There’s no denying that EA took quite a beating towards the back end of 2017, and whether that’s justified or not solely depends on what side of the microtransaction line you stand on. EA has a lot of ground to cover this year, as far as their community is concerned, that is. We’ve recently learned that Anthem has been pushed back until next year to make way for Battlefield 2018, and we now firmly know that the Battlefront II team are actively working on bringing back MTS. Where that will leave them as we lead into the year remains to be seen, but let’s get back on point. EA cannot afford to screw up, so there’s arguably quite a bit of weight leaning on the latest installation to their UFC series.
EA UFC’s major selling point (outside of Conor McGregor) is the implementation of ‘Real Player Motion’ technology. This animation tech promises the most responsive and authentic athletic motion in sports gaming. With UFC 3 being my first experience with the series, I cant offer any comparison as far as the predecessors are concerned. What I can say, however, is that the gameplay remains fluid and accessible throughout. The game isn’t at all hard to gel with, making UFC 3 a solid title for curious newcomers. Stepping into the Octagon and trading blows with your competitor is as easy as breathing, and surprisingly in-depth too. That’s not to say that players are in for an easy ride, on the contrary, UFC 3 is one of the most competitive games that I’ve played in recent memory.
The usual modes that you would expect from a categorized EA Sports game are all present, save the inclusion of a career mode that’s as intriguing as, say, FIFA’s Journey. The career mode has players scrapping to become the best fighter of all time. You’ll be taking on several fights in an attempt to set new records, carving out your own fame via social media, and taking on a wide number of challenges throughout. Although the structure of this mode is well established and well realized, it doesn’t quite hit the high mark. It’s a campaign of skill and recognition, starting you out in the World Fighting Alliance before gradually climbing into the UFC ranks.
While I did enjoy watching my chosen fighter go from zero to hero, if you like, I cant quite say that I enjoyed the pace or format. The game allows you to select from a group of uninteresting gyms that will serve as your training ground, each of which comes with different specialties. If you’re looking to learn new moves or skills, you’ll have to overcome a select challenge against AI opposition. Signing better contracts naturally rewards you with more cash, which can earn you better training gyms to further develop your fighter. This is where the balance of play comes into view. Spend too much time in the gym and no one will give a rats ass when you win, but if you spend too much time in the proverbial limelight, you may find yourself overwhelmed in the Octagon.
On the flip side if someone calls you out and wants to make a name for themselves by knocking you down a peg or two, it’s a great opportunity to bolster your fan-base. More followers can be gained by proving yourself to your fans, which will attract tougher rivals and collectively improve both your fight hype and your profile. It’s a juggling game that can prove to be a constant make-or-break if you spend more time in one field than the other. Point spending plays a large part in the campaign. Each week you’re given a set amount of points to spend. These can be distributed on a number of things, such as training. If you find yourself taking quite a beating, you may also need to spend points to heal yourself. This again promotes that risk vs reward sense of play.
Working your way to G.O.A.T. is one hell of a trek, but it’s a trek that remains satisfying and rewarding, if indeed not quite as fascinating or as interesting as EA’s other career efforts. When you’re done with the career, the Ultimate Team will likely be where you gravitate to next. This mode functions exactly how it does in other EA games, unlocking new fighters as you make your way through. There’s no shortage of challenges to work towards or moves to unlock, collectively enabling you to build a fighter with varying stats and equipment. The online segment of this mode is well crafted, making it simplistic and swift to get into an online match with no fuss. Much like in FIFA, you will need to win leagues and fights (both offline and online) to earn new packs. You can of course purchase them, but with EA and loot boxes still ripe, we’ll just leave that there for the fans to chew on.
Knockout Mode is a fun and quick affair. Here, you’ll be going face to face with your opponent and will battle it out to achieve a KO in order to win the match. Snoop Dogg lends his energy to this mode via some pretty awkward and confused commentary. I cant say that I fully understood what he was blabbing about at all times, but on the occasion I did catch what he was saying, it was often cringy or felt out of place. Still, this mode is all about brief and spontaneous fun, something that it manages to relay to a satisfactory degree. Other quick servings include Stand and Bang and Submission Showdown, but rather than entice me into sticking around for lengths of time, these just came across as brief one-off menu fillers. It goes without saying that the multiplayer is where the meat of the matter is at.
Tournament Mode is a great addition for players and their friends to take to. Furthermore, it’s a lot less complex than I was expecting. It’s a run of the mill King of the Hill style game that has you and your nearest and dearest battling it out for top spot, with the last man standing wearing the proverbial crown. You can also tweak a number of options, such as enabling/disabling obtained damage, determining whether or not wear and tear will carry over to the next fight. There’s plenty of content for fans and newcomers alike to dive on, and again it helps that this installation remains accessible throughout the entirety of play, across all modes on offer.
Despite being accessible, there’s still quite a challenge to soak up in this game. The AI is vicious and uncompromising in their approach, ensuring that no two fights ever feel the same. Contenders remain both tough and unpredictable, especially if (like me) this is your first UFC game. I found that studying my opponent was the best way forward, carefully watching how they perform while keeping my guard up. For example, an early match of mine saw my opposition favoring punches over kicks, leaving himself wide open for attack. I was able to take advantage of this opening and then follow through once I had staggered him with a chain of successive attacks. The learning curve isn’t too steep, but it certainly pays off to observe your foe if you want to predict what’s coming next from them.
I quite enjoyed inserting my own tactics in the Octogon, finding a decent balance between offense and defense per-contender. My biggest gripe with the game rests with the freaking submission system. When you finding yourself in a submission, an overlaying mini-game will pop up. Here you will need to move the analog in a specific direction, but your opponent can match your direction and prevent a submission break. The problem here is that it just doesn’t feel as fleshed out as it should be, and it’s especially irritating when the AI responds like an angry T-101 due to high submission ratings, and overpowers you nine times out of ten. This isn’t a game breaker, but it does feel unfair and certainly needs balancing.
Visually, UFC 3 is outstanding. The animation and movement of each fighter is unique, and no doubt faithfully represents their real life counterpart. The care and attention to detail here is top-notch, and I was particularly impressed by how each character model reacts during combat. Fighters will express pain, brace for an incoming attack, and strain when throwing out an attack. The authenticity is through the roof, and although I don’t watch the real world sport, this is most certainly the next best thing. Hell, even the sound of the combat is on point. I’m a squeamish person, I wont deny that, so you can imagine the look on my face each and every time I endured the hard thud that came as a result of flesh hitting flesh. EA have really gone to great lengths to push UFC 3 to its limit, and despite some issues outlined above, the end result pays off.
EA Sports UFC 3 is a solid entry that’s accessible, fluid, and content rich. The visuals and audio go hand in glove to deliver an authentic representation of the sport, but the formula is still far from perfect. With that being said, despite its flaws, this is as good as it gets for fans of MMA and a step in the right direction for the series.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.