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Sports Showdown: Madden, FIFA, PES, NHL and NBA 2K

This autumn boasts the usual line up of stellar releases for sports fans. Here's what you need to know about the biggest hitters in the war for your dollar.

Madden NFL 12
Since EA Sports nabbed the exclusive NFL deal (along with college football license NCAA), Madden has been the go-to series for American football fans. The series has a massive international fan base extending far beyond the territories which play host to professional-level play, dating right back to a 1988 Apple II offering based on a physics engine built by none other than Bethesda, one of the earliest attempts at a realistic simulation of sports physics.

The annual franchise has kept a tight lockdown on its successful gameplay formula, adding visual polish and increased management features but rarely meddling with the heart of play. Each year, EA Sports holds a Superbowl simulation, drawing on its substantial database of official statistics and data to run a full NFL season and predict the winner; it's been correct six out of right times, suggesting that whatever simulation tech EA Tiburon have under the hood is well up to the task.

Madden NFL 12 came under threat when a player strike suggested it might have to ship with false names and player data, a serious blow for a series keen on realism, but union action resolved just in time for the game's release on August 30 - only two weeks later than predicted. While the game's launch has been troubled by online server issues, we're expecting these to be resolved within a week or two.

Madden NFL 12 is available on PC, PlayStation 3, PS2, Wii and Xbox 360, with Android, iOS and Windows 7 mobile tie-ins available in addition to 3DS and PSP versions. A demo is available.

NHL 12
The next cab off the EA Sports rank is another North American favourite, with a smaller but no less rabid overseas fanbase - NHL 12. EA has produced annual hockey games for close to 20 years, with strong performance in the 16-bit years leading to many a fond memory - and later, devotion to the yearly iterations.

Unlike Madden, however, NHL is produced by EA Canada, and the development team is more than willing to fiddle. The latest entry sports over 300 gameplay changes over NHL 11, itself warmly received for throwing out the old and bringing in the new in the form of a strong emphasis on physics - one of the cornerstones of Madden's success, you'll note. Some of the new stuff sounds particularly keen - the ability to interrupt simulation matches, for example, and a revamped Be A Pro mode.

NHL 12 offers some interesting features, boasting seven distinct professional leagues rather than emphasising just one major competition, and exploiting music licenses to deliver a soundstrack similar to that heard rink-side - although with less Queen than you get at your local league.

NHL 12 is slated to appear on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 9 in Europe and September 13 in the US. A demo is available now.

There's a reason soccer - sorry, Europeans, but the other sort of football mentioned here doesn't have another name - is called the World Game; there's barely a country in the world without a team or two knocking about. That's probably why the beautiful game shoulders two major competing franchises with ease. Another product of the team at EA Canada, EA Sports has invested heavily in the series over the last few years, bringing it neck and neck with its rival.

Although this might sound a bit silly to those who haven't caught the bug, FIFA 12 is causing a little bit of controversy because it's abandoned a vertical menu system in favour of side-scrolling option bars. This looks a little more friendly to new players, but is raising ire among those who spend literal hours tweaking their teams and strategies, aiming for that final cup with astounding precision.

But more excitingly, FIFA 12 finally debuts EA's Impact Engine, a bit of schmick tech the team has been beavering away on for years. The new physics at its core provides more dynamic play, using real-time info to calculate momentum, trajectories and rebounds - you won't be so easily able to predict where the ball - or players - will land after a collision. Throw in overhauls to dribbling and defence, and you have a whole new bag of tricks to master.

FIFA 12 launches on PC, PlayStation 3, PS2, Wii and Xbox 360 on September 27 in the US and September 30 in Europe, alongside spin-off Android and iOS versions, a 3DS and PSP release, and a planned Vita release. A demo is expected on September 13.

PES 2012
Konami's soccer series never stands still, but PES 2011 hit the nail so neatly on the head that the team have reigned in their enthusiasm for overhauls this year, choosing instead to work over the intricacies of AI. Not only are your opponents set to be slightly more clever than you've grown comfortable with, the referees have mustered what little brain they have to play up the advantage rule - for and against the player. Nuts.

Watch a game of PES 12 closely and you'll probably be impressed by the animations, which are fluid and realistic - as they should be, since they're all motion captured. Although Konami considered calling professional players in to the studio, in the end it drew on its sizeable pool of in-house talent - the whole PES development team are keen supporters and players - to endure the rigours of multiple takes.

PES 2012 boasts 30 beautifully rendered stadiums, and for those of us not proficient with the old footer, a range of options for controlling your wayward team members. This didn't help Pat much, but I'm not sure he knows how to switch it on.

PES 2012 releases on PC, PlayStation 3, PS2, Wii and Xbox 360 on September 27, alongside 3DS and PSP versions. A demo is available now.

NBA 2K12
Trailing behind the early-autumn pack, NBA 2K12 is the most under-the-radar of this quarter's big sports titles. 2K has kept the new game largely under wraps until quite recently, with previews beginning to trickle out in the last few weeks. Then again, does it need to ride the hype train? With EA's NBA Elite taking a year off, 2K has the court to itself - not to mention a large and devoted player base.

Don't think 2K won't deliver just as much polish as ever, though; there's a very good reason EA felt it couldn't compete this year. 2K Sports throws serious resources at its flagship series. Last year's offering was hailed as one of, if not the, best basketball games of all time, warmly praised for its realism and accessibility, as wel as the challenge offered in its extra modes.

This year, 2K is drawing fully on its official license to throw up an intriguing-sounding NBA's Greatest mode. Featuring 15 of the association's greatest athletes, this mode lets players recreate some of the most vivid moments of NBA's history by taking part in classic matches. The amount of work thrown into the recreation of stadiums and players of yesteryear is astounding.

NBA 2K12 is expected on PC, PlayStation 3, PS2, Wii and Xbox 360 on October 4, alongside 3DS and PSP versions.

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