Since the pandemic has me staying inside and playing some of the old sports games I have, I’ve decided to make a list (or three) of what sports games I think are the best. The list in this article includes only games from what I consider the second generation of sports games: the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 Era.
I released a list of first generation sports games: Dreamcast, PS2, Xbox Original era. If you want to read that list and about the history of sports video games, you can click here.
The criteria for greatest sports video games works as follows:
- consoles included are Dreamcast/Xbox/Playstation era (first generation), Xbox 360/Playstation 2-3 era (second generation), and Xbox One/Playstation 4 era (current generation)
- there will be one game per sport for each era
- the factors that score the games are gameplay, gamemodes/features, soundtrack, and graphics (adjusted for era)
Each factor is scored 1-10.
When deciding on the best game, it comes down to Madden NFL 12, and NCAA Football 14. NCAA Football 14 gets the edge.
NCAA Football 14 is perhaps the only game out of all second generation sports games that is still played regularly.
Gameplay earns a 10/10.
When NCAA Football 14 was released, it had the best gameplay a football video game had to offer, and to many, it’s still the best. The game plays smoothly as it doesn’t rely on animations to trigger different outcomes, unlike third generation football games.
For football video game veterans, Heisman (the highest difficulty) delivers a challenge. While this may seem like common sense, many third generation football video games have struggled to deliver a challenge to experienced players.
In terms of features, NCAA Football 14 overwhelmingly earns a 10/10.
For hardcore football fans there’s Dynasty mode, similar to Madden NFL’s franchise mode, but far more robust. The user is allowed to pick one of 126 schools as his or her team of choice, customize each recruiting class and team schedule, and play every game in an attempt to win as many national championships as possible in 15 seasons.
For more light-hearted fun, Mascot Mashup offers arcadey football fun. In this mode, the user selects a team to play as and against—seems normal…except all the players are the school’s mascot and every hurdle is a backflip. This mode is unlike any other and tops off the 10/10 that Dynasty Mode built up to.
The weakness of NCAA Football 14 is its soundtrack: the menu music alone would earn a 0/10. Why? It doesn’t have one. The reason this “soundtrack” isn’t a 0/10 is because the game does have authentic band music for many schools in the game, adding a great deal of immersion that EA Sports rarely has in its games. 7/10, immersion is awesome for a more realistic experience.
Graphically, the game is fine. It looks the same graphically as other sports games from 2013. 7/10
NCAA Football 14: 37/40
NBA 2K11, No debate here. NBA 2K11 is the best basketball game I have ever played. The gameplay is balanced (something most sports games have historically struggled to provide), the computer feels very rewarding to beat on the highest difficulty, and the features the developers added are what make this game so great. Oh yeah—the sound track is also one of the greatest of all time too.
The gameplay earns a 9/10.
The features earn a 10/10. Now introducing “the Jordan Challenge.” Michael Jordan graced the cover of a basketball video game for the first time in history, and with that came a gamemode dedicated to replicating some of Jordan’s greatest achievements. Some of the playable moments include Jordan’s iconic final game where the user can attempt to recreate his championship winning shot over Bryon Russell; the Flu Game, where Jordan mustered a star performance in the finals despite being ill; and Jordan’s Father’s Day performance, where Jordan and the Chicago Bulls pulled out a championship winning performance dedicated to Jordan’s father, who passed a few years prior.
The Jordan Challenge was accompanied by “Situations,” where the user could pick any two teams, a specific score for both teams up to 120 each, the amount of timeouts each team had, and the time left in the game. This feature allows the user to recreate epic buzzer beaters or hone skills for certain game situations, something that isn’t in 2K games anymore.
The soundtrack of NBA 2K11 is a 10/10. This track is stacked. “Little by Little” by The Chicharones, “The Alan Parsons Project” by Sirius (Bulls Theme), “Bow Down” by HOGNI, “Pourin’ it on” by Dux Jones, “Symphonies” by Kid Cudi and Dan Black, “Champion” by Metta World Peace, and “Over” by Drake solidifies the 10/10.
NBA 2K11’s graphics are great for 2010. The game looks better than graphics of later basketball games on second generation consoles. That factor alone earns a 8/10.
NBA 2K11: 37/40
NHL 2K10 earns its well deserved spot on this list.
The gameplay earns a 8/10. This game has some of the dirtiest dangles in a hockey game. If the user scores a goal in front of the net, it’s likely the result of the goalie being deked out of his pads by a subtle toe drag burial. Most hockey games feel far too fast paced now, and there’s always a “money” way to score, NHL 2K10 simply doesn’t have that issue; every game feels unique rather than the same 5-4 game where all the scoring was done using one-timers.
