Leicester City and the Chicago Cubs aren’t the only romantic sports stories of 2016. The virtual domain saw Madden restored to its former glory after a number of fallow years, Pro Evolution Soccer build upon last year’s abundant promise with an all-time-greatest performance, and new names such as Steep challenge the old guard. But which sports offering deserves to be proclaimed as this year’s very best? Below, GR+ takes a look at the big ten and counts down to the coveted number one spot…
10. Football Manager 2017
Few names on this list ring out with history like Sports Interactive’s esteemed dugout sim – but there’s a case to be made that it’s a victim of its own success. The current edition is so comprehensive that many new players criticise it as overwhelming, and it’s only that lack of its former accessibility which holds it back from a higher placing. Spend the required hours orientating yourself and the reward is a Guardiola emulator with genuinely limitless depth, delivering sweary highs and wall-punching moments of agony long after bedtime, night after night.
Extreme sports have had a rough ride during the PS4 and Xbox One era, with the SSX name clearly consigned to history, and Tony Hawk 5 putting the ‘hate’ in, er, skhate. Backslaps all round then for Ubisoft Annecy, whose debut snowboard-’n-ski-em-up delivers breathtaking highs in every sense, alongside moments of beautiful tranquility. (And complete madness – talking mountains, anyone?) Player choice is abundant, with all the open-world activity of a real Alpine holiday, and real gear to hoover up as you unlock tie-ins with the likes of Red Bull and Salomon. Things begin to feel repetitive after sustained play, and the UI is a nightmare, but even so at its peak Steep is snow, snow good.
8. WWE 2K17
The best wrestling game ever made. And, yes, I write that knowing that No Mercy and the original PS1 Smackdown efforts will forever remain unsurpassed in many fans’ eyes. What WWE 2K17 delivers that no forbear managed is a game that feels competitive, but also contains all the nuances of wrestling choreography – fallen foes subtly moving into position to take top rope moves, rest holds, intelligent manager distractions, and so on. And its customisation options are bonkers, right down to the ability to splice different wrestler theme tunes together using an in-game Audacity equivalent. Only well-documented bugs and some quizzical Community Creations decisions (will 2K ever fix the broken ‘search’ facility?!) prevent it placing higher on this list.
7. MLB The Show 16
For a considerable time the best sporting game on consoles, a seventh placing here must rank as a mild disappointment for Sony’s sublimely presented bat-swinger. The series still serves up a brilliantly authentic game of baseball, but has stagnated somewhat since the switch to PS4 in 2014 - with online infrastructure an annual concern. Any lag whatsoever is a critical flaw in a twitch-based sport such as baseball, and with many proclaiming ongoing frustration at MLB The Show 16's servers, even a comprehensive career mode and astonishingly lifelike broadcast feel can’t earn it a higher spot in our countdown. Fix net-based play and this should be a top two contender again in 12 months’ time.
6. FIFA 17
As ever, it’s trendy to criticise the planet’s most popular sports game. It’s also wildly, laughably inaccurate. FIFA 17 does have its issues – not least sweaty online players determined to build teams around speed alone – but Ultimate Team remains the best mode in any sports game, bar none. Bolstered this year with the introduction of Squad Building Challenges, in which you trade teams of specific cards for even better items, it’s a life-swallowing time sink offline, and mostly brilliant over the net-waves – so long as you can avoid the Premier League cheesesters with an unconquerable spine of Butland-Bailly-Toure-Vardy.