Wccftech’s Best Sports & Racing Games of the Decade
It's only the past two years that I've been covering the best sports and racing games in any sort of list. Mostly this is because the genres are fairly limited in what they offer, rarely having the widest list of games to go through. This doesn't mean there haven't been any truly special titles, games that have stood out as outstanding games in general. Also, a decade is a long time, giving me more to work with.
The issue with the two genres is that they rarely feature standout titles that aren't part of franchises. It would be so easy to just list franchises and be done with it. Every franchise, even those that have lost their way, used to be fantastic. As with previous best of the decade compilations, only one game from a franchise will be featured.
WWE - Represented by WWE 2K14
Genre: Sports. Platform: PS3, Xbox 360. Year: 2013.
The WWE games have been a fluctuation of quality now for longer than just this decade. Developers Yuke's, the team behind WWE games for the original THQ and then 2K following THQ's bankruptcy, were making WWE games from the year 2000 with WWF Smackdown! all the way to 2018's WWE 2K19. In early 2019 Yuke's expressed their frustration with 2K and the lack of competition in the market of wrestling titles, mentioning both as contributing factors towards the stagnating quality of the WWE titles. Yuke's were then dropped by 2K, leading to the monstrosity that is WWE 2K20.
What didn't help the WWE series of games is that 2013 featured the first title published by 2K and arguably the best WWE game in the series, WWE 2K14. WWE 2K14 featured a huge story mode featuring a massive collection of classic WrestleMania matches, a massive roster of characters with only a small few (like the nWo) held back as DLC and the Streak game mode, letting you fight through and hold The Undertaker's streak.
Most of all, the game for the time looked good and played excellently. Sure, the visual quality is certainly indicative of a game from 2013 but the gameplay itself was smooth, fluid and just so easy to get into and fun to enjoy. It's still easy, to this day, to consider WWE 2K14 the benchmark of wrestling games.
Forza & Forza Horizon - Represented by Forza Horizon 4 (9.5/10)
Genre: Racing. Platform: PC, Xbox One. Year: 2018.
Forza Horizon 4, for me, is frankly the best racing game currently available. That is to say that there is no better racing game. Forza Horizon 4 is the culmination of the hard work set by Playground Games as early as 2012, with the first Forza Horizon. Forza Horizon as a series is that ideal middle-ground between simulation and arcade.
It's a series that revels in giving the player, somebody who may not be interested in games as a whole, a massive list of cars to sink their teeth into. Giving them minuscule details to tweak, letting the inner car-fanatic loose. All of this while allowing the same people to drift through the outback of Australia or the stunning highlands of Scotland. All of the games becoming increasingly generous with a detailed, engagingly-busy and fulfilling open world. All while other open-world games that didn't keep you in a car 24/7 were moving to simply busy, rather than engaging.
Forza Horizon 4 is the pinnacle of this and here's what I had to say in my review:
Forza Horizon 4 is nothing short of fantastic. With a host of content, backed by a fantastic roster of cars that tread the fine line between arcade and simulation perfectly. While the amalgamated UK may be a little too pristine, not completely reflecting reality, it's such a stunning and enjoyable place to race around that any issues are washed away in the utter fun you're having. Forza Horizon 4 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the pinnacle of the series and arguably the best racing game you can buy.
Also, I know what you're going to say "Forza is different to Horizon", but I'm just lumping them together simply because Forza as a standalone is outmatched by other, better, games that are listed below.
Pro Evolution Soccer - Represented by PES 2020 (Official Site)
Genre: Sports. Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC. Year: 2019.
Playing football in video games has been a two-team competition now for decades, with the question each year being "Which is the second-best football game, behind Football Manager?" This year, it's almost impossible not to give the award to Konami and Pro Evolution Soccer 2020. Why? Konami, after being delivered an almost fatal blow in 2019 came back strong and made massive investments into PES and the results show.
Featuring some of the most realistic ball-kicking gameplay in the history of gaming, having brought in legendary midfielder Andres Iniesta as a consultant to work on the physics of the ball and improve the movement of players and the gameplay in general, PES 2020 proves itself to be far and above the best football game on the market. What is most important is that PES has finally gone a little into FIFA territory by allowing itself to be a little more arcade-like.
Sure, they don't have the licenses that EA have, but if the quality on the pitch is better, it's hard not to give it the award. More than on the pitch, the elements around are far improved, with more personality in the master league, giving you more of a story as you work your club to the top, feeling the frenzy of the markets and pressure of the press. FIFA has Volta and the licenses, PES has the overall gameplay and gives you the best feel of the sport.
Genre: Sports, Racing. Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch. Year: 2015.
Rocket League is a phenomenon. It's a testament that doing a bucket-load of crystal meth while being dosed up on nitrous oxide gives some fantastic fever dreams that result in excellent ideas for games. Football with cars. Real football that is, not Gridiron. Who would have genuinely thought it would be that fun, engaging and generally fantastic? Not I. When it first came out I thought it was going to be a short-lived fad that died out in a matter of months.
