3 | MLB 11: The Show | PlayStation 3
The best-looking sports franchise on the market today, bar none. MLB 11: The Show features incredibly realistic animation, great highlight reels, and realistic looking fans who will wave from the stands after a home run and try to snag foul balls. It's the sort of game that can hold even non-sports games transfixed.
MLB 11 revamps the controls in a way that utilizes the analog thumbsticks, making pitching and hitting much more intuitive than before. And the offline franchise mode continues to be deep and fun to use. All that's really holding it back is its online play, where the lag plays havoc with the precise nature of the hitting.
2 | NBA 2K12 | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
The basketball series developed by Visual Concepts and 2K Games is another one of those sports games series that has established a firm beachhead in the war for positive critical response. So much so that they scared EA Sports off from even releasing a competing basketball game in 2011.
The superlative simulation is rounded out by a ridiculous host of modes, one of which stands up as something other video-game sports makers should be trying to emulate. NBA’s Greatest mode lets you play classic players against each other in historical matchups. The care and attention that went in to the mode’s development shows a love and respect for their sport that more sports games need.
1 | FIFA 12 | Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Even non-soccer fans are aware of how much the FIFA series has dominated sports games. EA Sports’ footy sim has remained a worldwide hit for years thanks to its yearly technical innovations that have made the game more realistic and more fun at the same time.
The newest iteration, FIFA Soccer 12, employs a number of revolutionary improvements, but the most impressive is easily the Impact Engine, which breaks new ground in realistically recreating the way players come into contact with each other. It may sound like a little thing, but the result is a virtual recreation, happening in real-time, that’s almost indistinguishable from the real thing.