Jan 042013

Annualized sports games are something that never gets the attention they deserves. They’re a nuisance to some and there’s no doubt that they never change too drastically from year to year but as most sports fans will tell you, they change just enough. Though that can’t always be said as some games seemingly churn out nearly the same experience year to year or, of course, have an off year or two. In this feature I will analyze the sports games of 2012 and ultimately decide which sports game did the most to improve, and which did the least. This is by no means determining the Sports Game of the Year category in our annual GiR awards; it’s merely my opinion on the past year’s beloved recurring franchises that often include a ball… or a puck if you want to get real crazy. It’s time for arguably the best three sports games this year!

Madden NFL 13

This year’s Madden delivered one of the biggest changes the franchise had ever went through in the installation of the brand new physics system which made near ever tackling animation feel unique. There’s no doubt that the installation was far from perfect as awkward, buggy moments were not far in between one another but that’s to be expected in the one year turnaround. The fact is, the new physics system feels really good when it goes well and it creates true lifelike tackles, unlike the stoic and clearly structured tackles of old. I never believed this until I went back and played NCAA Football 13, which does not feature the new physics, and found it near unplayable as I’d become spoiled by the unpredictable Infinity engine in Madden.

On top of that, they also improved franchise mode by fleshing out the previously installed scout system where you look at players you could take in the upcoming draft and determine if they’re worth your pick or not. Apart from the engine, the gameplay itself is mostly unchanged which is a tad disappointing. One thing that needs improvement here soon is the near five year old animations that happen when you snap the ball. Whether it’s the blocking or the wide receiver running routes, it just feels dated. Lets hope for some decent upcoming changes and Infinity engine tweaks, but I’ll admit I’m pretty damn happy with what I got this year.

NHL 13

Similar to many sports games I talked about in the last installment, NHL 13 mainly only tweaked certain aspects of their gameplay and then called It a day. That isn’t to say the actual NHL experience is any less fantastic because of that however. One of the biggest and easily the most accessible change is in the form of the “true skating.” True skating, similarly to Madden is a physics heavy skating system that introduces a ton of new animations. Also added is much smarter AI that will react to everything happening on the ice, not just what is in front of you. Playing the game remains as exhilarating and hard hitting as games previously released in the series.

NBA 2K13

Though yet again EA Sports did not release a basketball game, 2K continued to churn out their fantastic 2K series. This time with a lot of Jay Z all up in it. Apart from the Jay Z, they also added new features to their already fantastic My Player mode. The mode is largely heralded as one of the best My Career modes out there mainly because of the attention to detail. That detail continues to shine as they added small new additions such as deeper contract negotiations, controlling off court activities, clothing sponsorships, etc.

As far as in game changes go, the attention was on the right stick as 2K allowed the stick to be allocated for dribbling purposes. The execution works pretty well and doesn’t feature any major issues. The change ultimately became one that fell to the back of my head as I took place in the finely tuned and impeccable four quarters of basketball that NBA 2K games so eloquently produce. It really seemed like NBA 2K relied a bit too heavily on throwing out the Jay-Z name as a producer. I’m sure that was a marketing decision but it was a bad one, and that’s coming from a guy that enjoys himself some Jay-Z. Overall, it just seems a tad too in your face and seems like more attention should have been spent elsewhere.

Least Improved: MLB 2K12

Simply put, it’s time for this series to lie down and go out peacefully. That became even clearer with this year’s installment and it seems like the developers are realizing it as well. The changes were almost nonexistent and 2K was clearly just attempting to cash in their last check and create their last MLB game they were forced to do due to a clause in their original contract with the MLB. We’ll see if this was the last year but I’m going to go out on a limb and say the MLB 2K franchise will not be in my Analyzing the Annualized: 2013 Edition.

Most Improved: Madden NFL 13

First off, it was not the best year for drastic changes and that’s obvious from my choice for most improved. Overall, it felt like a lot of games, especially the already established and loved franchises (NBA 2K, MLB: The Show), rode solely on their already fantastic features and did so without shedding an ounce of sweat. This isn’t always the worst thing as that usually means great changes are ahead for the current sports juggernauts. Either that or they’re going to continue to not change much and I’ll continue to love them, I’ll be happy either way, I suppose.

Now for Madden, I’ll be the first to admit that the new physics feature is a bit funnier than it is effective at times. But that hilarity is an occasional annoyance which only slightly hampers one of the biggest changes Madden has ever received. The obscene amount of animations for tackling is refreshing in many ways, especially for people that have played Madden every year the past six years. Thankfully, for every comical mishap, there’s a big hit or crumbling pile of defensive lineman reacting exactly how they would if you were watching a game on Sunday.

The smaller franchise additions are also very welcomed but it’s still missing a few things if it wants to establish itself as a flawless feature. Namely, it needs more in depth decisions on the team, such as removing starters and them being pissed, better rookie evaluations before the draft, trade demands, and somehow make the on field content while in franchise mode at least a little different than every other exhibition game. Don’t even get me started on the abysmal Superstar mode, it has many issues and needs a complete overhaul to even be remotely interesting. But for this year and the little time they had, EA Sports did a remarkable job refining their franchise mode and more importantly, adding in a physics system that revamps every tackling animation within the game. The animation will only get better as time goes on, as will the game itself.

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