I'm always happy when a game succeeds, even happier when it's a game that tries something genuinely new that succeeds. While I certainly don't agree with the loot boxes that Psyonix put in and Epic Games later took out, it was an eventual step back to the positive. I can't even say that I'm good at the game - I'm shocking - but the important thing is that I have a genuinely great time whenever I play and millions of others seem to be in the same situation.
There's a simple reason why: Rocket League is fun. You're blasting around an arena at breakneck speeds, with boosts that genuinely let your car fly through the sky, performing tricks with the car and ball that are fantastic to perform (not that I can, 99.9% of the time) and equally fantastic to watch. Thanks to this, Rocket League has a thriving eSports scene with viewers aplenty. Rocket League was, is and will continue to be a phenomenon until Rocket League 2 is released. That or the real-life games begin.
Gran Turismo - Represented by Gran Turismo 6
Genre: Racing. Platform: PS3. Year: 2013.
Honestly, if I could, I'd just pick a game from out of the decade to best represent what is Gran Turismo. That would be Gran Turismo 3 - inarguably the best Gran Turismo game because nineteen years ago it introduced me to Feeder. Also, it simply is one of the most content-packed, fun and bloody enjoyable racing games ever made. However, that was released in 2001. For this decade, the standout of the series is undoubtedly Gran Turismo 6 - the last true Gran Turismo.
Gran Turismo has always been referred to as "The Real Driving Simulator" but the series has always been one that crosses that barrier between simulation and arcade. In Gran Turismo 6 the game launched with over 1200 cars and 100 tracks if you include the track editor as a single track. These cars and tracks, combined with the downright massive amount of events, a strong AI and strong physics made for an outstanding title. Particularly since it opened up the issues made during the strange ranking system found in the fifth entry.
Following the release of Gran Turismo Sport, a game that in my frank opinion abandons everything that is Gran Turismo, I can only hope that Polyphony Digital and Sony will be looking to return to that blend of simulation and arcade that made Gran Turismo the series it is today. Gran Turismo 6, should you want to go for a recent tile instead of Gran Turismo 3, is a perfect title to use as a template.
Codemasters: DiRT & DiRT Rally - Represented by DiRT Rally 2.0 (8.5/10) & F1 - Represented by F1 2019 (9/10)
DiRT Rally 2.0: Genre: Racing. Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One. Year: 2019.
F1 2019: Genre: Racing. Platform: PC, PS4, Xbox One. Year: 2019.
Codemasters has been going from strength to strength, particularly towards the end of the decade. Following a slump in the middle of the decade, titles like Overlord: Fellowship of Evil fell flat and the Grid series seemingly died with Autosport, the company kept going strong with F1, transformed Colin McRae Rally into DiRT Rally and then revived GRID at the end of the decade. Essentially, the racing genre with a few exceptions has been Codemasters.
I would have included GRID on this list too and it does have an honourable mention, though the real reason it isn't a featured title is simply that the best arcade-style racer is Forza Horizon 4. The best rally game, however, is DiRT Rally 2.0 and nothing comes even remotely close. The F1 series has recently put out its best iteration yet, bringing the F1 - and now F2 - series' to the fans. If there's one thing that can be said about Codemasters too, it's that their titles are almost always at the forefront of AI in racing games and have been now for the latter half of the decade.
DiRT Rally 2.0 (8.5/10)
DiRT Rally 2.0 far surpasses other rally titles and other games that feature, though don't specialise in rallying. With an extensively detailed roster of cars, where each of them feels, handles and reacts differently, on tracks that actively degrade through constant use, changing the lines you'll have to take, this is a game that will keep you thinking. Best of all, unlike its prequel (to an extent) and other racing sims, it's accessible thanks to a bevy of assists that you can change to suit your needs. A game that only features a few downsides, the primary one being a shallow career mode and some minor bugs here and there. All things considered, DiRT Rally 2.0 is the premier rally experience you could hope to have.
F1 2019 (9/10)
F1 2019 is yet another excellent racer developed by Codemasters. With a wealth of positives, such as the improved feel of the racing, as well as how great the game looks and a number of new gameplay features, the game was bound to shine. The minor negatives, such as new modes like the Senna/Prost challenges feeling shallow, are minor blips in what is an otherwise outstanding game.
Ridiculous Fishing (Official Site)
Genre: Sports. Platform: Android, iOS. Year: 2013.
This could easily come across as a strange entry - particularly as I've avoided doing my long-running (two years in a row) joke of including Football Manager in this, always the latter list, despite it already being featured in the Strategy & Simulation list. Another strange aspect is that this is, likely, the only pure mobile entry in all of the lists on the site. There are a few reasons why this game deserves to make the list.
