When the EA Sports team took the stage at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, there was a hush over the sports gaming universe. Trust me, I heard it.
We were all anticipating a deep look at Madden NFL 16, NBA Live 16, NHL 16, FIFA 16 and Rory McIlroy PGA Tour 16. When it was over, fans were fed a healthy dose of information. Which game shone brightest? It depends on who you ask, but let's take a closer look at the information and media revealed at E3.
We'll start with the gridiron.
(The release date for each game is in parentheses.)
Madden NFL 16 (August 25, 2015)
Get It Early
Before the official presentation got started, EA buttered up consumers with positive news. Per the Instagram post below from EA Sports Insider, the game will be available to subscribers of EA Access on August 20.
That's approximately five days before the August 25 release date—give or take a few hours to download the game.
Once the presentation got started, the visuals, potentially enhanced gameplay, audio and presentation and a new game mode took center stage.
Players and environments looked especially impressive. You can get a glimpse of those qualities in the screenshots EA Sports made available to Bleacher Report:
It looks as if there's a greater and more noticeable difference between body types, and skin textures have been enhanced. Take a look at the trailer:
Be a Playmaker
The aspect of gameplay that was discussed was the passing game. EA Sports has redone it to give virtual quarterbacks the ability to make back-shoulder throws and aim low or behind receivers to increase the chances the pass is complete.
Receivers can attempt three different types of catches: the possession (which sacrifices yards after the catch), RAC (which increases potential for yards after the catch but decreases chances of catching the ball) and aggressive (for the spectacular grab).
That's a really cool feature, but it's also slightly concerning. Hopefully, it doesn't open the door for some sort of unstoppable pet maneuver that gamers use to exploit the new strategy. Steve Noah of Operation Sports concurred, as it'll cover athlete Odell Beckham Jr.'s amazingly recreated catch:
If this catch happens more than once per season in a Connected Franchise, you'll probably be a little upset.
Defensive players can apparently impact the passing game more than ever this year as well. Two-player animations help defensive backs defend passes. This could be a huge gameplay innovation or something that is more hyped than impactful.
We'll keep our fingers crossed for the feature to work as smartly as advertised.
What's That I Hear?
During the Madden hype video before the game's presentation began, you could hear a voice calling out specific game situations. The appealing aspect of this was the fact that the references were specific and had much more specificity than what we've heard from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms.
It's unclear whether this a new element of presentation or just part of the trailer. Let's hope for the former.
New game modes are cool, and the newly announced Draft Champions has some appeal. It's a combination of daily fantasy sports games such as DraftKings and EA Sports' Ultimate Team. You essentially draft a one-off team with salary restrictions that you get to take into online or offline play.
You play a mini season with your selected squad of current and legend players. It's a pick-up-and-play option that could last as short as five hours to complete. That's one evening or two if you have more of a life than me.
As quick fixes go, it sounds like a cool concept.
NBA Live 16 (September 29, 2015)
NBA 2K is the undisputed king of the virtual hardwood, but NBA Live has been diligently seeking to challenge the crown for the last few years. The once-dominant franchise has accepted its role as the underdog, and the developers of the series are looking to close the gap.
Last year, one of NBA 2K's biggest innovations was the face-scanning technology that allowed gamers to put themselves in the game. This year, NBA Live is using the same concept with GameFace HD.
With the use of cellphones or mobile devices, gamers can scan their faces and have their image transferred to the game. There was a seamless demonstration of the process performed on stage by the game's executive producer, Sean O'Brien, and an assistant named Hoop Gawd. EA Sports NBA Live tweeted this image from the presentation:
The process only took about five to seven seconds and seemed much less cumbersome than it did with NBA 2K. That said, this was just a demo, and we don't know how it will translate to users in their living rooms. It looked great on the screen, but we also have to see if your player can emote once the face has been transferred.
There are a few other questions, but no doubt it's a feature that is moving the series in the right direction.
Visuals and Animations
The face-scanning has clearly extended to real NBA players in Live. The facial renders were noticeably better on the players in the trailer below:
If you're looking for more of a closeup, check out this shot of the Cleveland Cavaliers' J.R. Smith.
Cavs fans would love to see Smith flashing this symbol a few more times in Tuesday night's Game 6 of the NBA Finals.
While there's no doubt the players' faces look a little better, I'm still troubled by their bodies and the animations I saw. It still looks like there's an issue with fluidity. That might be due to EA's philosophical approach to animations.
