The five best sports games of 2021

We have some winners.

Image via PlayStation Studios

This story is part of Gamepur’s Best of 2021 round-up.

2020 was a rough year, as far as sports games went, as quite a few of them felt stale while waiting for a new generation of consoles to come. Now that we have had over a year to get settled with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, things seem to be getting a lot better. 2021 was much kinder to sports gamers, despite the presence of COVID-19. But which sports games were the best this year?

5. NHL 22

Screenshot by Gamepur
  • Released on October 16, 2021
  • Developed and published by EA

The NHL franchise jumped into the current generation of consoles a bit later than its sport game contemporaries, but it was worth the wait. NHL 22 signified the first game to use EA’s Frostbite engine. While the engine has made Madden and FIFA funky in recent years, it’s actually worked out rather well for the NHL series thus far. NHL 22’s gameplay features X-Factor abilities that accentuate the talents of superstars from the hockey world, a new physics engine that makes gameplay more challenging, and refined graphics that reveal data in real-time.

NHL 22’s EASHL and Franchise modes give the title depth once again. And for those who want to use realistic rosters that have players who are not in the game, NHL 22 has roster sharing. Users can now download and share custom rosters, adding just another positive on what is a rather solid offering from EA.

4. NBA 2K22

Image via Take-Two
  • Released on September 9, 2021
  • Developed by Visual Concepts
  • Published by 2K Games

NBA 2K21 on old-gen was a bit stale, but 2K did manage to break through and lay the groundwork for the future of the franchise. NBA 2K22 might not look like games from the past, and that’s a good thing. As far as gameplay goes, 2K and Visual Concepts changed up a number of gameplay mechanics, ranging from re-designing the dunk system to nerfing meta-heavy dribbling animations to make the game much more competitive.

2K also embraced the live content system for NBA 2K22, installing Seasons that add new cards and themes in MyTeam and give users the chance to gain new rewards in The City. For those who love career modes, NBA 2K22 offers yet another doozy. MyCareer players not only get a chance to experience the ebbs and flows of a professional NBA player, but they also can boost their profile off the court thanks to quests that can be completed within The City.

3. MLB The Show 21

Screenshot by Gamepur
  • Released on April 20, 2021
  • Developed by Sony San Diego Studios
  • Published by Sony PlayStation

MLB The Show and San Diego Studios needed to hit a home run after a pretty bland release in MLB The Show 20. And boy, SDS and Sony did just that with The Show 21. MLB The Show 21 was a groundbreaking launch for a number of reasons, but arguably the biggest reason was that it was the first title of the series to come to the Xbox family of consoles. This marked an end to an eight-year drought, and it came at a good time.

MLB The Show 21 featured a number of gameplay additions, highlighted by the analog stick-focused Pinpoint Pitching. This feature allowed users to command and control pitches using an analog stick. While it did need some tweaks due to its initial overpowering nature, Pinpoint Pitching put users instead of RNGs in control of pitching.

Yes, MLB The Show 21 did have its server flaws, and Road to the Show did miss a bit in terms of making it a bit too long-winded to acquire perks. Nevertheless, MLB The Show 21 made great strides in the franchise’s gameplay, and its marquee game mode, Diamond Dynasty, is a nice pallet cleanser in this microtransaction-filled gaming world.

2. F1 2021

Image via Codemasters
  • Released on July 16, 2021
  • Developed by Codemasters
  • Published by EA

The Formula 1 (F1) gaming franchise has been solid and consistent for years. F1 2021 marked a bit of a change for the franchise from a business standpoint, as F1 developer Codemasters was purchased by Electronic Arts. Even with the presence of EA, Codemasters generated a masterpiece in terms of gameplay. F1 2021’s engine allows for users to crisply cut through turns, as well as blaze through straights on tracks from around the world. While it does take a bit of time to get used to, getting a hang of the F1 2021 engine is well worth it.

As far as gameplay modes go, F1 2021 offers the usual: a Career mode that ports a player right into the thick of the Formula 1 season, plus a My Team mode that allows a user to control their very own squad. F1 2021 supports co-op as well, so multiple players can get in on the action. And F1 2021 also features a Story mode, entitled Braking Point. This mode follows three fictional F1 drivers, and while it does feel a bit stiff and structured, it’s not all that messy. If you’re looking for a true racing sim, it’s hard to beat F1 2021.

1. Forza Horizon 5

Screenshot by Gamepur
  • Released on November 9, 2021
  • Developed by Turn 10 Studios and Playground Games
  • Published by Xbox Game Studios

The latest installment of the Forza Horizon franchise launched a bit later than some of the other titles on this list, but it was well worth the wait, taking the Horizon Festival to Mexico.

Forza Horizon 5, as far as depth goes, takes the top spot for a number of reasons. For one, the main story follows a familiar path, full of races, new barn finds, and stories to complete. The addition of the Accolade system makes the progression system much different, but also easier to understand and figure out how to advance in the campaign. FH5 features over 500 cars from makers across the world, ranging from hot vehicles from today’s market to ones that look like relics of the past.

Forza Horizon 5 also offers a variety of different non-story modes, including competitive online races, Rivals races, plus the return of the Super7 and The Eliminator. FH5 also brings back Weekly Playlists, allowing users to quickly pick up newly added vehicles, and content updates that freshen things up every now and then.

If there are two things that could use some — and by some, we mean a lot — of work going forward, it’s the servers and online functionality. However, as far as single player goes, Forza Horizon 5 is pretty tough to beat. And 2022 should also be exciting for the Forza Horizon 5 franchise, thanks to two outstanding DLC packages that will be launching in the near future.