EGMR Awards 2015: Best Sports & Racing
Sports and racing titles are perhaps the easiest targets to accuse of stagnation. Their success often hinges on minor tweaks and chasing perfection. However, 2015 was a special year in that we saw some genuine innovation in this genre. It’s shocking really. Almost as shocking as Liverpool winning the F1 World Championship on free throws. We see plenty if titles year in and year out but this year we saw some titles which truly shone and honed their craft. Shall we see what made them special?
Throw together a graphics engine, some physics and confine it all within the rules of your chosen sport. Then slap together a few game modes and hey presto, you’ve got a sports or racing game. There’s no worry about story, character development, original designs or any of that. Sports and racing games may seem like a simpler genre to dabble in but there’s so much more to it. These games need to understand fans of the sport and given the pace of any sport that isn’t cricket the controls should be intuitive too. Sports and racing games also have to feel right but above and beyond this there needs to be more to it than simply good gameplay. The game needs to offer players variety and the best of them offer a complete experience within their sport. Nobody wins an award or gets named MVP for simply doing their job, you need to go above and beyond what’s expected. These games did that.
Another year, another FIFA, right? That’s how the saying goes anyway. FIFA 16 took the slightly rough edges of its predecessor and smoothed them out, polishing it all to a dim lustre. It is not without issue but FIFA 16 exemplifies the series’ ability to improve gameplay in a big way with small changes. FIFA 16 manages to do a lot with a little more physicality, improved passing and dribbling as well as some basic balancing. With less of a chasm between players, matches have become tighter, more intense affairs. Couple that with the genuinely fresh experience of playing as women’s international teams and you’ve got one of the best FIFA titles in a good few years. Ultimately, FIFA 16 succeeds because it gets its fanbase, it knows what they want from a football game.
Like an attacker flying through the air to latch onto a free ball, Rocket League came out of nowhere and quickly dug into so many people. This game blends Top Gear’s car football with a host of wacky concepts to produce a sports game unlike any other. Its simple controls means that anyone can pick it up and have a good time but there’s still enough depth for players who want to master its nuances. Not only are there plenty of ways to play but the energy of matches as well as the leveling system have proven to be a deadly and addictive combo. Despite being a newcomer, Rocket League has proven to have strong longevity in addition to being one hell of a spectator sport. Rocket League is a game all about team dynamics, high-intensity matches and madness of the highest order. It is a truly unique offering in the sports genre.
Let’s not mince words, Project CARS is downright stunning. It could well be the platform upon which The Matrix will one day be built. Just how close this game gets to looking real is unreal. It was unfortunately plagued by a number of technical issues and simply didn’t have the refinement of gameplay or the polished pedigree of more established titles in the racing-sim subgenre. Nevertheless, Project CARS proved to be a solid first attempt at true realism for Slightly Mad Studios and respectably held its own against giants such as Forza Motorsport and Gran Turismo. It also offered a greater feeling of authenticity in comparison to its contemporaries. Not to mention the wealth of content on offer. Project CARS may be a little rough but is a damn fine racer all the same.
Forza Motorsport 6
From new kid on the block to the old guard, Forza 6 confirmed that the series shows no sign of a dip in form. Forza 6 introduced a whole lot more variety to the existing and solid base. Night racing, weather effects in addition to a vast catalogue of tracks and vehicles made for a far more diverse racing experience. A refined Drivatar system also brought an added dash of unpredictability and dynamism to races. Forza 6 is not only rich with content but a markedly deeper experience than its predecessor. On the surface it’s also visually spectacular which is no bad thing. Forza 6 is every bit the racing sim that fans have come to expect despite not really doing a whole lot different from its predecessor.
NBA 2K16 takes the series’ signature intuitive lightning-fast gameplay and refines it to make it even easier for players to get the most out of its incredibly deep system. Not only is each mode loaded with content and things to keep players busy but they also give players a lot of freedom in terms of what they can do. On the court players move much as they would in real life and don’t look too far off either. The level of detail and effort put into every aspect of NBA 2K16 really shows. This is most evident in the atmosphere the game creates and that atmosphere is best seen in its excellent studio shows. NBA 2K16 is only let down by its unfriendliness to new players and while it tried something very fresh with Spike Lee’s “Livin’ da Dream” it simply did the game no favours. As with other nominees here, NBA 2K16 understands its fanbase incredibly well and is an exceptional (albeit imperfect) basketball experience for it.
It wasn’t FIFA 16, because it failed to really innovate or give us something that we hadn’t already seen before. While it was undoubtedly better than its predecessor, FIFA 16 failed to truly wow us.
The winner wasn’t Project CARS either, because visuals can only get you so far and the rest of the experience was simply a little too rough-shod to be considered award-winning. Despite a wealth of content there wasn’t enough incentive to keep players invested and despite looking gorgeous, Project CARS suffered from a jerky framerate and numerous other technical woes. With more polish and refinement it might have been a stronger contender.
And the winner wasn’t NBA 2K16 or Forza Motorsport 6, though these two came closest to nabbing the award. These are both extremely good games without a doubt but they both have their issues. However, it ultimately came down to one nominee simply being better than the both of them. In the case of Forza 6, though it is a great racing sim it struggles to stand out and leave a lasting impression. It fails to go that extra mile. On the other hand NBA 2K16 stands out for all the wrong reasons with an admirable but ultimately detracting story imposed on the game’s biggest mode.
Do you know what the most important thing about a racing game is? It’s fun factor. Sure you’d enjoy a great selection of cars and tracks and maybe a half-decent career mode to race through (we said we’d stop… we lied) but at its heart, a racing game needs to make you the player, feel like a racer. A big part of that is the urge, the need to get out there and tear it up. Rocket League delivers that in spades. Besides, this category is Sports and Racing. Of course the award was always destined for the game that combined both. Technically racing is a sport though. Hmm, we’ve got some thinking to do. Back to the game of the hour – Rocket League! Psyonix took a zany concept, built some very simple gameplay around it, threw on some bright colours and unleashed it upon the world. Suddenly a phenomenon was born. Not only did they create an incredibly fun game but one that can function as a 30-minute stress-release after a hard day or an intense experience that hinges on teamwork and strategy. Rocket League is so much more than the sum of its parts and gets so so much right with the way it looks, the way it feels and the way it keeps players hooked. That’s why it is our pick for Best Sports & Racing game.