Since EA Sports took over video game rights to the UFC, they’ve had issues trying to find that perfect balance between making a fun fighting game and simulating the actual action that takes place within the Octagon. In the past, with two fighters standing, trading fists and feet, the series has done a bang-up job of representing MMA. Everything outside of that, however, has been varying levels of disappointment, and I’m here to tell you not much has changed with EA Sports UFC 3. Some new bells and whistles add depth to the things that worked before, but there is still a fair amount fundamentally wrong with the game—and not all of the changes introduced this year have been for the best.
Building on one of the strengths of previous games is the striking. A larger, more customizable moveset for any created fighter helps you craft the type of combatant you want to be. And, when you step into the Octagon to deliver those blows, it looks like an actual fight in some instances, with incredibly fluid movement, startling realistic body contortion, and accurate impact (that is reflected by both your fighter and his health bars). Keeping an eye on these health bars, which pop up upon proper impact, are also critical to your strategy.
If you notice your opponent has weak legs, you might try to TKO them by focusing on—and potentially breaking—the limb. Or, you might focus on blows to the head if they have a particularly weak “chin,” a new stat added this year to more accurately assess damage your noggin can take. You can also see how close you are to potentially “rocking” an opponent, an event that is triggered when you or your opponent are at particularly low health for a body part, and thus more susceptible to KO. Knowing what parts of the body to focus on (and when) are a critical part to any MMA fight, and the feedback in UFC 3 does a stellar job of telling you what is going on moment to moment.
You also can’t spam moves, even if your opponent seems susceptible to one or another. The stamina bar for your fighter, looming overhead at the top of the screen, might be the single most important factor in each fight; if you become gassed, there’s almost nowhere to run in the cage. The seconds it takes to recover feel like an eternity when in the ring with Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, Minotouro Noguiera, or Daniel Cormier, who will press that advantage.
As realistic as this aspect of the game is, there are also moments where the game tries too hard to be realistic, which can shake you loose from the immersion you may have experienced. Two of the first moves I unlocked for my fighter were the spinning back fist and the Superman punch. Suffice to say, they became staples of my repertoire, even after adding some leaping Muay Thai knees and leading uppercuts. Playing on PS4, performing these moves required a combination of a shoulder button and square for the back fist, or triangle for the Superman punch. Often times, however, the game would over-contextualize based on my position in the Octagon, and instead perform a different move despite my very obvious button presses—or simply be slow to respond to my inputs.
It may have been the game’s way of trying to say “a back fist would be better here than a Superman punch because of how close you are to your opponent,” but I didn’t care. Yes, it may not have been proper because it left me open, but at the end of the day, I’m the one with the controller in my hand. I wanted my guy to leap into the air and try to clock my opponent, distance be damned. Don’t change the move; don’t slow down my momentum like a cable-service provider throttling my internet. This happened frequently in each fight, and with other moves as well. It may have made for a better-looking match, but it definitely soured my experience some.
These delays didn’t occur just in the striking. Half of MMA can be boiled down to the “ground game,” where you tackle or throw your opponent to the mat and attempt to beat them senseless and/or submit them with any number of maneuvers (like triangle holds and armbars). For the uninitiated, though, it can often times just look like two guys rolling around, trying to get a better position on the other. Once again, when trying to desperately to adjust my fighter into half guard, full guard, north-south, or just get the heck up, the controls felt sluggish.
Of course, to make matters worse, the ground game and submissions remain a minigame fest, making the drag feel even worse. Desperation quickly sets in when you find yourself in an unenviable position on the ground as you try to rotate the right stick the right way to slip out of a submission, lock one in, or just adjust position. The game does tell you in still all-too-brief tutorial screens that you can block your opponents’ moves when you find yourself in that situation, but it still feels like there is information missing—and whether playing career or online, everything has a long trial and error sense to it in terms of “mastering” the ground game. I still don’t know how I escape holds half the time, and I retired with a 29-2 record in career and 3-0 in online matches.
Now, there is supposed to be a more in-depth tutorial section—it’s a tile on the main menu—but it was completely empty when I tried reviewing the game over the past week, again forcing me to rely on the game’s random prompts mid-fight. A true tutorial mode, one that goes over every single aspect and lets you actually get a feel for things with the controller, giving players something more than just text on a screen, would serve this franchise a lot better.
