If you're like me, your time in a car or on a bike has been dramatically cut due to the ongoing pandemic, lockdowns, closures, and generally just getting used to not travelling as much. Most of my travelling is going to gigs, which were non-existent until the latter half of the year. As such, most of my time behind the wheel was behind a digital one. I prefer to go to the gym when it comes to sports, though that was put to a sharp halt for a few months when a 46kg dumbbell decided to roll off of a bench and break my foot in four places. Anyway, Sports and Racing games, let's talk.
As in previous years' lists of the best sports and racing games (2018, 2019, 2020) and other lists I write, I only include new games (not re-releases/remasters) and fully released games (no early access titles). As always, only games that we've played can feature, though it doesn't mean every game featured has a review on the site. On that note, let's get to looking at the best sports and racing games of 2021, and remember to cast your vote in the community poll placed at the end.
Football Manager 2022 (9.5/10)
Genre: Sports. Platforms: PC (core game). Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch, Mobile (other versions).
I've wondered when Sports Interactive will fall into the annualised series trap for years now. If you're wondering what I mean by that, I mean I'm wondering when Football Manager will have an entry that feels half-baked, where it feels as though it's "just another one". Football Manager 2022 was not one of those entries, and with the already-announced long-term plans to incorporate Women's Football, the promises for the future are equally high.
Regarding Football Manager 2022, improvements throughout the game have set this even further ahead than the rest in the series. While some aspects are still in need of improvement, such as the repetitive press conferences, this is still the closest a video game has ever come to recreating Football. He's my summary from the review:
Football Manager 2022 is yet another improvement on the long-running series, one that brings the beautiful game to life more than ever before and recreates both the small and large moments that make the sport so engaging. The options are near limitless, and the game puts even more at your fingertips, from the Data Hub to improved staff meetings, all adding onto a revamped match engine. This is the closest Sports Interactive has come to perfection, with only small elements feeling aged and needing polishing.
Forza Horizon 5 (9.5/10)
Genre: Racing. Platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X.
Forza Horizon 4 featured at the top of my 2018 list of best sports and racing games three years ago. Honestly, before Forza Horizon 5 even hit shelves, I imagined we'd be in for something special, something that just offered more of the undeniable and incredible fun that the Horizon Festival has come to be known for, and Playground Games didn't disappoint.
While a bit buggy on launch and now in dire need of a filter as the map now has more spots than the sailors' favourite harlot on the first day of shore leave, it's impossible not to admire the game, the variety it offers in events, cars, scenery and more. Hell, every one of the spots mentioned above is something to do, and the game is packed full, and it's almost all fun and nearly never dull.
My summary of Forza Horizon, at the end of the review, was as follows:
Forza Horizon 5 is yet another step up for the series and arguably the best racing game ever made. Offering a host of content across a fantastic representation of Mexico, its varied terrain and scenery, there's so much to explore and race. A massive roster of cars will perform all of these, each feeling different from the others, with a variety of upgrade and tuning options almost matching those of simulation titles. While there are a few minor niggles here and there, they are nearly so small as to be hardly worth mentioning. All in all, it's impossible not to recommend this for anybody, regardless of them being a fan of racing games or not, as this is that good.
F1 2021 (9/10)
Genre: Racing. Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X.
A year rarely goes by without a Codemasters game hitting this list, and that's with good reason. The reality is that no studio on the planet is as good as Codemasters at making high-quality racing games with their variety. This year, as with most, F1 hits the list from the Birmingham studio. Only this time, they've brought a story with them.
Braking Point is the standout feature of F1 2021 and manages something Codemasters have tried and failed to deliver on before. Aidan Jackson and the return of Devon Butler, inspired by Drive to Survive on Netflix (as seems to be the case with every Codemasters title at the moment), features a strong story, characters and more that help you feel something for the facing, beyond the thrill of winning. That's still there, with the on-track action polished to a diamond-like shine.
