular grab, or go for a secure catch) make a big difference in the passing game. Making the right decision can translate into big gains while the wrong one can limit a play's effectiveness or worse. The passing icons are also balanced relatively well (still a few too many spectacular catches, though), are optional, and do a great job surfacing more of this year's cool-looking animations and tackles.

Best Graphics: NBA 2K16

The player models – from the heads to the bodies themselves – are great-looking, but that's not the only work that's been done to make this title shine. The crowds (and their reactions), arenas, light reflections on the court, and bench players also lend to the game's sheen. 

Best Presentation: NBA 2K16

Along with its superior graphics, NBA 2K16 also impresses with its overall presentation package. From pre- and post-game shows, stat callouts, replays, player interviews, and cutscenes, NBA 2K16's presentation puts a wrapper around the gameplay that helps bring the action to life. Kudos also to Madden this year, whose dynamic stat presentation and on-field cameras were a standout.

Best Gameplay: Rocket League

For all the sports games with byzantine control schemes and the attached marketing names, Rocket League blew us away with its simple-yet-addictive gameplay that was immediately fun yet also deep (check out this video of some GI editors going up against some pros to see what you can do in the game). The car handling works in concert with the ball physics to give you the feeling that anything's possible and this is a sport you've been playing all your life, without being cheap, unbalanced, or unrealistic. Yes, indoor soccer with cars is a totally realistic thing.

Best Online/Multiplayer: Rocket League

Rocket League's fun gameplay naturally also lends itself nicely to online competitive play with and against friends. The game supports eight-player action (with various configurations), online/offline splitscreen play, and cross-platform play between PC and PS4 gamers.

Best Fantasy Team Mode: Madden NFL 16

Madden's version of the Ultimate Team card-collecting mode has been coming along slowly the past couple years, and Madden 15 did well by overhauling its interface. This year's version adds the Draft Champions feature, which is great for quickly dropping in to draft and play a few games – including the post-release option to play with friends. On top of that, the regular Madden Ultimate Team mode continues to add to its bevy of collections and challenges, always giving you a new reason to build up towards a coin jackpot. Kudos in this category also have to go out to MLB: The Show 15's Diamond Dynasty, which lets you customize your players and sacrifice cards for a stat boost. Unfortunately, it's online performance can be a little shaky.

Keep reading for more platitudes for this year's sports titles...

Best Franchise Mode: NBA 2K16

This year's game added a multi-layered relocation system to its MyGM mode, including the ability to design your new arena, logo, and jersey. Your march toward building an everlasting dynasty will also be consumed by changing ticket prices and participating in offseason events like the summer league and Hoops Summit. Overall, this is a more absorbing portrayal as opposed to being an owner in Madden's Connected Franchise mode, which has changed little since it was reintroduced a few years ago.

Best Career Mode: NBA 2K16

If being a GM in NBA 2K16 isn't your thing, controlling the destiny of a single player in the game is fulfilling as well. Even though Spike Lee's crafted story for Frequency Vibrations wasn't as good as we hoped, once you get out of this forced beginning to the MyPlayer mode, you're free to bring your created-player to superstardom along with purchasing his clothes, managing endorsements, and interacting with NBA players. Rival EA has dropped Be a Pro modes into many of its sports franchises, but has not done near enough to compete with NBA 2K's version of the mode.

Biggest Disappointment: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 5

The Tony Hawk series is one we still hold dear due to our memories of the gameplay of past titles, but this revival of the classic formula is unable to match or better its predecessors. Not only is the gameplay not as good, but apart from some decent levels, its level goals and overall structure are mundane. Gamers were primed for this comeback, but it biffed.

Most Improved: NBA 2K16

Finally, an online portion of an NBA 2K that works as intended, letting players play an online franchise or the Ultimate Team-like MyTeam mode. The online team play of Pro Am had to be patched after a hiccup at launch, but NBA 2K16's online definitely progressed, helping the title reach its tremendous potential. 

Best Post-Launch Support: Rocket League

Rocket League didn't come out of the gates with an extreme amount of content, but it more than made up for it due to developer Psyonix's continual updating of the game for free. This includes maps, visual components for your car, and new modes and arenas. Psyonix also released Mutators – options through which you can change the rules of a custom match.

About Damn Time Award: FIFA 16

FIFA 16's inclusion of a dozen women's national teams let gamers finally play as household names like Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan, and also tapped into the excitement of last summer's Women's World Cup. Thankfully developer EA Canada didn't just throw some new heads and jerseys on its existing male body models, instead creating new body models. The result was gameplay that felt unique to women's soccer in the title. How good of a move was this on EA's part? According to the company itself, the U.S. Women's National Team was the 23rd most played team in the game out of 600.

Sports Game Of The Year: Rocket League

Rocket League took this office and the world by storm with its simple-yet-versatile gameplay that perfectly captured the spirit of sports: individual skill, raw fun, competition, teamwork, and strategy. And for that, we can't think of a better sports game for 2015.