There are a lot of sports titles on show at E3 2002. This is a wrap-up of just a few of them.
Sega has recently partnered with TV sports giant ESPN. All the new titles (other than World Series Baseball, which missed the cut unfortunately) feature full ESPN-style interfaces and it looks fantastic across the board. A mock episode of SportsCenter was playing around the clock on a big-screen in the Sega area; this was done very very well and typical SC highlight clips were taken from actual game footage. Very classy stuff. The Sega Sports/EA Sports rivalry is heating up and for the most part, Sega is winning!
Looks fantastic in all aspects. Fans of the Dreamcast versions will be in familiar territory, as the gameplay is essentially the same. Player facial animations are done well -- look for the man who scored the touchdown to crack a smile during his celebration.
Very similar to NFL 2K3, but with college teams and players instead of NFL teams. What did you expect?
Again, the biggest improvement over the Dreamcast version is the graphics. The crowd is full 3D and during time-outs you can see the players gathered around their coach for a team-talk. Replays are interesting -- the player making the highlight reel is coloured, while everything else in the stadium is made black-and-white. The backboard shakes on a dunk; which unfortunately is far too often as the gameplay still doesn't get close enough to a real game of basketball.
World Series Baseball
Sega left high expectations in shatters when it released World Series Baseball 2K1 on the Dreamcast; the original World Series Baseball was published on the Sega Saturn and is still considered one of the best baseball games of all time. Thankfully, WSB 2K3 looks like it is taking a step back in the right direction. Fielding can be controlled completely by the player (not the case in WSB 2K1) and the pitcher/batter rivalry is strong. The batting control looked rather intuitive.
Another ex-Dreamcast title. While it looks and plays quite well, it lacks the polished feel that the rest of the Sega Sports range showed at E3. The PlayStation 2 version looked a little low on the frames-per-second side of things, and the Xbox version which I played was a little buggy -- players checking others up against the glass and staying there for several seconds before making an effort for the puck, for example. The menu system was obviously unfinished as there were only three or four very basic options available. I still have high expectations for the title however and hopefully Sega can fix it up to the level it should be at in time for release.
Sega Soccer Slam
Not as good as I had hoped. Graphics are a little below standard although there are some pretty funky special effects. Very "arcadey" in style and is perhaps best left as a multi-player game.
Sega GT 2003
Sega GT is probably as close as you can get to the Gran Turismo series without buying a PlayStation/PS2. Certainly a very-solid title, but still has a way to go before it reaches the level of GT.
Re-releasing for PlayStation, this title didn't impress me much at all -- neither in the graphical nor the gameplay departments.
Not to be outdone by Sega, EA had a pumping area in prime location to showcase their latest sports range. Blaring music and a big-screen TV increased the great atmosphere and led the EA employees into a state of temporary deafness no doubt.
Madden NFL 2K3
The grand-daddy of football games, the Madden franchise has been going since the very early 1990s. This year sees a change on the commentary team at long last -- the monotonous ramblings of Pat Summerall have been replaced with Al Michaels. John Madden is still the other man in the commentary box, of course. A nice new feature which I tested in the Gamecube version is "Mini Camp". This is essientially a practice mode which offers rewards for completing certain tests of skill.
Tiger Woods 2003
This is a game that has made great strides in the right direction since Headgate Studios took over development. The real-time "TrueSwing" control method feels very nice, although the game is still a little on the easy side. The ball-physics still seem to be a little below the level of Links LS, but Tiger Woods is more about fun than realism and always has been.
Microsoft has never had the strongest range of sports titles, but there were a couple on display that are showing a lot of promise:
Links LS 2003
Usual excellence. Links is also making strides into improving their real-time swing control and is doing a darn good job at it too.
Xbox saw the release of this title a while ago (well, countries other than NZ did at least!) and it has become one of the surprise hits on the machine. Microsoft started development of the PC version just six weeks ago and it is shaping up quite nicely already.