Sports gamers are ready for far more than some football coming out of this year's E3 expo.
One of the most reliably predictable genres, as far as big sellers and upcoming releases for the year, sports games still present major reveals at these shows, in their own way. This year will see two brand new titles from Electronic Arts, so straight away we know to look for those. But what of the rest?
You can't keep track without a scorecard, so here are our big performers to watch - we think.
EA Sports MMA (PS3, Xbox 360) - Electronic Arts' entry into mixed martial arts will easily dominate the sports game news coming out of L.A., especially with the game sponsoring three bouts at the nearby Nokia Theater on Wednesday. Although it lacks licensing of the sport's top circuit, going with the lesser known Strikeforce, a strong control set could give it a fighting chance against THQ's UFC Undisputed 2010.
NBA 2K11 (PS3, Xbox 360) - Michael Jordan, the greatest professional basketball player in the world, is confirmed not just for the cover of NBA 2K11 but also as a playable in-game athlete. What and how much 2K Sports chooses to reveal could make this a show-stealer.
NBA Jam (Wii) - This heavily anticipated remake of the rambunctious 1990s arcade dunkathon will undoubtedly provide many man-they-got-that-in-there! moments. It's Wii-only, but no one seriously believes it'll stay that way forever, so 360 and PS3 fans are on high alert for any indication it's coming their way.
WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2011 (Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, PSP, Wii) - THQ's rasslin' franchise emphasizes the TLC this year - that's tables, ladders, and chairs, and all the awesome looking things you can do with them and to others. You can have up to six - six!!! - tables in match, and they'll destroy in more cool-looking ways this year, too.
NHL 2K11 and NHL Slapshot (Wii) - 2K Sports put the 360 and PS3 editions of its NHL franchise on hiatus for a year and retrenched with its Wii version, where it had run unopposed for two years and saw strong success among Canadian fans. It's now challenged by the recently announced NHL Slapshot from EA Sports, which eschews a full team sim for a career mode bringing players from youth hockey to the big time.This is an intriguing competition to watch.
NBA Elite (Xbox 360, PS3) - 2K isn't the only sports studio retrenching on a major license. EA Sports renamed its old NBA Live franchise and is hoping for a revival similar to when Triple Play became MVP Baseball. A new analog control package seeks to work tough defense and assists into a game most play with a shoot-and-dunk mentality.
What's the trend here?
The above doesn't include FIFA, NCAA Football, Madden NFL or NHL 11, the guts of EA Sports' annual catalog. But they're big sellers who also make the same yearly promise of new content and gameplay changes. Things are trending toward more skill-influenced, deterministic controls on the right analog stick in team sports games, after EA innovated with them in individual titles like Fight Night and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. 2K Sports got analog right in MLB 2K10 after an abortive first attempt. Madden will enhance its analog controls, and EA Sports MMA will also incorporate them in a critical way. If these and NBA Elite can deliver on promises, EA Sports could shift gamers expectations to this control set, and the sports games industry with it.