The game is simply excellent. When launched it was already polished to a diamond shine thanks to Vlambeer's initial release of the flash version of the same game, then called Radical Fishing. Sadly this was then copied by other less creative developers - that game was Ninja Fishing by Gamenauts. Fortunately, Vlambeer's result was the best iteration of the game by a long shot and, most of all, it was excellent to consumers - releasing as a paid game and completely dropping any idea of featuring microtransactions.
Unfortunately, Vlambeer's next two games (Luftrausers & Nuclear Throne) were both shamelessly copied. Fortunately, both were critical and commercial successes. Vlambeer and the massive success of Ridiculous Fishing is a testament to what hard work, polish and genuinely being good to consumers can do for a game. For these reasons alone, Ridiculous Fishing deserves all the praise it gets.
Mario Kart - Represented by Mario Kart 8 (8.8/10 - Deluxe version)
Genre: Racing. Platform: Wii U (Switch for Deluxe version). Year: 2014.
There's no doubt that the true best version of this game is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on the Nintendo Switch, released three years after the original version. However, I never include nor count re-releases and remasters in the end of year lists and I can't include them in decade lists either. Fortunately, the excellent original was released in the decade and belongs here.
Kart racing has been dominated by Nintendo for almost thirty years now and the reason for this is simple, they know how to get it right. This is far beyond what any general arcade racer provides, it's high-speed, constant skidding, dropping mushrooms, firing rockets and blasting-past opponent's fun. All of this is done in one of the most vibrant, colourful and beautiful games around.
Mario Kart 8 was one of the few games that could have made the Wii U worth more than an expensive paperweight and, three years later, remains one of the best and most popular games on the Switch. A fantastic party game. A fantastic quick pick-up-and-play game. Simple, easy and most of all, accessible, despite how much people whine about it having what is essentially a no-fail mode. Sure, you'll lose the race, but you won't fall off the track. Long live the king of the kart.
FIFA - Represented by FIFA 17
Genre: Sports. Platform: PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC. Year: 2016.
FIFA and PES have been vying for the title of top football game for a good few decades now. FIFA has always had the licenses, EA are willing to spend on them, and a good number of years in this competition, PES had the gameplay. 2016 was a year that FIFA brought something special beyond that of the licenses or gameplay, it brought a story. A story that lasted three years and, frankly, made FIFA relevant again after falling behind PES (critically, never commercially) earlier in the decade.
The Journey places you in the shoes of Alex Hunter who, as any want-to-be football star would do, signs for Manchester United (yes, Man Utd - I accept no alternative) and follows the beginning of his career after he signs for the Premier League club. It's a story that gave you a few decisions in a story that no real sports game had truly tried before.
More than the inclusion of a story mode, FIFA 17 also managed to challenge PES on the pitch, something the series had failed to do for three years ever since PES went to the Fox Engine in 2013. Three years later, FIFA had moved to Frostbite and the playing field was somewhat levelled. FIFA looked fantastic, it had a few janky edges but the improvements were already noticeable. The groundwork for both a three-part saga and huge gameplay improvements were set, both making FIFA 17 the best FIFA of the decade and placing it just behind PES 2020 (and Football Manager) in the list of best football games.
Sports & Racing Games - Tales of Fluctuation and Redemption
Sports games, in particular, highlight the excesses of the games industry better than any other. Nothing could be truer than when you look at the annualised titles such as FIFA, PES, WWE and NBA. 2K's output has been rightfully criticised over the previous few years for cutting content to reintroduce for extra cash. It has increased the grind to extreme levels to sell 'time savers' for extra cash and more recently turned into a veritable online casino, all to make extra cash. No game epitomises loot boxes like FIFA, with the ultimate team mode.
However, sports and racing can also show the redemption of studios, or at least the point where studios became true masters of their art. Codemasters is, undeniably, the prime example with 2019 being a year where three utterly excellent games were released, covering almost every aspect of racing you could want. In sports, Big Ant has brought cricket back to the fans and indies have shone through, as they have in every other genre, throughout the decade with some great titles like Wreckfest, Ridiculous Fishing and OlliOlli.
Honourable Mentions - Sports
- FIFA 17
- NBA 2K12
- Mario Tennis Aces (8/10)
- Cricket 19 (8/10)
- Trials Evolution
- OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood (official site)
- Skate 3 (official site)
Honourable Mentions - Racing
- GRID (9/10)
- Ride 3 (8/10)
- Wreckfest (official site)
- Project Cars 2 (9/10)
- Blur (official site)
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit
I've no doubt missed some, forgot others and with certainty, I can say there are ones that simply haven't been played by the team. The sports and racing genres are inarguably niches and as such, things get overlooked. The coming decade should hopefully lead to more promising results from formerly great franchises like Gran Turismo with others like Need for Speed returning to the right path with recent releases. As with our other lists, any game listed is well worth your time and I more than recommend you give them a go.