While death, taxes, and the inherent failure of a capitalist society to benefit the majority of people are certainties in life, you can add the annual appearance of digital sports games to the list as well. The biggest problem that sports game developers face is remaining relevant against the previous year’s effort, and all too easily they can fall into the trap of merely making a few technical tweaks, updating the player roster, and shoving the game back out of the door.
This year though, following on from FIFA’s lead, one more franchise has taken a leap forward that goes above and beyond what we’ve come to expect from our big-name sports games. As such, this year’s winner is Madden 18.
While the last few years have been kind to the Madden series, this year’s introduction of a fully fledged story mode in the shape of Longshot, brought some context to the consistently strong gridiron action. What was perhaps most surprising was just how good it turned out to be, bringing some much needed gravity and emotion to what could have so easily been a piece of feel-good superhuman fiction.
Taking the story of Devin Wade, a quarterback whose chance at the NFL should have already been and gone, players found themselves invested in a tale that doesn’t pander to stereotypical Cinderella stories, and whose outcome is hugely reliant on your own in-game performance. It doesn’t pull any punches either, and for those that are unprepared it’ll spit you back out again without a second thought. It’s a story mode for true Madden fans.
On top of that, you’re getting the most refined version of Madden yet, and while 16 and 17 were both fantastic outings for the franchise, the improved control options, upgraded Ultimate Team, and stellar visuals all make Madden 18 a real pleasure to play, and bring the franchise back in line with EA’s other ‘football’ series.
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FIFA 18 – Runner Up
It’s somewhat ironic for Madden to top FIFA this year when, in the grand scheme of things, it’s merely following in its footsteps. FIFA 17 already made the jump from the Ignite engine to Frostbite and it already had a narrative led single player mode in The Journey, but that means that FIFA 18 feels like a more incremental update than usual.
The Journey sees us return to Alex Hunter for his second year on his meteoric career as a footballer, while there’s the traditional array of tweaks to the gameplay to make attacking more fluid, albeit at the cost of making defending feel harder. Then there’s the wide ranging Ultimate Team mode that will doubtless sucker in many millions of players.
It could easily be our top sports game, were it not for the fact that Madden has taken a bigger step forward this year in order to catch up.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018 – Runner Up
Pro Evolution Soccer has been playing catch up to FIFA for the best part of the last decade, and it could be argued that it’s started to finally surpass EA’s efforts in the last year or two. PES 2018 is a fantastic footballing game, but it’s held back ever-so-slightly by its overall presentation. Beyond the dearth of licenses players, you have the simplistic commentary, slightly silly AI at times, and the MyClub mode that is a step or two behind what Ultimate Team offers.
Go on, you know you want to correct us on this one. What’s been your personal favourite sports game this past year?