The 25 Best Sports Video Games, Ranked

From NBA 2k11 to FIFA 13, here are the best video games in all of sports history, covering basketball, soccer, wrestling, football, skateboard games, & more.

Best sports video games list.

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Best sports video games list.

Sports and gaming have long gone hand in hand. Athletes love to play as themselves in the games and fans love to play out their sports dreams through video games. How else can the Knicks win a championship? This isn’t a new thing, either. Since the days of Tecmo Bowl to Punch-Out!!, sports video games have always been part of fans’ DNA. The joy and anger that comes from playing against your friends in FIFA or 2K are almost unmatched. The passion rivals the energy you put into rooting for your own squad. 

Over the years, there have been many classic sports games—so many that ranking the best 25 was an incredibly challenging task. And as technology has become more advanced, so have sports games. Now, players look more lifelike, the inputs for moves are more precise, and the gameplay feels more fluid. That makes ranking the classics even more difficult. There's no true consensus on this, and everyone will have their own list. For ours, we excluded all racing games. So no Mario Kart or Gran Turismo, despite both being classics. Also, no football-manager- or soccer-manager-style games, sorry. With all of that being said, check out the Complex Sports ranking of the 25 best sports video games ever. We're sure you'll get mad, so enjoy. 

25. Wii Sports

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Consoles:  Nintendo Wii

Release Date: November 19, 2006

You can’t leave this one off the list. While this may not fit under your stereotypical definition of a sports video game, Wii Sports is actually one of the most popular names on this list. It’s not a simulation game of course but it was unique in that it unified the typical sports fanatic with someone who had no interest or knowledge of sports at all. From bowling to baseball to tennis, the game was revolutionary because of its motion sensor capabilities. When you were in the boxing ring, you were dodging and weaving like you were Muhammad Ali. When you were up to bat in baseball, you got in your stance like Derek Jeter and swung your remote as if you had an actual bat in your hand. The game offered five sports including golf, baseball, tennis, bowling, and boxing. While it offered a competitive aspect to it, it was a family-friendly game that could be played by anyone of any age. I’m taking Wii Sports Matt from boxing over any video game character of all time.  —ZO

24. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater

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Consoles: Nintendo 64, PlayStation, Game Boy, Dreamcast, Game Boy Color, N-Gage

Release Date: Sept. 29, 1999

We couldn’t not include the OG of the series, the first of its kind. I remember the blue cartridge so vividly, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Inserting it into my N64 and logging hours up hours in what became an all-time classic and personal favorite. 

I knew nothing about skateboarding or Tony Hawk but in swooped a culture that would change my life forever. Countless tricks, sick air, moves I’d never heard of became part of my everyday lingo with my cousins. Manuals were my personal favorite, always extending my trick combos.

Graffiti or HORSE? I can’t choose between the game modes. Collecting the tapes to unlock some sick footage of the legends that became further immortalized in skate, man what a time. Burnquist, Campbell, Glifberg, Lasek, Muska, and more. Each with its own set of attributes. Grinding around bowls and nailing 900s became a daily thing I would never dare do in real life but an instant favorite to watch or play. —JT

23. SSX Tricky

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Consoles: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, Gizmondo, N-Gage, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One

Release Date: Oct. 26, 2000

While snowboarding may not be the most popular sport in the world, when it comes to video games it’s ripe for some fantastic gameplay. The only snowboarding series of note, SSX Tricky was mainly an extension of the original SSX, but it brought with it several improvements. Uber tricks came to the game and instantly became one of the best features, along with the crazy characters and awesome soundtrack. In the golden era of PlayStation 2, this was a must-have game and dubbed “the best snowboarding game ever made.”

The soundtrack, with the title track “It’s Tricky” by Run DMC, was ahead of its time for 2001. We’ve come to expect great music in 2K and FIFA, but this game had amazing sounds throughout. As for the characters, they each had great backstories and lots of customizable options, making you fall in love with them even more. On top of that, the 3D graphics were great, which in 2001 was definitely noteworthy, and the rivalry cutscenes before races foreshadowed elements of modern sports games that now heavily rely on MoCap technology. —PS