F1 2021 has undeniably struggled with COVID and the limitations it has put on both the sport and the game. However, either despite or because of these limitations, this manages a step forward that the series failed to take two years ago, it brings a genuine story to the game. Braking Point is an undeniable success and, one would hope, marks a starting point in which Codemasters can advance as the series moves forward. Beyond this new mode, almost every aspect has been polished to a diamond-like shine, with the only aspects needing improvement are the MyTeam mode, which already looks lacking as a story of progression when compared to Braking Point, and the poor AI in team management. Despite this minor issue, there's no doubt in my mind that this is the best of the franchise so far and a great launching point to the next generation.
FIFA 22 (8/10)
Genre: Sports. Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch.
I'll be honest; this is a reluctant entry onto the list. Why? That's because it's begrudging that I give any praise to games quite literally designed to prey on children or people with addictive tendencies. That's what FIFA 22, and EA, is: a predator. Not even the cool, crabby, Schwarzenegger-figthing kind.
Whatever my issues with the in-game predatory gambling, there's no doubt that FIFA 22 is an excellent football game and genuinely next-gen. The new "HyperMotion technology" truly adds to the feel of controlling real and specific players. While still having a few issues here and there, the on-pitch quality is undeniable, as are the fun inclusions like Volta and the arcade games that come with it.
FIFA 22 is an undeniably fantastic football game, once you get on the pitch. HyperMotion Technology, and a push for enhanced visuals, physics, and more, make this an incredibly tactical experience and closer to the real thing than ever before. The inevitable problem is when you look at the insidious inclusions off the pitch, such as FUT, which - while somewhat more generous with the in-game currency - is still incredibly predatory and push on the in-game gambling mechanics.
Riders Republic (8.5/10)
Genre: Sports & Racing. Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Nintendo Switch.
If I were to make a simple proclamation, I would say that Riders Republic is essentially a sequel to Steep. It's likely not the grandest statement to make, but there's no doubt that this is a considerable expansion on Steep in terms of quantity, though it has swerved into the arcade. Honestly, that works for Riders Republic, with various activities and locations at your disposal.
There's an undeniable level of fun to find in Riders Republic, and more than that, it's a genuinely great looking game to experience as you're travelling around, competing against other people. Here's what Nate had to say in his review of the game:
Riders Republic’s posturing is more than a little phony and the game may be a bit mechanically simple for some, but its playground is an impressive one. With travel still difficult, Ubisoft’s sometimes-breathtaking recreation of America’s greatest national parks feels like something to be grateful for, and this game’s wide range of activities and challenges means almost everyone will be able to find some way to amuse themselves amongst its peaks and valleys. Riders Republic is a surprising breath of virtual fresh air.
Sports and Racing Games of 2021 - A Year in Review
Much like the other genres, and the rest of the industry, Sports and Racing games have had a slow year. Fortunately, the genre has several annualised titles, most of them rarely have poor entries. Football Manager, F1 and FIFA all make an appearance in this list, with a few other annualised entries in the honourable mentions below, topped up by yet another outstanding title from Playground Games and a surprise entry from Ubisoft.
The two genres haven't had a bad run for the year. One glaring omission is Pro Evolution Soccer, thanks to Konami deciding to release some barely-baked monstrosity called eFootball 2022. If I were a betting man, and I am, I would imagine 2022 will be a better year for sports and racing.
Vote for your favorite Sports/Racing Game of 2021!
- Forza Horizon 5 76%, 238 votes238 votes 76%238 votes - 76% of all votes
- F1 2021 11%, 33 votes33 votes 11%33 votes - 11% of all votes
- Riders Republic 5%, 17 votes17 votes 5%17 votes - 5% of all votes
- FIFA 22 4%, 14 votes14 votes 4%14 votes - 4% of all votes
- Football Manager 2022 4%, 12 votes12 votes 4%12 votes - 4% of all votes