2015 marks SGO’s first year at E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo and it is the biggest and most important of its kind in the world. Gamers, developers, media outlets and pretty much anyone involved in the industry flocks from all over the globe to this event to essentially celebrate their “Super Bowl”. It is a great place to make connections, ask developer’s questions and capture the latest content released regarding games bound to be released in the following months. I spent most of the day in the EA booth, which doesn’t resemble your traditional booth but rather a theme park styled digital playland filled with hundreds of flat screens, consoles, a gigantic Star Wars prop, squishy carpet and hundreds of people. Because I play pretty much any and all sports games, the EA booth is where I needed to be at E3 to soak up the entire 2016 sports catalogue EA Sports has to offer. Here are a few thoughts on the games I got a chance to play:
My first impression of Madden 16 was how polished it looked. We are still roughly 2 months away from launch and the game is currently in the alpha stage. However, spending a good 2+ hours in the Madden booth, I hardly noticed any goofy things going on and that is a great sign. This could be due to the fact that EA pretty much has laid a solid foundation when it comes to gameplay and is now focusing on smaller refinements this year. Presentation wise the game looks much like it did last year with a few added goodies such as players patting each other on the back after a great play and other nice little player animations that make these digital men seem more human. Another thing that really stood out to me was the fight for possession. At one point I saw Tony Romo throw up a 50/50 ball to Dez Bryant who was covered pretty well by the corner. Both players went up for the grab and both had their hands on it equally when Dez did what Dez tends to do in real life and rip it away from the corner for a spectacular catch that left me pretty speechless. It was a great moment and the gamers playing in that particular game went absolutely nuts. On the game mode side of things we got to check out a new mode called “Draft Champions”. It is a single player and multi-player mode geared for gamers who love to draft teams but do not have the time to put in 300+ hours on a Connected Franchise. It lets you draft head to head and gives you 3 players randomly to choose from in each round covering multiple positions and even legends. You will draft your core 10-15 players that you like to use starting with a coach and then you can take on your buddy’s freshly drafted squad. We completed our drafts in under 15 minutes and hit the field immediately making this a game mode I am extremely excited for. All in all I believe Madden 16 will build on the great game Madden 15 was and I am personally as excited as ever to hit the virtual gridiron this fall.
FIFA 16 was a much more scripted scenario inside of an enclosed room in which I first got to watch a presentation on new features coming to FIFA 16. A few highlights were the introduction of 12 national women’s soccer teams into the game, defending as a unit with defensive confidence in mind and increased defensive agility promising to deliver a much more balanced game on the pitch than in recent years. After the brief presentation I got to jump into an exhibition game and as far as menu features go, the game remained largely the same. On the pitch however, I noticed a much more fluid game defensively. Defenders seemed to stay with players, and players transitioned into offense/defense at a much more fluid pace than in years past. The A.I. also seemed much improved and offensive players didn’t get lost in open space as they did in FIFA 15. Another cool feature this year is the inclusion of off-the ball dribbling. This sounds like somewhat of an oxymoron as dribbling usually involves the ball but off ball dekes and fakes are used in real football and it is a great addition especially when getting caught in a 1 on 1 battle along the wings. Overall FIFA 16, much like Madden 16 focused on small incremental refinements making it an overall better user experience. Additionally users are able to turn on a tutorial style mode on the fly that shows inexperienced players of the game ways to succeed at the game with suggestions on smart plays. Overall, do not expect FIFA 16 to change the mold but rather build on its solid core with minor tweaks and perhaps open up doors to gamers who have never experience FIFA before.
The NHL 16 booth was shared with NBA Live 16 as well as Rory McIlroy PGA Tour making this more of a casual “pick-up the sticks and play” experience. I jumped right into an exhibition game with one of the developers and at first glance the games presentation was similar to last year’s title, which actually is a good thing. Full NBC TV presentations are back complete with a pre-game show and a pan into the arena animation. We played Maple Leafs – Sharks and the Shark tank looked alive. The crowds looked great and the arena was filled with native content such as “Sharkie” the mascot and the gigantic shark that descends from the rafters for player introductions. I was told that this is true for all NHL arenas and each and every one features some sort of authentic experience. The action on the ice was VERY impressive. One of the first things I noticed was a leading trajectory in front of the skater with the puck, showing the path of travel if passed or shot and it even included a proper trajectory if passing off the boards. That is a very useful tool and I found myself turning to it quite a bit. Skating was fluid and player physics seemed solid but not much different than last year. Board play didn’t receive a whole lot of attention according to the developer I spoke to and it seemed largely unchanged. Aside from that, the game seemed extremely polished in this Alpha build and with the return of EASHL and a slightly more polished looking Hockey Ultimate Team we may be looking at the return of this franchise come fall.
NBA Live 16
Of all the EA sports titles featured at this year’s E3, NBA Live 16 made the biggest strides in my opinion. This is a game that started from nothing 2 years ago with NBA 14 and quite frankly was terrible and seemed more of a chore than an enjoyable gaming experience. NBA Live 15 made huge strides in a short amount of time and actually the franchise seemed to be trending in the right direction. Playing an exhibition game with a developer and getting a walkthrough on new animations, it left me incredibly impressed. As a guy who has turned to the NBA 2K franchise in the last decade or so for my sim basketball needs, I was blown away by the improvements made in just these last 2 years. Player movements seemed much more fluid than in any Live title, even prior to the “NBA Elite drought” and pick and rolls as well as pick and pops were easy to execute. The A.I. was also much improved with players moving well without the ball, setting screens for one another and actively trying to get open. I played a NBA Finals match between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers and player models looked great for the most part. All the star players looked like their real life counterparts and more impressive played like them as well. Lebron had a signature dunk that actually looked like a Lebron dunk and Klay Thompson stopped at the 3 pt line even on a fast break to drain a wide open three just as he would in the real NBA. All in all I was extremely impressed with this game and I seriously feel that this year may be the year that the NBA Live franchise can make a triumphant return to relevance.
Rory McIlroy PGA Tour
Of all the titles in the vast EA Sports landscape this game is the closest to be released (July 14th) and looked very polished. Loading times are virtually gone with the inclusion of the Frostbite engine. The entire course is now loaded and allows for an open world type of experience. You can shank a shot and end up on another hole without being out of bounds, something previously unfathomable. I got to play 2 holes at TPC Sawgrass and the course as well as the golfers looked very nice aesthetically. The game features an “arcade” mode which analyzes the greens for players and makes it much easier to put as you always are asked to perform a full swing rather than manually adjusting the power of your shot. Additionally it takes the wind into account and the ball trajectory reflects that accordingly. Front and back spin is back and seemed a little overpowered but very useful. The arcade controls can be turned off to a “Pro” mode to make it a more sim experience as well which is great. Fantasy courses such as a Grand Canyon themed hole are also featured with mini-game type modes that ask players to complete different challenges such as launching a golf ball through floating rings using different types of power ups. This may seem very strange to the purist but I have to say it was actually very fun and a nice change of pace. Personally I am very excited for Rory McIlroy PGA Tour and can’t wait to pick it up next month.
As a guy who plays any and all sports games, I honestly got lost in EA’s world at E3 with so much to see and play. I hope you guys enjoyed this brief summarization of all the titles EA has to offer this season. We will have much more info, videos, interviews wrapping up E3 in the coming days. Please follow me @danielbaesel on Twitter as well as @SportsGamersOn for all the latest breaking news in the sports gaming world.