22. WWE SmackDown! Here Comes the Pain

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Consoles: PlayStation 2

Release Date: Oct. 27, 2003

The first WWE SmackDown! to not reference a catchphrase from The Rock in its title (as well as the last to solely be titled SmackDown! before they moved to the Raw vs. SmackDown series) was a big moment for WWE video games. It’s the first game to bring you both the Elimination Chamber and Bra & Panties matches (for good or ill) in any wrestling game, but overall the game was a huge improvement. Glitches were removed from the previous title, the grappling system was updated, and the Season Mode was fun to play, with the cash you earn from winning matches being able to be applied to everything from new gear to unlocking classic WWE legends like the “Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase and the Legion of Doom. Even choices like not having commentary during matches were awesome to see, especially when everything else accurately mirrored the WWE superstars being emulated in the game. Altogether, for WWE junkies back in the early 2000s, Here Comes the Pain was hands-down the best WWE title they’d seen in some time. —Khal

21. NFL Street

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Consoles: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox

Release Date: Jan. 13, 2004

The NBA Street series was a massive success for the EA Sports subdivision, EA Sports Big. So, the next logical step was obviously to apply the formula to the NFL. NFL Street hit shelves in 2004 in all of its 7-on-7 glory and turned the arcade-style gameplay of games like NFL Blitz up a notch by taking the games out of the arena and onto areas like sandy beaches and backlots. Throughout the game, touchdowns and taunts would earn style points on the way to the legendary Gamebreaker, which made your team unstoppable for a brief moment similar to NBA Street. A challenge mode allowed you to work your way up the competitive ladder completing challenges and stealing players from teams and legends like Barry Sanders or Walter Payton along the way to build your ultimate squad. Few things were more satisfying as a kid than triggering the, “I’m Comin! Here I Come,” Gamebreaker cut scene, tossing a behind the back deep ball from Donovan McNabb to Bobby Taylor, and high-stepping to the endzone spinning the ball on one finger after breaking six tackles. Thank you, NFL Street. —MD

20. Madden NFL 2004

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Consoles: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation

Release Date: Aug. 12, 2003

Talk about a classic. I’m sure we all have memories of playing with Michael Vick in this game. He was simply unstoppable. Drop back, roll out, and take off. Easy TD. While the Madden franchise has seen fans complain about a lack of change in recent years, the 2004 game was really revolutionary in the sense that Vick changed the game forever. It’s also the most iconic cover in the history of the game, plus the added franchise mode features, such as team relocation and being able to set your stadium concession prices, was pretty cutting edge for the time. If you asked fans to name the most famous Madden cover, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that didn’t name Madden 2004—ZF

19. NFL 2K1

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Console: Dreamcast

Release Date: Sept. 7, 2000

Another football masterpiece. NFL 2k1 is a big reason why fans are always clamoring for the return of the franchise. The gameplay was way ahead of its time and laid the groundwork for the modern football game. There’s a reason this game got al “A” reviews from critics. It’s slick and straight to the point. I can’t even tell you how many hours I logged on the Dreamcast playing this one. For me, the Vikings were simply unstoppable. Go routes to Randy Moss all damn day. —ZF

18. FIFA 15

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Consoles: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows, IOS, Android, Windows Phone and PC.

Release Date: Sept. 18, 2014

One of the most popular, and heavily critiqued, franchises of all time, FIFA has a lot to live up to every time they release a new game. And while many would argue FIFA ends up putting out “the same game” every year, specific editions in the franchise deserve recognition. FIFA 15 solidified what the franchise would look like for the next few years, with better gameplay on the Ignite engine, more additions to FUT, and a big expansion of team licensing.

FIFA 15 was the first time EA had full licensing to the Premier League, which allowed them to bring every EPL stadium to life in the game, enhancing the life-like quality of the game. EA also expanded the emotions of the players and the crowds, making reactions even more realistic. With solid gameplay, and now even more realism, FIFA 15 set the stage for the amount of detail we’ve come to expect from FIFA games in recent years. —PS

17. Fight Night Round 4

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Consoles: Xbox 360, BlackBerry, PlayStation 3, Windows Mobile

Release Date: June 25, 2009

Boxing video games might be one of the most fun sports video game categories. There’s been plenty of classic titles over the years, but EA Sports’ Fight Night Round 4 is easily one of the best 25 sports video games ever. The cover alone is GOAT worthy, with Ali and Tyson squaring off in what many people would call their dream fight. As for gameplay, this iteration of Fight Night was damn near perfect. The motions were fluid and the depth of the game was very addicting. Not to mention an insane roster of boxers plus a very enjoyable legacy mode where you try and take your fighter to the top. And listen, let’s not forget that Fight Night is high on the list of “most annoying games to lose to your friends” list. It would be just maddening when you to an “L” while playing this game. —ZF