The features of NHL 2K10 earn a 10/10. From an improved franchise mode that’s more in-depth than what EA Sports presents today to the mini games the user can play in between periods, this game—like others on this list—is loaded with great features.
2K introduced free agency and player movement in its franchise mode this year: that’s all that was necessary to surpass EA Sports’ NHL series then and now. The game allows the user to negotiate specific details in contracts rather than just paying a player a certain amount of money over a certain amount of time. The contract negotiation process is an actual negotiation process: as the user negotiates with a player, the player’s interest increases or decreases over time based on how the user handles the negotiation. The player being negotiated with also has demands that may change over time, making the negotiation process not only more authentic, but fairly challenging, just as it is in real life.
During an intermission, the user can play a zamboni mini game where they are timed to clean the ice. This feature adds some arcade fun to the game in a way that doesn’t have to dominate an entire gamemode. This is just one of the little things that NHL 2K10 does to provide a feature packed experience.
Perhaps the most minor of these features is the ability to actually skate around with the Stanley Cup after winning it. The goal of every hockey player is to win the Stanley Cup, so if the user wins it in franchise mode shouldn’t he or she be able to take a skate with it? Of course, common sense—but not to EA Sports, whose current Stanley Cup celebration is copy pasted year to year without any user control. In NHL 2K10 the user picks the cup up with the captain of the team and is then given four options: kiss the cup, raise the cup, pass the cup, or end skate around. These controls allow the user total control over who gets the cup, how long they get the cup, and when the cup celebration ends.
NHL 2K10’s soundtrack earns a 6/10. This soundtrack has good songs like “Superstar” by Lupe Fiasco and Matthew Santos and “Skeletons” by Friendly Fires, but compared to other NHL video game soundtracks, it doesn’t stand out.
NHL 2K10s graphics are also a 6/10, they aren’t bad compared to other sports video games at the time, but they do remain average.
Despite being a 12-year-old video game, it may still be the best hockey game available.
NHL 2K10 : 30/40
MLB 14: The Show takes the title as best second generation baseball game.
The Show has always been the go to baseball video game maker and for good reason: they make quality games often and always.
Gameplay earns a 9/10. As far as realism goes for second generation sports video games, The Show does it best. With refinements to the check swing system the game became more realistic. The change forces the user to take more realistic approaches when batting. For example, in MLB 13: The Show, the user could just check swing at every pitch that comes in and check swing when the ball breaks out of the zone, but in MLB 14: The Show, it would be advantageous for the user to calculate when and when not swing as check swings can’t always be relied on to be called a ball.
MLB 14: The Show features earn a 7/10. The Show didn’t implement any game changing feature in this installment, but it did make some much needed fixes to it’s Franchise Mode. The Show’s franchise mode had broken trade and free agency logic that was fixed in MLB 14: The Show which makes the experience more realistic and challenging.
The Show did add two new features that makes the game more fast paced: quick counts and player lock. Quick counts is a feature that automatically fills a count during an at bat rather than the user playing every pitch of every at bat. Player lock is a feature that locks the user onto one player during an entire game. Both features offer a condensed, new way to play.
The soundtrack earns a 7/10. The track has catchy songs like “Can You Do This” by Aloe Blacc and “Dangerous” by Big Data, but like others on this list, doesn’t stand out.
The graphics of MLB 14: The Show earn a 10/10. Simply put, this game has the best graphics among any second generation sports games.
MLB 14: The Show: 33/40
FIFA 14 earns the spot as the best soccer game of the second generation.
FIFA 14’s gameplay earns a 7/10. Nothing was done to make the game drastically different from FIFA 13, but changes to the physics of the game made it feel more realistic and sprint dribble turns added an explosiveness to forwards who are just a burst away from a breakaway.
FIFA 14’s features earn a 6/10. As stated before, EA Sports didn’t make too many changes to the game from 2012 to 2013. The changes that were made were fine tuning adjustments like the sprint dribble turns and through passes that made the games passing more true to life.
FIFA 14’s soundtrack is a 10/10. This track has everything from Reggae to Columbian pop. The soundtrack is worldly, and definitely has at least one song for you. Some of my favorite tracks include “I’m with You” by Grouplove, “Soy Yo” by Bomba Estero, “On Our Way” by The Royal Concept.
FIFA 14’s graphics earn a 7/10. When comparing graphics for “FIFA 14” to any other EA Sports video game for 2013, FIFA’s are the best.
FIFA 14: 30/40
NCAA Football 14 and NBA 2K11 tie for the best second-generation sports game. When it comes to playability, both of these games are timeless. NCAA Football 14 remains the most updated college football game with a very active modding and roster updating community. NBA 2K11 is timeless for its terrific features and nostalgic feel that it brings to basketball fans. These two games top the best era of sports games, and they may just be the two best sports video games of all time.