There are three difficulty modes when you start, with a fourth—Legendary—unlocking after completing the Career. If you’re familiar with the series, Normal is a good place to start and refresh your memory, as you’ll still be punished for being overly aggressive or cautious, and developing a strategy is a must as you fight. If you think bumping the difficulty down would be a good way to learn the game to work around the trial-and-error feel of everything, however, you’d be sorely mistaken. Easy mode is basically asking for the game to just roll over for you, and the few fights I admittedly tried on Easy to speed up my playthrough (and see if I couldn’t get a better grasp of the ground game) all ended in 45 seconds or less. It felt like a really huge drop-off, and it wasn’t long before I went back to Normal mode in order to feel some satisfaction when I won (but again, this all stems from the fact that game does a pretty poor job of teaching you how it all works).
If you can make sense of all this and become a competent competitor in the Octagon, there is a fair amount of things to do in UFC 3. The new career mode, called G.O.A.T. mode, tasks you with 12 arbitrary goals, and if you complete eight of them over your career, you’ll be dubbed the “Greatest of All Time,” someone who changed the game of MMA forever that will live on in songs and such. After picking your weight class—I went light-heavyweight—you’ll be asked to create your fighter. There aren’t as many options as I personally would like for create-a-fighter (you can’t even make your own last name, instead choosing from a list of predetermined choices), and ended up using the EA’s Game Face feature again. That jaundice-looking fellow at the top of the review is my guy. If you want, however, you can also import a current UFC fighter’s look from easily the largest roster the series has featured to date, and build up your favorite fighter instead.
As you win and move up in UFC, you’ll be tasked with trading barbs with pre-determined rivals on social media, gaming with fans on streaming services (so meta, eh?), and training your character at one of a dozen possible gyms to learn new moves and get in better fighting shape. All of this is done on menus and at most you’ll get a pre-recorded Megan Olivi-hosted UFC Minute where she talks about the fact you changed gyms. (Considering how often you’ll have to change gyms as you move up to learn better moves and get stronger, it gets old fast.) The only interesting aspect of training before your actual fights is when you spar with someone who has a similar moveset to your opponent. After a minute of this, you’ll learn a secret as to how best to defeat them, like they’re susceptible to ground and pound, or can’t ever escape a rear-naked choke.
If career isn’t your thing, there are also some offline options like the new Tournament mode, which anyone who used to watch old-school Bellator might appreciate, as you try to advance in an offline bracket of your creation. There’s also options in offline fights like Stand and Bang, where you basically have to trade strikes and try to knock the opponent out, or the opposite Submission Showdown where you have to wrestle your opponent to the ground and make them tap.
Finally, there’s the online suite of modes. You can play ranked or unranked matches online and try to earn online championship belts if you can succeed enough against various opponents. It was difficult finding people to play with online due to the pre-launch state of the game, but when I did, the game was stable and I never experienced a drop or lag in my limited time playing. I’d have like to have spent more time testing the online, but again, opponent availability was sparse, so it’ll be interesting to see how the servers hold up once players actually start to populate them.
The biggest piece of UFC 3’s online suite, though, is Ultimate Team. Since MMA is a one-on-one sport, instead of building a full team here, you have a sort of stable here, much like in wrestling. You have four fighters—three men and one woman—from different weight classes, and you can try to advance each in their respective divisions to online glory, fighting with one at a time. Just like in other EA Ultimate Team modes, this is a clear cash grab, attempting to get you hooked to the mode in the hopes you’ll spend real-world money on card packs to more quickly advance your fighter’s stats, or get a rare or legendary fighter to bolster your stable. Even some relatively common moves require special cards to unlock, leaving your fighter predictable in their offense if you don’t either grind in offline Ultimate Team challenge or drop actual cash, and it’s nothing short of infuriating.
EA Sports UFC 3 looks good on the surface, but has far too many flaws buried underneath. Sure, every fighter looks great, and how they move in the Octagon is the most realistic we’ve seen yet in any game. Striking feels good, but the ground game remains a mess, career mode has no heart, and Ultimate Team feels shoehorned in. If you really love MMA, it’s frustrating that it seems that EA Sports still can’t seem to create a game that is a true simulation while also being fun—and I think it might be time for UFC to just tap out.
EA Sports UFC 3 feels like one step forward and two steps back. Striking is more realistic than ever, but submissions and the ground game remain convoluted. The new G.O.A.T. Career mode has flashes of brilliance, but bogs you down in menus while losing the human side of fights. As well, Ultimate Team just feels like yet another cash grab. There is a decent core in UFC 3, but it needs a lot more time in the gym to become champion material.
T – Teen
|EA Sports UFC 3 is available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Primary version played was for PlayStation 4. Code/hardware was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|