16. NFL Blitz

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Console: Arcade, PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Microsoft Windows, Game Boy Color

Release Date:  Nov. 1997

This is an easy one. Who didn’t love playing NFL Blitz growing up? If we were just talking arcade-style games, this would be so much higher. There’s really not much to it. Just straight-up fun to play with friends. I personally remember playing the N64 version for hours on end back in the day. The feeling of doing stuff in the game that could never be done in an actual football game was just an absolute blast. Not to mention the hilarious plays you could select. If you weren’t just running deep routes, were you even playing? —ZF

15. Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2004

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Consoles: PlayStation 2, Microsoft Windows, GameCube, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, N-Gage

Release Date: July 14, 2003​​​​​​​

It wasn’t easy to pick out the best Tiger Woods golf game. 2005 is great. So is 2003. The later aughts games are also very strong. However, we went with 2004 because it really was the best of what the game had to offer in one title. Not to mention, they started the game with DMX’s “Up in Here.” Hard to get much better than that. I still remember getting pissed that I couldn’t do well at Bethpage Black in this game. It literally haunts me to this day. —ZF

14. Tecmo Bowl

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Consoles: Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayChoice-10, Game Boy

Release Date: Dec. 1987

Literally all the way back to the beginning. Simply put, the football video game industry wouldn’t be where it is today without this game. The NES version of Tecmo Bowl is one of my first memories of playing a sports video game. It also sparked my love of football. I was hooked instantly. And let’s be honest, for what it was and when it came out, the gameplay is pretty damn good. It’s just a straight-up enjoyable game. Bo Jackson was the first unstoppable force in a sports video game. It legit wasn’t fair to play with him in this game. What a legend. —ZF

13. Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball

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Console:  Nintendo

Release Date: March 1994

We’re really going down memory lane here. Ken Griffey Baseball was and still is an N64 classic. Even if you weren’t a big baseball fan as a kid, this was a must-play. The hitting mechanics were the perfect blend of difficulty and it was always epic to just hit bombs against your friends with Griffey. For real, playing with the Mariners was damn near a cheat code in this game. Batting with Tony Gwynn was also damn near a sure thing. Easily one of the best titles to ever come out on the N64 platform. I wish I still had a way to play this game today. —ZF

12. NHL 94

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Consoles: Sega Genesis, DOS, Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Release Date: Oct. 1993

Here we have another cult classic. All these years later and there are still NHL 94 tournaments and forums. The game’s popularity hasn’t slowed down one bit, and for a good reason. It’s insanely fun. This is a definitive classic sports video game, even if you’re not a big hockey fan. And listen, I’m not a huge hockey guy. I watch the playoffs and call it a day. But man, I’ve logged so many hours playing this one. The Penguins were my squad, and they were damn near unstoppable. The gameplay is smooth, and the way the action goes up and down the rink is flat-out addicting. Honestly, we probably have this a bit low for how great it is. —ZF

11. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2

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Consoles: PlayStation, Microsoft Windows, Game Boy Color, Dreamcast, Game Boy Advance, Mac OS, Nintendo 64, iOS

Release Date: Sept. 20, 2000

It’s no secret by now, the best skate series is making a return. The living legend himself Tony Hawk announced recently that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 drops this Fall. Nostalgia flowed immediately as I started to run the soundtracks back. 

THPS2, as most would refer to it, is the best of an all-time series that easily shifted skate culture. Adding to its stellar gameplay it was the first of the Pro Skater games to feature Create-a-Skater and Park Editor features, shifting the series and becoming an instant staple.

Tasks like finding S-K-A-T-E letters in each level, nailing high scores, and finding hidden tapes became an everyday thing as a kid. I knew the skaters by then, but the tricks looked so much crisper. The competition levels were fun, but you could always find me completing the 10 tasks, traveling to cities and places I never knew about. Especially the NYC level. —JT

10. NBA Street Vol. 2

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Consoles:  GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox

Release Date: April 29, 2003​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Somewhere between an Arcade-style basketball game and an actual game like 2K, NBA Street Vol. 2 was perfectly simple and a whole lot of fun. I would play this game in elementary school on my best friend at the time’s Game Cube just about every day after school. NBA Challenge was the game mode for me, going one-by-one through the NBA and defeating their team and legends. It was a domination-style game that was perfect for the 3-on-3 format we were given. It all came down to Gamebreakers in this version of NBA street though, you would spend the whole game doing unnecessary dribble moves and styling as hard as you could to fill up that meter. But the real question was, do you use your first Gamebreaker, or do you save it for the second Gamebreaker? Life was simpler back then when that felt like the biggest decision of my day. Doing all of these moves with actual NBA players made it even more special. There’s something about making Kobe Bryant go “off-the-heezy” against Mike Bibby or Paul Pierce that makes me smile. —BF

9. MVP Baseball 2005

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Consoles: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox

Release Date: Feb. 22, 2005​​​​​​​

Easily one of the best baseball games we’ve all had the privilege to play. With Manny Ramirez donning the cover fresh off a World Series with the Red Sox in 2004, their first in 86 years, we recall who really came back from a 3-1 deficit first. It’s hard to call this installment in the MVP Baseball series anything but iconic. Some have gone as far as calling it “the best sports game of all time” and as a baseball fan, it isn’t far-fetched. 

Baseball overall was on fire, Barry was still crushing bombs on his way to becoming the HR King, but John Dowd was the stud of MVP Baseball 2005. Dowd was a fictional but ferocious slugger EA Sports decided to replace Bonds with since he revoked the use of his likeness, but man could he raked. Pitchers trembled when he got to the plate.

The interface was elite, the teams and players so fundamental to our love for the game, and who could forget about one of the best minigames? Yes, the batting mini-game unlike any other. Who knew nailing ramps to get power boosts and avoid vortexed would be so fun? Sure to miss it. —JT

8. NCAA Football 14

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Consoles:  Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Release Date: July 9, 2013

This was somehow the last NCAA college football game that has been released, which is a damn shame. The entire NCAA Football series has delivered plenty of classic games, but 2014 takes the cake here. This game has everything for a college football fan, from the gameplay to the super in-depth dynasty mode. Want to know how much people love this game? You can’t buy it for under $200 online right now. It’s still crazy popular and for good reason. Also, we couldn’t talk about this game without giving a shout-out to Coach Duggs and Barstool Big Cat, who has brought the epicness of the game back into full light with his nightly streams on Twitch. Let’s please get a new NCAA Football game sooner rather than later, guys. —ZF

7. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

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Consoles: Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayChoice-10, Wii, Wii U, Arcade game, Arcade video game, Nintendo 3DS

Release Date: September 18, 1987

Another absolute classic from back in the day. And honestly, if our team of people putting this list together wasn’t so young, this would probably be higher. This really paved the way in the sports video game world and was a must-own on NES. Much like NHL 94, there are still tournaments and full communities to celebrate this game. What really made the game fun was the collection of boxers you got to play with. You were either a Soda Popinski or King Hippo person, tbh. Of course, not a whole lot beat playing with Iron Mike Tyson himself. —ZF

6. Backyard Baseball

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Consoles: Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, Wii, Microsoft Windows, iOS, Xbox 360, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo GameCube, Macintosh

Release Date: Oct. 1997

This game unlocks an entire vault of memories for me. Sitting for what felts like days at a time at the computer in my mom’s guest room grinding away at Backyard Baseball, clicking the one single button that was necessary to hit, pitch, field, run, and more. Some real icons were born from this game. No better place to start than with arguably the greatest fictional athlete of all time, in Pablo Sanchez. That little man hit dingers over the shed in Steele Stadium, all the way down the line at Sandy Flats, and off the roof of Tin Can Alley. There was the speedster, Pete Wheeler, to set the table at the top of the lineup, the dual threat of Kenny Kawaguchi getting it done on the mound and at the top of the lineup, and Achmed Khan batting cleanup to bring everyone home. And then there were the in-game power-ups. I still remember the noise that aluminum bat made today, hitting absolute moonshots, you couldn’t touch eight-year-old me while I was playing this game. I could probably ramble on about this game for another few hundred words, but I’ll leave it there. —BF

5. NBA Jam

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Consoles: Arcade, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Game Gear, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, 32X, PlayStation, Atari Jaguar, Microsoft Windows, Nintendo 64, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Wii, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Android

