Athletes are the subjects of some of the most iconic, exciting photographs in history. Whether it’s Muhammad Ali standing over a K.O.’d Sonny Liston or Pete Rose diving headfirst into third, the best sports photos manage to capture the drama and action of a hard-fought contest in a single frame. So why don’t sports video games have photo modes?
I spent way too much of my youth watching replays in sports games as a kid. I was obsessed with sports in middle school in the mid-’90s and early 2000s, and that obsession extended to my video game habit, where I’d spend hours on Madden or the latest baseball game simply watching back some of the craziest plays I’d pull off. Even my beloved NHL 96 had enough hard-hitting action to warrant a replay every now and then. I still remember the time when a face-off sent a puck screaming through the glass in Civic Arena and I watched the replay over and over again, and that was over 20 years ago.
Returning to sports games for the purpose of reviewing them after several years away from some franchises, I find myself falling back into my old hobby. Some games take me longer to review just because I love watching replays from different angles. An extreme close-up on a soccer ball in motion can give you a fresh perspective on the sport as a whole. New motion technology and facial animations make for some of the best replays and frozen images in video games, and these tools are definitely helpful in capturing screenshots for reviews. You can get some pretty dramatic shots with what I suppose is a rudimentary photo mode.
But the rise of fully featured photo modes in games like Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War, thanks in part (I’m guessing) to things like Instagram, has shone a spotlight on how far behind sports games in general are when it comes to capturing the action. Sure, most sports titles don’t look as good as the two games I just mentioned, but capturing the action in them is satisfying nonetheless. And hey, maybe a real photo mode would encourage developers to push the envelope on animations and graphics a little bit more than they currently do.
The problem is that, without any kind of filters or a dedicated, free-floating camera, most screenshots I take turn out looking flatter than I’d like, at least in terms of lighting or camera effects. I’m not asking for Instagram-style filters that let me sepia the crap out of an image, but there’s something missing in the way sports games allow you to manipulate camera angles and the lack of settings like aperture and shutter speed.
Photography can turn athletes into legends and iconic sports moments into history. The fact that the current trend of photo modes in video games hasn’t made its way into sports titles seems like a huge missed opportunity to recapture the imagination of fans like me who love watching replays and highlights.
All screenshots were taken by the author, if you couldn’t tell.