The 2017 Sports Game Of The Year Awards
We're approximately halfway through this home console generation, and 2017's slate of sports video games is a mix of new features, updates to old favorites, and pleasant surprises. So before we turn the page on the year and anticipate what steps forward 2018's glut of titles brings us, let's survey what we achieved in 2017.
These awards were decided upon by the entire GI staff, and while it has many of the year's expected heavy hitters, they exhibit a variety of successes and different experiences to enjoy.
Best Story Mode – FIFA 18
Alex Hunter isn't the new kid on the block anymore, but the second installment of this story mode succeeds in part because it still keeps us interested in the character and his life on and off the pitch. Alex's story conveys a mix of glitzy stardom and newfound wonder while also grounding Alex as a person within the fast-moving world of soccer. Playing as different characters at appropriate times breaks up the game schedule, which is less monotonous than last year. The mode still needs to add better context around the clubs and leagues that Alex plays in, as well as improve his progression system, but we very much look forward to the third installment in Alex's story.
Best Presentation – NBA 2K18
Many sports games still haven't caught up with the 2K series' game commentary, which speaks to how strong it still is. Moreover, the game intros, pre-game scenes, and between-the-action cuts/stat overlays feel fluid and give the game a TV-like sheen that adds a lot to your day-in-day-out schedule. You can also arguably add MyCareer's The Neighborhood as an (albeit small) open-world presentation wrapper to some of the mode's customization, training, and online options. In a game with some many modes to access, NBA 2K18's top-notch presentation makes navigating and experiencing it all very inviting.
Best Player Career Mode – MLB The Show 17
This year wasn't the debut of MLB's Road to the Show mode, but the series added a conversation system and a documentary-style presentation that gives a more dramatic context for your player's journey. While not all your actions mesh with the story, the mode is a fun way to inject some personality into your player. Beyond that, Road to the Show's RPG aspects of player building and customization/growth through equipment continues to propel us into the majors.
Best GM/Franchise Mode – NBA 2K18
It sounds slightly antithetical for a mode based on controlling a franchise's every move to introduce a story structure that throws manufactured situations your way, but silly-looking cutscenes aside, developer Visual Concepts' The Next Chapter MyGM mode works well. It also delivers new tools to control your franchise like an analytics matrix to judge players as well as enough sports drama to keep you up at night contemplating the right moves (if only for one season in the game).
Best Fantasy Team Mode – Madden NFL 18
Many of Madden NFL 18's new features cater to the series' Ultimate Team fantasy team-building mode, giving fans a lot to chew on. Three-on-three team play lets you use your cards on either side of the ball, and new leveling and card upgrade systems reward players both as they first enter the mode and as they go deeper and sink more time and effort in. From finding powerful players, ditching those on the wane, and grinding on the new promotion, there are always ways to improve your team, and the mode does a great job keeping the journey engaging.
Best Gameplay – Pro Evolution Soccer 2018
The PES series has always been known for its fluid and satisfying player control, and PES 2018 keeps that distinction even in the midst of tweaks that make the gameplay relatively slower and more deliberate than previous iterations. Gamers' ability to shrug off a tackle, fire off a pass, and shoot on goal with your off-foot seamlessly and without a thought is a thrilling sequence that happens easily during matches.
Best New Feature – NBA 2K18 The Next Chapter
NBA 2K18's integration of story and GM features was deftly done and could point to a new way forward for the mode. This should come as no surprise from a dev team willing to take risks such as giving players the ability to introduce new league rules. GM modes aren't the destination they once were in many sports titles, but kudos to VC for injecting something new into MyGM in a year when other developers practically ignored their own GM modes.
Best Online Multiplayer – NHL 18
Not only did NHL 18 add the fast and addictive three-on-three Threes mode, the six-on-six EASHL team co-op mode continues to be a destination – particularly since you can bump down to 3v3 if you don't have a full lineup. The game supports multiple online/offline multiplayer configurations, which is appreciated in these days when many titles don't even bother to have offline multiplayer. The game's added offensive and defensive stick skills also go nicely with NHL 18's multiplayer, giving everyone some extra tools to work with.
Biggest Disappointment – NBA 2K18
While we obviously like NBA 2K18 quite a bit, there's no denying the problems behind the pervasiveness of the VC virtual currency, grinding nature of your MyCareer player, lack of matchmaking to avoid higher-rated players, the lure of microtransactions to upgrade your player, and launch server problems (again). These things aren't even new – they're just continual thorns in the side of an otherwise great franchise.
Best Post-Launch Support – Rocket League
The game's been out for a while, but developer Psyonix has kept feeding the game's frenzy with a stream of updates encompassing items, competitive seasons, updates, events, arenas and more. Best of all, it's kept players engaged while riding that line between good free content and necessary paid-DLC.
Most Improved – NBA Live 18
There was a time when you didn't even know if EA was going to put out an NBA Live game, so it's nice to see that not only did this title come out, but it improved in numerous ways. The One mode mixes story elements, player customization (skill- and appearance-wise), street ball, NBA ball, and online play all in one mode. NBA Live 18 is exactly the kind of foundation the franchise has been searching for.
Best Racing Game – Dirt 4
This series has undergone changes through the years and hasn't released on a consistent basis, but Dirt 4 lays down a great foundation. The differences in racing through its rally, rallycross, historic rally, and land rush portions offer varied challenges, and the two freestyle gymkhana-like compounds further diversify the experience. But the game makes the most headway with its career mode structure, focusing as much on keeping your parts and equipment from breaking as upgrading them. This doesn't sound aspirational, but it makes the rally portion in particular even more hairy than normal. It – along with the hiring of staff with positives and negatives – offers a level of sophistication that is absent from most racing titles.
Best Sports Game – NBA 2K18
It's a repeat for the series, but this award isn't just based on an old reputation. NBA 2K18 keeps adding to its many modes, whether it's The Neighborhood world for your MyCareer player or opening up the confines of your MyGM front office through the "Next Chapter" story beats. The game also bolsters its gameplay with a reworked motion system that helps accentuate how different types of player feel. Even with the VC/microtransaction controversy and grind of MyCareer, NBA 2K18 offers something for players of all stripes.