The best of sports video games in 2012

December, 23, 2012
12/23/12
12:00
PM ET
PlaybookGetty
To sports gamers, 2012 will be remembered as the year “Madden” introduced a new physics engine, EA bought the exclusive rights to the UFC license, and 2K teamed with Jay-Z to deliver a virtual hoops classic.

It will also be remembered as the year Calvin Johnson spit on the Madden Curse to deliver one of the greatest seasons by a wide receiver.

But what does ESPN Tech consider the Game of the Year? Read on to find the winners and losers of a wild 2012.

Best new feature: WWE 13’s Attitude Era
It’s one thing to have the Montreal Screwjob in a video game. But THQ takes the Attitude Era story mode to unheard-of levels for a wrestling video game, even delivering details like Bret Hart’s polygonal spit smacking Vince McMahon in the face. The Rock, D-X, the Brothers of Destruction, and even Mike Tyson make appearances, bringing wrestling fans back to their happy place of crotch chops and beer baths.

[+] EnlargeNBA 2K13
Courtesy of 2K Sports "NBA 2K13' was firing on all cylinders this year.
Biggest innovation: Madden NFL 13's Infinity Engine
The “Madden” franchise was in desperate need of a new physics engine for years, and what they delivered in “13” is the foundation of what every new “Madden” game will be built on for the foreseeable future. Real-time physics mean players are no longer caught in a tackle animation they can’t escape, as everything (finally!) plays out before your eyes without gamers simply watching a canned sequence. Can’t wait to see the improvements in Year 2.

Most disappointing: NBA Live 13’s epic fail
The EA Sports “NBA Elite”/"NBA Live” saga is such a disastrous tale of incompetence, I almost don’t know where to begin. Maybe it’s just me, but I actually thought EA was on the right track with “NBA Live 10.” Unfortunately, they scrapped the game to build the “NBA Elite” engine from scratch. When that game failed to ship back in September 2010 and was canceled months later, EA promised to make things right with the next iteration of “NBA Live.” Then I saw the game at E3, and all I could do was shake my head when all they wanted to show me was how realistic LeBron’s head looked. Too bad his dribbling was wonky and the game play looked like a throwback to the days sports games were designed by people who knew nothing about sports. Needless to say, the game failed to ship for a second straight time, and it’s back to the drawing board for developers. “NBA Live” is like the Titanic of video games. EA spends months shouting to everyone how their game’s “the king of the world,” but in the end, you just know it’s going to end up in the bottom of the ocean.

Sports game of the year: "NBA 2K13"
I’ve been addicted to this franchise since the Dreamcast days, but I have to say, 2K really found its zone on this generation of systems since bringing Michael Jordan back into the mix with “NBA 2K11.” “NBA 2K13” adds the Dream Team to the lineup, including the ever-elusive Charles Barkley, while bringing in a new set of dribbling controls that finally elevates the ball handling abilities of my polygonal point guard to superstar levels. 2K even teamed with Jay-Z to add some serious punch to the presentation and soundtrack, and I have to say, I’m loving every minute.

Most intriguing game of 2013: EA Sports' "UFC"
When Dana White walked out on stage during an E3 news conference and hugged it out with EA Sports executive vice president Andrew Wilson, I was in a serious state of shock. Especially since White once told me that the people at EA were “so pompous, so arrogant it was ridiculous.” But with Wilson, a huge UFC fan, now in charge of the brand, feelings changed and money changed hands, and in 2013 we’ll get our first taste of the new partnership. The producers building the game in EA Canada is the same core team that worked on games such as “Fight Night” and “SSX,” so this is an A-team working on the franchise, no doubt about it. Can’t wait to see their vision of the UFC play out in 2013.

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