UFC Undisputed, published by THQ, released earlier this year with alarming success. It should come to no surprise that soon after EA Sports announced that they had plans to step into the MMA hexagon, with the now released ‘EA Sports MMA’. EA Sports MMA tries desperately to compete with UFC Undisputed, and whilst it doesn’t quite equal the quality of the competition it certainly puts up a pleasing fight.
If picking up EA Sports MMA you had better be prepared for a challenge as EA Sports MMA has a steep learning curve, and whilst the game provides a tutorial named ‘MMA 101’ on the main menu... it’s certainly not as deep as it’ll lead you to believe. The game's campaign expands on this tutorial by stepping you through each manoeuvre, but I found even when failing to pull off moves on cue the lessons progressed regardless.
The core gameplay can be split into three different fighting styles: standing, ground and submission. All of the game’s strikes are handled with the analogue stick (although this can be changed in the options) with flicks and rotations performing different actions; something that’ll automatically feel comfortable for UFC Undisputed players. When standing the game plays as your typical fighter with punches and kicks, able to manoeuvre around the hexagon, dodging and blocking an opponent’s attacks. At any time one fighter can bring the other down to the canvas which will change the free form gameplay to fixed combat, where the emphasis is on mounting your opponent and gaining the upper hand (don’t get any ideas!) This process can be broken down to pummelling your opponent to weaken their stamina then climbing around their body with a single button press until you ultimately reach the prime position to initiate a submission move. This area of gameplay requires you to focus on controller vibration and being able to differentiate animations to know when to strike or counter, but ultimately feels a little simple, dull and at times frustrating as your characters statistics will determine the outcome in most scenarios.
Starting the game’s hefty campaign mode I created a character that marginally resembled myself (apart from the six pack). Upon finishing the tutorial I knew right away that my interest was in fighting with my two feet firmly placed on the floor, as much as rolling around the floor with another man has its appeal. Handily the game's campaign doesn’t just throw you into fights but instead puts a lot of focus on training, improving the statistics of your character in the areas you choose. Punch speed, power and my overall endurance was my main focus, making sure to donate a bit of my time into increasing my defence on the ground and against submission moves. After eight weeks of training (it feels as long as it sounds) I finally got my first match.
Walking across the hexagon I swing a right, a left, an uppercut and... that’s it. My opponent is on the canvas dribbling blood with no signs of life present. Expecting this was the game going easy on me I walk into the follow ten fights with a first round knockout, and then I met the canvas obsessed AI. After my initial flurry of victories I come against opponent after opponent that continually rushed me, bringing me to the floor and swinging around my body like it was a pommel horse. This is where I find tailoring my character to standing combat doesn’t fare very well for very long; a word of warning. The game's campaign is long and has you climbing the ranks of various championships, broken up by somewhat tedious training sessions that whilst having you visit various trainers around the world, feel flat and repetitive.
When not climbing the ranks of the campaign mode you can jump right into a fight, alone or against friends, in the Fight Now mode. Options available to change are the venue, the ring style (circular, square or hexagon), CPU difficulty, whether there is a belt on the line and three rules that allow or disallow elbows, kicks or knees being used during ground fighting. If you don’t fancy fighting the AI or have little friends, you can always jump online where the game promises some inspiring features.
Online you can jump into a match against an opponent as seen offline, or enter into a fight card that’ll have you fighting tournament style against opponents set by a predefined fight planner. Quickly jumping in and out of a fight is an ease, if there are players online. Throughout your matches your stats will be tracked and you will progress through different fighting tier belts. One large disappointment I encountered with this was after my very first match, winning by TKO after only five punches into the fight only to have my opponent (volnlink777, that’ll be you) mysteriously disconnect on the results scoreboard – completely negating the fight and stealing away the win from my progress. This unfortunately happened frequently, with most players after a title shot aiming to get a perfect win streak.
One of the most impressive features of EA Sports MMA is ‘Live Broadcasts’ that allows you to watch championship and other large bouts between players at set times on both consoles and PC, bringing a realistic spin on the game's ‘battle for a chance at the title’ premise. In order to get picked for these prestigious fights EA sports chooses fighters based on hype videos which players are able to upload, and apparently real life prizes will also be given out when the fights reach a certain level (that is, until the servers are no doubt shut down by EA in the not too distant future).
As is common with most sports games, a heavy emphasis is placed on obtaining the biggest and best names in the sport of choice. Unfortunately for EA, a large majority of potential fighters have already been signed to the UFC Undisputed series, and even more unfortunate, early in development threats from the UFC president Dana White were made stating any fighters who do business with EA won’t be welcome in the UFC. It certainly didn’t look promising, but regardless EA have managed to sign themselves a handful big names. The majority of the roster comes from Strikeforce but also features fighters from Dream and a few free agents. Fans of the sport will instant recognise the digital representation of Randy Couture, Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianeko and Cung Le; although will miss many faces that have been locked down by the competition.
The game attempts the same level of realism as found in UFC Undisputed and EA Sports other fighting favourite series Fight Night. At times this comes off well as the character models and animations for all fighters are fantastic, but can often appear a little rubbery. It’s also quite surprising that given the game's portrayal of realism that it has only been scored a Teen rating by the ESRB as blood will literally pour off of the fighters and soil the mat for the duration of a fight.
As typical with EA titles the music is top notch as the track list provided peaks with the likes of Linkin Park’s Wretches and Kings, Indestructible from Disturbed and Lava Lava from Boys Noize. Whilst the track list isn’t quite as long as with other EA Sport titles it’s a far sight better than what is on offer by the competition, and the majority of the game's audio representation is covered by the smack of fists to face and average commentary by Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock.
EA Sports have achieved moderate success with their first step into the MMA space providing a game that plays well and contains some promising features that give incentive to dedicated play, however it unfortunately falls short by failing to introduce the player to the game's complexities and missing core issues such as player disconnects cutting stat tracking short. If you liked the UFC offerings you’re sure to find something to please, as long as you aren’t too hooked up on playing as your favourite MMA stars.