No matter which way you slice it, 2015 was a banner year for the sports video game enthusiast. While the variety within the individual sports may have diminished throughout the years, the games that remain have only increased in quality and realism.
Where sports games have been most lacking over recent times has been within the arcade arena. Arcade sports titles are important to the viability of the genre because they are accessible “gateway drugs” into the very intimidating and niche sports simulation market. The only two recent arcade standouts are 2014’s sleeper hit, Super Mega Baseball, and 2015’s cultural phenomenon, Rocket League. It begs the question: What will be 2016’s Rocket League?
What is really left to say about Psyonix’ Rocket League that hasn’t already been covered? The soccer/hockey-racing hybrid has absolutely captured the imagination and time of just about everyone who has played it. Its accessibility and fun factor led many critics call it their top sports game of the year. Having released simultaneously last July on the PC and the PlayStation 4, the game owes much of its success to the fact that it was released for free to anyone with a PlayStation Plus subscription on PS4.
Price is a barrier for which a game must overcome when attempting to attract consumers. That is especially true when the development studio or the franchise doesn’t have a pedigree from which to draw. The fact that Rocket League released for free during its first month meant that infinitely more people would be willing to at least try it because the only commodity spent would be their time. Thus, it disappoints me that Rocket League’s February 17th debut on the Xbox One won’t be a Games with Gold offering (Microsoft’s answer to PS+) meaning that consumers will have to pay $19.99 to purchase this great game.
It is however getting the “Game of the Year” treatment with multiple DLC packs included as well as Xbox themed exclusives which make it well worth price of admission. Those players on the Xbox One who have heard about how great Rocket League is will undoubtedly pick it up but the reality is that there is a far greater number of players who haven’t heard of the game and will most likely miss out on a great experience because they don’t see the value or recognize it as something they might like.
Some might say that the obvious answer to prevailing question on what will be this year’s breakout hit is Three Fields Entertainment’s upcoming Dangerous Golf. This miniature golf title from former Criterion developers (of the Burnout franchise fame) have already gone on record as saying that Dangerous Golf will be “as serious a golf game as Burnout was a serious simulation to driving games.”
Dangerous Golf, scheduled for a May 2016 release, has yet to be priced and all we’ve seen so far are a few screenshots to go along with having the concept explained. Still, Burnout is a franchise many gamers hold dear, so to have part of the team responsible for that game doing something new is exciting.
The problem here is not the premise or the people, it’s the promise. May is quickly approaching and no one outside of the studio has seen this game running. Hell, we’re only a few weeks removed from the announcement! Now, I’m not saying that I don’t believe their timetable, but the lack of media does leave reason for doubt. The other unknown is price. Will consumers be willing to fork over $60 or even $40 (or whatever it ends up being) for a “golf” game with no recognizable sponsor made by a brand new developer? If I had to place odds on Dangerous Golf’s overall success, based on what I know right now, I’d give them even money.
The game, though, that I think will surprise lots of people with its quality and mass appeal will be EA Sports UFC 2. EA released UFC in 2014 to very mixed reviews. Supporters praised the attention given to the different fighting styles while detractors made mention of the many bugs as well as the steep learning curves for the fighting styles. There was so much after-release support for the first game, however, that once the process was complete UFC looked and played vastly different than when it had shipped, and all for the better.
EA recently held a gameplay and multiplayer beta for UFC 2 and it’s almost immediately apparent that they have learned their lessons from past mistakes. Animations are more fluid. Fights are more simulation-based and grounded in reality. There are even controller queues to help acclimate the player to the submissions mechanic.
Then there’s the addition of Mike Tyson to go along with Bruce Lee, famous names who may not have fought in UFC but will interest general consumers. With the new “Knockout Mode” the UFC game starts to look and feel like a boxing one, and five years have passed since the last in Fight Night Champion leaving many to crave such a return.
The clincher for me, though, are the character models. What were impressive two years ago have become even more so today. The visceral nature of the sport must be portrayed if the gamer is meant to feel like they are actually participating in the battle. UFC 2 seems likely to fulfill that requirement. Look for it in the middle of March.
The visuals, controls, commentary and immersion factor make UFC 2 a game on the rise and one that I think we’ll all be talking about come the end of the year. It’s a game that seems somewhat unlikely to succeed on paper…but the same too could have been said about Rocket League.
LET’S GET IT ON!!!