It’s been an interesting year for sports games as in most cases developers can no longer achieve the kind of graphical upgrades that would dramatically improve sales. With this limitation in mind, studios such as EA Canada have instead relied on improved physics, animation and AI, along with more sophisticated online features to set their games apart from last year’s instalments.
The sports genre has become somewhat insular in recent years, with football, wrestling, golf, basketball, American football and ice hockey titles released on an annual basis while once popular subgenres like surfing games have become a distant memory. Thankfully SSX played its part to bring extreme sports back to the fore this year and reminded players just how fun these types of games can be.
Here are some recommendations if you’re on the hunt for quality sports titles for your friends or loved ones during this holiday season:
The FIFA series has grown from strength to strength over the past few years and this latest instalment continues the franchise’s upward climb. Gameplay feels better than ever thanks to a refined dribbling system that makes battles around the box that much more exciting, and a new mode called EA Sports Football Club Match Day allows you to track and compete in real world matches and tournaments as they happen.
Be sure to pick up FIFA 13 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 or PC as every other version is compromised in some way and is, in many cases, almost identical to FIFA 12.
NHL 13 has a lot to live up to given how many awards this series has picked up over the years. While it’s not a massive improvement over NHL 12, new features such as True Performance Skating, refined goalie controls and improved AI make the experience feel that much more realistic.
If you watch a lot of ice hockey on TV or live, or actually play the sport, then you’ll appreciate just how much realism the physics-based True Performance Skating system adds to the game.
EA Canada’s SSX snowboarding series had a large following during the PS2 era but nevertheless lay dormant for many years until the release of SSX earlier this year. The development team based the game’s slopes on real world peaks and these offer plenty of opportunities for outrageous tricks and massive air.
Online competition is a big part of SSX’s appeal so if you have some friends with a copy of the game then prepare to challenge each other’s time and scores, or go head-to-head in a variety of multiplayer modes.
The PES series has been losing a lot of ground to FIFA in recent years but Konami seems to have upped its game considerably with PES 2013. A lot of effort has gone into making famous players instantly recognisable based on their appearance and animation, while an enhanced control system gives you greater freedom of movement on the pitch.
Improved AI also means that your team-mates and opponents react in a more realistic fashion to your on-the-ball decisions, and the Performance Training Mode lets you master the game’s intricate control system before striding onto the pitch.
If you’re an avid WWE fan then you really can’t go wrong with THQ’s latest wrestling game that seeks to recreate all the drama and spectacle of the TV show. The game runs on a new engine called Predator Technology 2.0 that allows for more fluid animations and better collision detection between wrestlers, while the all-new Attitude Era mode chronicles a crucial period in the show’s history and replaces the Road to Wrestlemania mode found in past instalments of WWE.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13
Golf games have always been absorbing, addictive affairs and Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13 once again provides players with the opportunity to play as the sport’s top golfers on some of the world’s most renowned and challenging courses. New this year is the Legacy Challenge mode that puts you in control of Tiger during various stages of his career and formative years.
If you’re a fan of the golfer then this mode should be well worth playing through to relive the defining moments of his golfing life.
Following on from the incredible commercial and critical success of NBA 2K12, this year’s instalment was produced by rapper Jay-Z and features a new control system that allocates dribbling to the right analog stick for more intuitive offensive manoeuvres. NBA 2K13 includes both the 1992 and 2012 United States men’s national basketball teams so you can see how the latest pool of talent compares to the ‘Dream Team’ from two decades ago.
The game also features an eclectic soundtrack that includes the likes of Coldplay, Daft Punk, Kanye West and of course – Jay-Z himself.
Madden NFL 13
We may be nearing the end of the current console generation but looking through Madden NFL 13’s long list of improvements you’d swear it was released alongside a brand new console cycle! The game runs on the all-new Infinity engine that improves tackle animations as well as the realism of each tackle’s outcome.
Lots of effort has also been put into making Madden NFL 13’s presentation more akin to a TV broadcast and to this end more than 200 new cut-scenes have been introduced between plays, and before and after games.
If street football is your thing then FIFA Street delivers the kind of tricks, venues and atmosphere you would expect from this fast-paced, free-flowing version of the sport. You can select your favourite footballers from the FIFA franchise and transport them to exotic locales such as Shanghai, Venice and Dubai as they perform a dazzling array of tricks and skill moves in matches featuring small teams of five or six players per side. Unlike past FIFA Street titles, this game opts for realistic visuals to match its authentic portrayal of street football.
If you enjoyed this feature, be sure to read the rest of El33tonline’s 2012 Buyer’s Guides (so far):