The UFC has so dominated mixed martial arts (MMA) in both the real and virtual sports world that it isn’t surprising to see a challenger to their dominance, even less surprising that it’s from EA Sports, the biggest sports game maker around. THQ’s UFC games set quite a high standard of quality, and for most fans the UFC is MMA, just like the NFL is football for some. EA Sports MMA had a lot to prove and pushes itself to be the best, but does it surpass the current champ?
The first break EA makes with the UFC is the controls, which is surprising since the latter game created a very good approximation of the complex sport without being too complicated. The differences begin with the stand-up, as developer EA Tiburon took a page from EA’s Fight Night franchise, putting the strikes on the right analog stick. For those unfamiliar with that series, the precision needed to make, say, a jab-jab-hook combo will feel a little tricky at first, but after a few fights you get used to it and will probably agree that it’s a more elegant solution than using the face buttons. Of course you also have to throw kicks with the same stick, complicating things a little more, but the whole striking system becomes clear soon enough.
Things get a little simpler on the ground, though that’s not always for the best. Takedowns and ground work are where the face buttons come into play, with both attempting to send a man to the ground and sprawling to resist said attempt are one button commands. And once both are on the ground, transitioning between positions and resisting those attempts are the same one button commands. Though real experienced players may note the changes in stamina and pick and choose the right time to attempt a pass, most will probably mash buttons until they get in the desired position, an unsubtle option that will work on most beginners.
Starting a submission is also one button command, as is attempting to prevent one, but once the little minigame for submissions starts it gets much more complicated, and takes real practice to understand. It’s a real cute touch that your progress in the submission is shown via an x-ray of the affected limb, but you have to suppress your urge to button mash, as it’s a very careful and touchy tug of war between players and their stamina. Submissions are fight enders, so they shouldn’t be too easy, but going for a simple ground and pound win using strikes from the mount is considerably easier, an unfortunate balance issue.
But as a complete package the control scheme works and a great way to learn it outside of the fine tutorial is the career mode. The story is a little plain as you take your created fighter to the top, though Bas Rutten’s involvement makes it a little more fun. And the create-a-fighter mode is pretty dense, it’s best quality being the sheer volume of different names you can give your fighter that announcer will actually say in the game. Perhaps the greatest part about the career mode is how takes you around the world and introduces you to what MMA means globally.
The UFC is a big part of the sport, but there’s an entire world you’re missing that EA MMA recognizes. The game covers the planet as fights take place not only in the US, but the UK, Japan and Brazil too. And the changes from place to place are more than just the background, as the rules change as well. Though the US rule set defined by the UFC is there, there’s also the longer rounds of UK fights, the knees to a downed opponent of Japan, or the incredibly open (and fairly violent) rules of Brazilian Vale Tudo. Those variations make the UFC’s rules seem fairly restrictive by comparison and make it hard to go back to those settings exclusively.
So many of the greats in the sport are free agents who have either never fought in the UFC or haven’t in years, and long time MMA fans will really appreciate seeing all these fighters on EA MMA’s roster. Perhaps the biggest addition is Fedor Emelianenko, one of the most dominant heavyweights in the world and someone who has never fought in the UFC, plus there are UFC and international legends like Randy Coture, Frank Shamrock, Hayato Sakurai, and Murilo Rua. Newer fans may not appreciate the depth of the roster as most of the fighters didn’t gain notoriety through the current UFC machine, but longtime MMA enthusiasts will really be grateful for the broad collection of important fighters, even if some aren’t as well known as they should be.
Lastly, some special recognition should be given to how much work went into EA MMA’s online aspect. It starts with the quick and simple one-on-one matches, but expands from there. You can start a party of friends and set up a series of matches together, plus you earn experience and rank up, which could lead to becoming a contender for an online belt which you can then defend. Also, you can compete in live broadcasts with live play-by-play, and the thought of hundreds or even thousands of other players watching live or later via the saved replays, that adds a real edge and excitement to what would have been a normal online battle. All these cool ideas are implemented well, so here’s hoping that players give the online a chance to be great.
EA Sports MMA is a great package overall and especially for long time MMA fans. There are some minor sticking points in the controls and some will miss their favorite UFC fighters, but if you want a fuller experience of what mixed martial arts is coupled with superior online modes, you can’t do better than EA MMA.
Oct 19, 2010