After the quarter that EA have just had, what better way to let off steam than with a game where you punch people in the face? That’s right, EA’s UFC series is back. And if you think EA had a rough 2017, the Ultimate Fighting Championship had a worse one. So, is this the game to turn around their fortunes? Let’s find out.
The most noticable feature about EA UFC 3 is that they’ve pinned a lot of their hopes on the phenomon that is Conor McGregor. The trash talking Irish southpaw is featured immediately and heavily with the game showing off his three big fights (the interim title win over Chad Mendes, his thirteen second knockout of Jose Aldo and his historic lightweight title destruction of Eddie Alvarez) before putting you in his er… gloves in a fight against current lightweight interim champ Tony Ferguson, a fight that also acts as the game’s tutorial.
UFC 3 shows a few slowed down black and white clips from other classic fights before settling on a standard EA Sports kind of menu and from there you can access various ways to play and a whole host of settings. It’s kind of odd that you’ve got a quality versus performance video setting though.
The game itself has all the usual modes that you’d expect. Most immediate is the quick match mode and the striking and grappling only variants of that. There’s a large roster of fighters to pick from but the game is missing the 125lb women’s division (although given that that is a mishmash of the existing 115 and 135lb ones, that’s not really a problem) and their 145lb one (although to be fair, the UFC is kind of missing that as well once you get past their champion Cyborg) but it’s also pretty short on legends too. Given that the UFC is somewhat lacking in starpower at the moment, it would have been nice to see more classic fighters in there.
The main meat of the game comes from the career mode which, once again, has you starting off your MMA career in the minor leagues before making your way into the UFC. This mode has had a few changes compared to the previous titles.
First up, the video pep talks are back. Not to the degree they were in the first game but Dana White and UFC reporter Megan Olivi do show up to talk about you on video. I kind of missed all that when it was dropped for UFC2, so this gets the balance between content and cheesiness just about right.
The main thing though is the lack of reliance on mini-games. What happens is that you’ll pick your gym (unfortunately a bunch of generic one-style affairs) and then if you want to learn a new move or perk you’ll have to beat a challenge against an AI training partner. You may have to punch them a certain number of times or defend against transitions on the ground.
The bread and butter training of getting ready for your fight is just a list that you select from and then you’ll lose some time but gain some stats (and, if you’re unlucky, a little bit of wear and tear). You can also choose to use some of that time on promotion. Again the ghost of Conor looms large as you are expected to trash talk a little and build up rivalries. That’s the sport now though so it does show that EA are up on the current trends.
I like this way of doing things though. Nothing is more tedious in simulation fighting games that doing the same pad workouts before every fight, so this is good and it means the gap between fights is a little shorter than before even if it still does feel like busy work.
Initially you start off with just a very basic skill set but before long you’ll start adding more and more moves. Managing your general stats and fitness against learning moves is definitely a big part of the career mode and it’s up to you to figure that out but it does work. Winning fans will require some promotional work too and so you’ll need to factor that in too. Unlike their other sports titles, EA have stopped short of attaching a story to all of this.
So eventually you’ll be back in the cage and while it will all be pretty familiar to returning players, there are some changes. The main beneficiary of these is the improved striking game that UFC 3 offers.
The game uses a Tekken-style striking set up with each limb being linked to a face button on the controller. The shoulder buttons modify your attacks. So the square button fires off a jab but adding L2 will strike to the body or L1 will turn it into a lead hook and so on.
Much has been made of the game’s improved animation and while it’s not a huge leap forward, it didn’t need to be. UFC 2 looked great and so does this. The realism is pretty remarkable, not just in the animation of the strikes but also the way fighters’ faces will react. Fighters will grimace if they know a big hook is about to land and you can see the effort on their faces as they throw their power shots.
As ever stamina is very important. Spam those buttons and your fighter will gas out like Francis Ngannou did in his last fight leaving you as something of a sitting duck. Also, you need to be tactical. Fighters aren’t just going to let you kick them in the head, you’ll need to set that up with strikes and if you go to the well too often with, say, your leg kicks, they’ll soon get wise and will start checking those kicks which will hurt you. Just ask Anderson Silva whose leg broke in two when he tried that in real life a few years back.
