Summer brings with it many things. Trips to the beach. Big summer movies. E3. And, more often than not, a lack of big game releases. There are rare exceptions like the launch of BioShock in August, 2007, but otherwise, summer for gamers is defined by sports titles like Madden NFL 12, due in late August, and NCAA Football 12, which arrives this month.
So, in that spirit I'm going to give you a rundown of the big sports games due out for the rest of 2011 (there have already been some great releases like Fight Night Champion and MLB 11: The Show for PS3). EA Sports continues to offer the most releases, but 2K Sports has the hottest game on the list with the brand new NBA 2K12. And, with both the NFL and NBA involved in labor disputes that may disrupt their seasons, this year is filled with lots of drama and intrigue for sports gamers.
Michael Vick lost to Peyton Hillis in one of the strangest cover votes in recent memory, but the biggest challenge Madden NFL 12 faces is the uncertainty over the NFL season. Regardless of what happens in the real world, EA Sports has assured fans that it will ship Madden at the end of August, a few weeks later than normal. This year's game is focused around a few new features, including the addition of custom playbooks. While last year's GameFlow feature (to auto-select plays) is still an option, you can now set up your own playbook culled from 400 offensive and defensive plays.
Madden NFL is back this August, with or without an NFL season.
2K Sports' amazing NBA 2K series arrives this October.
On the field, there are more than 100 new tackle animations, plus a host of upgrades to the camera angles and broadcast graphics which make Madden look more and more like a real NFL TV broadcast. This year's Madden is more about refining the existing features as opposed to a complete reinvention, but that's likely enough for NFL fans that are happy the game is arriving at the GameFly warehouses with or without a season.
First revealed by Kobe Bryant during the Sony keynote at E3 2011, NBA 2K12 remains the only roundball game on the market. EA says it will return to the NBA arena next year after cancelling NBA Elite 11 just weeks before it shipped last year. Last year's NBA 2K11, featuring Michael Jordan on the cover, was one of the best reviewed - and best-selling - sports games in recent memory. My favorite mode was My Player, a career feature with off-court activities like post-game press conferences and sponsorship deals.
How is 2K planning to top itself this October? At E3, it wasn't saying much, beyond showcasing an NBA Finals game between the Heat and Mavericks with improved, shockingly realistic custom player animations. It will be tough to out-do features like the Michael Jordan career mode (and MJ on the cover), but 2K assures me we will be impressed when more details are revealed on their cover plan and game features later this summer.
Shattering glass, fighting goalies, and harder hits headline the next edition of EA's NHL 12, which has gone through a creative renaissance over the past few years. Fights continue to be an important part of the gameplay, and now goalies can even get into it for the first time. In addition to the regular roster and team changes (like the Atlanta Thrashers moving to Winnipeg) EA has added the NHL Winter Classic as a playable event. Now you can play this big budget game in front of 70,000 fans at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. NHL is a sport that translates incredibly well to video games because of its fast and aggressive action, and NHL 12 looks to only improve on the series' legacy.
Which is EA Sports' most successful franchise these days? You may not realize it, but FIFA Soccer takes the crown when you factor in all the international sales. It's not a World Cup year, but that hasn't stopped EA Canada from dramatically improving FIFA Soccer 12 for its release this fall. First, there's a new commentary team in place to take over from Andy Gray, who was fired from Sky Sports in the UK. The biggest changes under the hood are with the game engine, which now simulates physics on every player. In FIFA Soccer 12, running into another player becomes a physics simulation where the animation and game engine determines who falls down or who trips over who. It's fascinating to see players interacting and fighting for control of the ball, especially since the action is emergent and physics-driven as opposed to utilizing pre-scripted animations.
Out this month, EA's college football sim always seems to be forgotten by the time Madden arrives in August. This year's edition of NCAA Football 12 goes deeper with school traditions, such as including Tommy Trojan on the sidelines for USC football games. The career mode, called "Road to Glory," lets you recreate your entire senior year of high school - although no word if senior prom gets the video game treatment. ESPN's Erin Andrews hosts and tracks your on-field progress from high school to the National Championship. For those players who like to get even more in depth, there's an enhanced dynasty mode that simulates the coaching experience from coordinator right up to head coach.