Because of the assurance - death, taxes and Madden - that they come out every year, sports video games aren't typically the biggest newsmakers at E3. For diehard fans, however, it is often the first time their favourite series gets a gameplay demonstration. We'll be there to see all of these, the biggest sports games of E3 2011.
This year is rather straightforward for the sports genre. An era of contraction and competition dropping out leaves us with little more than one title in each of the major sports to be shown. That means the ones that are on the floor in Los Angeles had better be ready for their closeup.
The Team Efforts
FIFA 12 (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, 3DS, PSP) As one of the most critically acclaimed titles in the genre, FIFA is the sort of game more likely to show gameplay refinements rather than dramatic overhauls. A physics engine, two years in development anchors this year's set; it's backed up by precision dribbling and new defending mechanics. FIFA largely competes against its own previous entries; that doesn't mean it can't deliver results.
NBA 2K12(PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PS2, PSP, PC) NBA 2K, which last year featured the return of Michael Jordan and a thrilling campaign mode recreating his greatest performances, faces a demanding encore this year. 2K Sports has kept its plans quiet, releasing this teaser trailer (composed of NBA 2K11 footage) just yesterday. The game also faces the prospect of a real-world labour stoppage but no competition; EA Sports' NBA series will sit out another year. NBA 2K12 will get a closed-doors demonstration at E3.
Madden NFL 12(PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP) With a lockout poised to claim at least part of the NFL season, EA Sports has decided this is the year to consolidate its position with Madden's hardcore, the ones most likely to look to the game as a Sunday substitute. That means a ton of community-requested features will finally make their way into the game, principally in the game's Franchise mode. Superstar, its singleplayer career mode, also gets serious attention for the first time since its introduction.
NCAA Football 12 (PS3, Xbox 360) EA Sports' college football simulation will get a closed-doors screening at E3, unusual for a sports title releasing so close to the expo (July 12). What the Tiburon team has exposed so far is impressive. There's a Coaching Carousel mode that expands the long running Dynasty campaign, making it into a second career focusing on you as a college coach. Road to Glory, the singleplayer career, adds a fifth season-your high school senior year, with an increased focus on your recruitment, your college choice, and then how you make the starting lineup. Fully customisable conference alignments and memberships are part of a slew of updates in the game's Dynasty mode.
NHL 12 (PS3, Xbox 360) The return of goalie fighting was one highlight among several peeks NHL 12 gave with its official reveal a week ago. The outdoor NHL Winter Classic, one of the most-watched hockey events in the United States, appears in the NHL series for the first time, too. Upgrades to physics and the game's Be a Pro mode also were touted.
The Solo Stars
SSX (PS3, Xbox 360) In a trailer at the Spike Video Game Awards, SSX emerged from a six-year hibernation in the Himalayas, one of several real world locales the game will visit in a darker presentation of the snowboarding series. Helicopters (they drop you onto the runs) led some to chide the presentation as SSX meets Call of Duty. We'll get a clearer look at the story of a team striving to descend the most treacherous mountains on Earth. The game's slated for a January 2012 release.
Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games (Wii, 3DS) The one-time console rivals have visited Vancouver and Beijing, now they will compete at London 2012. Simulation-quality Olympics games have been neither critical nor commercial successes, leaving it to titles such as this one to carry the torch.
Kings of the Ring
Supremacy MMA (PS3, Xbox 360) Probably the most controversial entry among the sports titles at E3, Supremacy MMA is in many respects more fighter than sports title. The MMA game features blood, broken bones and violent beatdowns in some godawful underground locales, seeking to tell the tale of fighters rising up out of their lives' adverse circumstances. Two female combatants are playable (but not against male fighters) adding to the game's renegade profile.
WWE 12 (PS3, Wii, 360) Long known as Smackdown vs Raw, the pro wrestling "simulation" title will be known simply as WWE 12 when it bodyslams into November. The ability to attack foes mid-move was one feature touted in a recent reveal. "Universe", introduced in SvR 2011 is the game's career mode; the rivalries and storylines it generates will get another layer of polish.
UFC Undisputed 2012 (PS3, PS2, Xbox 360) Unable to match the pizzazz of their 2009 breakout hit in 2010, THQ elected to retrench and put their mixed martial arts offering on a two-year schedule. The year off proved to be a solid move, as UFC bought out Strikeforce, the major licencing partner of EA Sports MMA, and it is unlikely to deliver a sequel. UFC Undisputed 2012 will make its promotional debut at E3.
This spring, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition will follow last year's reboot of the arcade hoops series, one originally intended as an XBLA/PSN title but forced into retail duty after the last minute cancellation of NBA Elite. Backbreaker 2: Vengeance will also get a showing; it's a minigame sequel to the "Tackle Alley" mode of last year's console sim. It's coming to Xbox Live Arcade.
That doesn't mean these are the only sports titles at E3; it's just the ones we know about. There's a certain arcade-style football game whose name rhymes with Schmenefel Schmlitz that is rumoured to be in development. We'll take to the field to spot all of the contenders.
We'll be previewing more expected E3 games throughout the week...