Release Date: 1993

It’s crazy to think that Midway, the company that blew up in 1992 with their ultra-controversial fighting game Mortal Kombat, was the same company that perfected the two-on-two arcade-style basketball game genre with NBA Jam, all with an official NBA license! The premise of the game is simple: two representatives from every team in the National Basketball Association battle head-to-head in a game that rewarded hot hands and huge dunks. (Sinking three shots in succession meant you were “on fire,” signified by the basketball smoking and glowing whenever you touched it, with the net burning to a crisp when you sunk another shot, and that was beautiful.) The over-the-top animations for the many dunks in the game were worth the quarters you stacked up to play. Adding elements like “big head mode” made the game unique to other sports simulations, and by bringing out the biggest stars from each team, it had infinite replay value for NBA diehards at the time. No wonder it was deemed the highest-earning arcade game in 1994; it was just that damn fun. When you add in memorable shouts of “he’s on fire!” and “boom-shaka-laka!” from in-game announcer Tim Kitzrow during key moments, and you have one of the most memorable sports video game experiences ever. —Khal

4. FIFA 13

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Consoles: Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, Java

Release Date: Sept. 25, 2012

I am very much not a soccer guy, but FIFA 13 was simply the shit. I logged so many damn hours playing this game that I knew all of the rosters without even watching the actual games. I have no take on the Messi and Ronaldo debate either, but in the game, Messi was my guy. Purely unstoppable. From the career mode to the intense matchups with friends, there are really no holes to poke in this version of the FIFA franchise. And let’s be honest, does any game get more heated between friends than a FIFA game? I’ve seen more controllers thrown while a group of people plays this game than any other title. Something about it just brings out the competitiveness in your blood. —ZF

3. Madden NFL 2005

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Consoles: Nintendo GameCube, PlayStation 2, PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo DS, Microsoft Windows, Game Boy Advance, Tapwave Zodiac

Release Date: Aug. 9, 2004

Back in 2005, the NFL video game landscape was sort of like professional wrestling’s Monday Night Raw in the late ‘90s. Just as WWE and WCW had to constantly think of innovative ways to one-up their competitor, the same could be said about the Madden and NFL 2K franchises. Madden NFL 2005 delivered a new feature that would become a cornerstone of the franchise moving forward, the Hit Stick. With Ray Lewis on the cover as the perfect ambassador, the Hit Stick allowed players to lay bone-crunching hits with the flick of the analog stick. It made you actually want to play defense in an attempt to lay out the biggest hit of the game rather than just go through the motions until the next offensive drive. It also added a whole new group of animations to the gameplay that, by 2005 standards, was more realistic than ever before. The title also offered Storyline Central, a deep mode that allowed you to control things as minor as the price of a hot dog at the stadium of your favorite team and mini-camp drills that could take up hours of time if you weren’t careful. EA Sports was also in their BAG curating this soundtrack. We need Madden to get back to this level. This is the gold standard. —MD 

2. NBA 2K11

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Consoles: PlayStation Portable, Microsoft Windows, Wii, PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Release Date: Oct. 5, 2010

For as much as people complain about NBA 2k not changing in recent years, there are really no holes you can poke in NBA 2k11. Hell, they put Michael Jordan on the cover for a reason. They knew they had the GOAT on their hands. In my eyes, this is the best basketball game ever. No 2k franchise had better gameplay than this year. It was simply perfect. Throw in the “Jordan Challenges” where you could literally play out MJ’s career, and this game really had it all. The “Jordan Challenges” were so good, they had to bring them back this in NBA 2K23. And honestly, we could debate for hours about where the game went from here, but why even do that. Let’s just celebrate how epic this one was. —ZF


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Consoles: PlayStation 2, Xbox

Release Date: July 20, 2004

Back in 2005, EA Sports wasn’t the only company producing official NFL games. In fact, many would argue that 2K Sports was doing it better. ESPN NFL 2K5 is still widely regarded as the best football game ever made for good reason. An official licensing deal with ESPN allowed for SportsCenter cutscenes and commentary from Chris Berman. Players had accurate face scans, almost unheard-of attention to detail in the PS2 era of graphics. It felt that much closer to what you’d watch on Sundays. The ability to play games from an in-helmet first-person camera angle, while not perfect, was also unlike anything we had ever seen before. You could fill “The Crib” with unlockable mini-games and memorabilia, and Carmen Electra challenged you to games for prizes. The whole thing was over the top nonsense in the best way possible. All the extras aside, the game was just a fun football simulation. Oh, and it was also only $19.99. 2K5 would end up being the last installment in the series as EA would acquire exclusive rights to the NFL license in years that followed. But there is a reason news of an NFL 2K comeback had people talking. It’s because this game was that damn good. —MD

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