In UFC 2 you could land Edson Barboza style spinning heel kicks but as flashy as they were, they’d land like jabs with the opponent eating them for breakfast. That’s not the case here. Big shots have a big impact, they’re just a bit harder to land now and will eat up your stamina. The choice is yours. Do you want to pick away at your opponent or try to put them away early? There’s a degree of risk versus reward there and that’s great.
So while we’re loving the stand up game, the same can’t really be said on the ground. Your ground transitions and submissions use the same controls as the previous game but submissions take far too long to pull off and even though you’re on top, it seems that you’re the one who pays the stamina price for having an active ground game.
If you happen to be on the receiving end of all this, the defending is just awful. I was pretty handy in on the ground in UFC 2 but as soon as a fighter takes me down in this game they tend to go through my guard like butter and the submission is inevitable. I’ve played the tutorial, I’ve read the tips. Defending on the ground just doesn’t work. I might be missing something but I shouldn’t be. It’s simply not intuitive enough.
I was 13-1 in my career and that 1 was from my first fight but as soon as I got to the main cards on UFC shows, the level of competition was such that as soon as I started winning the stand up battle, I’d get taken down. R2 and down on the right stick. That defends a takedown apparently. Not for me it didn’t. It’s a shame as I understand the progression of transitions. I get that if I’m down I need to get to full guard and sweep my opponent or if I’m in their guard I need to get to half guard, side control and start working for arm bars. I know all that but the game just doesn’t seem to want to give me the tools to pull it off.
So as a result, I’ve put all of my eggs in the striking game and it’s paying off as long as I can finish the fight in the first round. I’m not sure that’s what the developers planned for me to do but if it works for Conor, it can work for me.
Aside from all that, the career mode is where I’ve spent the most time. It does give you a good sense of progression and has all the trimmings you’d expect from an EA game in terms of getting the fight atmosphere right. You’ll see all the familiar faces such as famous judges like Herb Dean and Mario Yamasaki as well as hearing the commentary from this year’s combo of Joe Rogan and Jon Anik. We miss the lively mic work of Mike Goldberg (rather than Jon Anik’s robotic radio DJ voice) but that’s true of UFC in real life so you can’t blame the game and if you play the striking-only Knockout Mode, which we totally recommend, you get commentary from Snoop Dogg which is kind of ridiculous but is something different I guess.
The other big mode is the Ultimate Team mode. Much like last year, this is the UFC series’ attempt at getting a FIFA Ultimate Team mode going. For me it didn’t work at all last year. It’s one thing having to grind FIFA games for the chance of winning a good player but UFC 2’s cards just gave you stat boosts and moves. It felt entirely crowbarred in and unnecessary.
This year’s version does let you win players but you’ll still need to earn moves and skill boosts for them so while they might look like Conor McGregor, they won’t be fighting like him for a while. To earn all the good stuff you’ll need to fight in online and offline fights and leagues to earn the points you need to unlock a new pack. Just like in FIFA.
Or you can throw real money at the problem but given gaming’s current distrust of loot boxes, we’ll be leaving this mode to a handful of whales who can take on each other’s overpowered fighters until UFC 4 comes out.
The good news is that there’s enough content on offer here that you can pick and choose. The online community will figure out which fighter and which moves guarantee success and then EA will patch and balance the game so for a while we’ll just stick to playing our mates, probably on Knockout mode. That said, the online mode is pretty smooth and it’s easy to find a match in any weight class, so we’ve enjoyed a few matches on there.
So there’s plenty to like about UFC 3 but given that this series isn’t on an annual cycle, we’d have liked to see all aspects of the fighting engine to have been improved and while the career mode does a great job of giving you a full UFC experience, we can definitely live without the Ultimate Team mode and with that in mind, we’re not sure there are enough reasons to recommend buying this if you own the last game but new players should find a deep, complex and satisfying package here.
Stand up combat is technical, satisfying and brutal
Top notch visuals
Ultimate Team mode still feels unnecessary
Roster is lacking legends and some current fighters