Part of the reason 2K looks so smooth is because of the smartly placed animation sequences that allow the game to flow the way real basketball does. EA opts for more control, but the visuals seemingly suffer because of that approach.
Some gamers prefer that method, but it's unclear if enough fans will fall in love with that style this season.
EA introduced GameFace HD but didn't reveal the mode it will be used in. You would have to think it will be primarily used in an extension of the Rising Stars mode. RS is Live's one-player RPG-style mode that is similar to 2K's MyCareer.
It was teased a bit at the end of the trailer. Complex caught the image and tweeted it:
The hashtag says "RiseTogether," and it looks like an answer to 2K's Park mode. With such bold and obvious challenges to 2K's most popular and high-profile features, EA Sports has thrown down the gauntlet in this rivalry.
If those announcements weren't enough to convince you EA Sports is coming at 2K's head, think about what O'Brien said when he talked briefly about Live's new mode, per Noah:
This was an obvious shot at NBA 2K's perennial server issues. Quite honestly, the presence of those problems in NBA 2K's game provides the biggest opening for Live to take back a piece of the virtual-hoops pie.
FIFA 16 (September 22, 2015, in North America and September 24, 2015, in other regions)
New Defensive Agility
Unless there's much more to come, there didn't appear to be a ton of new features in gameplay added to FIFA 16 from last year's version. New defensive agility was one that might excite gamers.
It featured control of every level of your team on the pitch and includes enhanced interception intelligence. That's something I desperately need.
If I had a dime for every time I yelled at a midfielder to intercept a pass I thought was in his reach, I'd have a pretty penny.
Women Are in the Game
Women have been added into FIFA, and it is about time. NBA games should have a WNBA mode as well, but it's understandable why FIFA would be the first franchise to make the move.
Timing is everything.
With the women's World Cup taking place, that side of the sport is popular right now. It's still great to see the women represented in the cyber version of the beautiful game.
Reaching back to bring along the novices is something all gaming series should do. FIFA has always been the type of series that attempts to teach the less than hardcore fan its game.
With on-screen prompts and guidance, the FIFA trainer looks like a cool way to help you play FIFA better and understand the game more.
NHL 16 (September 15, 2015)
Back and Full of Features
The gripe against NHL 15 was its stripped-down feature set. This year, the developers of NHL 16 have learned their lesson and are bringing fans the depth most became accustomed to with the series on the previous generation of gaming consoles.
That includes the beloved EA Sports Hockey League. EASHL is a great team-up option and will include six-on-six online play. A full Be a Pro, Be a GM and Ultimate Team are also back for this year's version.
NHL 15 looked like a million bucks last year, and the visuals in the trailer below are even slicker for NHL 16.
The Hockey Gods agree. There are playoff beards for crying out loud.
Everything about a TV-style NHL presentation looks to be captured here, and I really can't wait to get my hands on this puppy. NHL 16 was easily the most impressive sports game EA showed during its presentation.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour 16 (July 15, 2015)
The first EA Sports title to release this year will be Rory McIlroy PGA Tour 16. It's a historic title for a few reasons. It marks the beginning of EA Sports' journey with McIlroy as the cover athlete. It's the first golf title from EA on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and it's also the first sports game the company has developed that uses the Frostbite engine.
Along with boasting highly enhanced scaling, the engine is also going to decrease loading times. You can load an entire course at the beginning of a round. Per the presentation, that can shave 15 minutes off the time it takes to play a round.
Graphics Look Sweet
From the over-the-top fantasy courses to the more traditional venues, the game looks beautiful. Graphically, we may not see a much better looking game all year.
Here's a look at the trailer:
I'm slightly concerned about the feature set for the game. It seems sports franchises hold back on the first version of their games on a new console. It happened with NHL last year and could happen with PGA Tour with this year's version.
We know about Be a PGA Tour Pro, online against the world and the one-off challenges. However, we don't know the depth of the career mode or the online details. More than likely, we'll need some hands-on time with this game to know the ins and outs of this year's product.
Where's the Fighting?
Much to my chagrin, there was no sign of EA Sports UFC or even more importantly—a Fight Night Champion sequel. There weren't any rumors around either series continuing, but I was hoping for a surprise mention.
It's been four years since Fight Night Champion released for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Hopefully there's something in the works that the company simply wasn't ready to share just yet.
All in all, EA Sports presented well. Each game was at the very least intriguing and left me wishing the calendar would move just a little bit faster.
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