Review: UFC 3

UFC 3 is EA’s latest attempt at capturing and capitalising on the increasing popularity of mixed martial arts’ biggest brand – the Ultimate Fighting Championship. As much as I loved the previous game, it had some faults. This iteration goes some way towards addressing them but not all of its punches connect.

There are two major improvements touted in this sequel which will be pleasing to both fans of the previous game, the real-life product or combat sports games in general. The first, and most significant is the introduction of Real Player Motion Technology. This drastically changes the stand-up fighting game with copious amounts of new moves all re-captured for the game. It’s not just an animation improvement, however, as it fundamentally changes the way the game is played.

It sounds mad now, but in the previous UFC titles you could not move and strike at the same time. You would position your fighter, then press a face button and direction to perform different strikes. In UFC 3 each button combination performs a strike irrespective of which direction you are pressing, which affords your fighter to be able to move forward, backward, left or right and strike at the same time. This allows for momentum to be added to striking, moving forward and kicking, for example, will do more damage than retreating and kicking. Fully motion mapped combinations also add to the fluidity of what you see as they’re recorded together, rather than individual moves spliced.

To account for this change, a ‘parry’ command which used to essentially ‘catch’ a strike and leave the attacker vulnerable has been removed, and replaced with head movement. By flicking the right stick, you can bob and weave allowing you to slip strikes and counter-attack. This keeps the pace fast and fluid, and removes the parrying moment where momentum would be stopped and paused. The result is that fights look drastically different and mimic the motion and movement of the real-life product. Frequently you are jostling for control and space, positioning is crucial, distance is important. New stamina overhauls also play into this, you can still fire off a rapid five strikes, but these are going to be weak by the end and you will have very low stamina. This makes you susceptible for knocking out, thanks to weakened defence.

I was surprised just how much energy this injects into the stand-up game. However, it comes at a cost. By removing directional inputs, you now must handle combinations of presses. Blocking changes from the previous game requiring both triggers to be held to block low, left bumper is a modifier and right bumper is a signature strike. So far so good, but not every character has every combination available, and the complexity increases. For example, to do a signature body attack, you may need to hold left trigger, left bumper, right bumper and cross and square. You can then tap right trigger to feign this attack, and hold right trigger and down on right stick to defend a takedown. In essence, to survive at a higher level you will need spider fingers.

The good news is that this is not insurmountable but the barrier to entry is probably greater than it was before – itself not a walk in the park. Sadly, with the advances made to the stand-up game, the ground and clinch games are basically untouched from UFC 2. For someone who spent hours in UFC 2 training modes learning how to handle myself on the ground, this is good news but it’s definitely not intuitive although the tutorials and on-screen indicators do a much better job of helping you understand how it works and how to manage it. From experience of playing online in UFC 3, there are significantly more people that understand this than in UFC 2, so this is a good thing. Nonetheless, it feels like some attention could have been paid to these aspects.

The second major improvement to the game is the career mode. The focus is on becoming the Greatest of all Time (GOAT). Headlined in trailers by Conor McGregor (arguably the biggest name in UFC although ironically never cropping up in GOAT discussions) the focus is on your created character moving through the ranks. The mode starts out in the minor leagues as you fight for a UFC contract, interspersed by video footage of UFC President Dana White and snapshots from UFC media summary package the UFC Minute. These are canned and triggered as you hit certain points. The main bulk is designed around how you spend your time preparing for fights. Is this through sparring, which improves your fitness and in turn you unlock a key to victory about your opponent. Perhaps you would spend the time training to improve your attributes, or focused training to unlock and learn new moves. The final option is spent with the media, where you can select many different aspects which help promote your fight, please the UFC or earn you more fans.

The depth here is really good, but my issue is that it’s all mostly done via text menus. The sparring is a minute which you’ll want to do as this improves your fitness – important for not going into a fight with terrible stamina. The attribute improving you’ll also need to do to build your ability to fight with the best later in your career (although you can’t do this too much for fear of becoming injured, so you need to balance). I found myself unlocking a few moves, then focusing on attributes and I only would use the media options when I either didn’t want a fine from the UFC or I needed to increase popularity in order to unlock a Trophy.

Rivalries pop up but really these act more like boss battles. Someone disses your mum on social media, they are now a rival and you’ll fight them in four fights time. You can respond via in-game Twitter but this in essence just increases or decreases your followers. The actual ability to scope your character in a McGregor style media frenzy-addicted person, or a St. Pierre beacon of respect does not exist. Cutscenes show your creation preparing for a fight now and then but this is style over substance. Career mode is a nice try at capturing real-world UFC preparation for fights, but it’s more the textbook approach than the reality.

Outside of the career mode, a few other options are offered. ‘Stand and Bang’ offers the full UFC experience in single matches but without any ground game, and a submission only mode offers just the grappling with none of the punching. I’ve found these more as excellent training modes. The practice mode is decent for finding out combos and you can record strikes to defend against but this is only limited to striking, not grappling. A tournament mode will be good for friends crowding round a screen, and for the more casual fans Knockout mode returns. This is simply basic health bars, get hit 9 times and you’re done. Hilariously, the commentary is provided here by Snoop Dogg (who, also hilariously commentates on UFC in the real world on an alternative broadcast for some fights). His quips are funny but do not follow the action anywhere near as well as the main stalwarts who are insightful as ever (even if there are a few audio cue mistakes here and there).

Ultimate Team rounds off the offerings and was the subject of much controversy in the Beta thanks to the loot box furore thanks to Star Wars Battlefront 2. Here, you have fighter cards – each with unique stats. Each fighter has a number of slots for move cards, so a submission fighter would have more submission slots, but less striking slots. Those cards go in these slots and like the fighters, are graded from bronze to gold which reflects rarity and stats. This system is significantly better than that in UFC 2, where you would apply stamina cards to your fighter as much as you wanted until you finally reach a flat 100 for every attribute. That does not seem possible here which is good.

There are more single player options now. Challenges exist which earn you tokens, which can be traded for improved fighters or moves. Other fighter or move cards can also be traded for better stuff, or sold for coins. You can also buy certain moves or fighters on a daily rotation, but they are very expensive and you have to fight for coins – you can’t buy them. What you can buy, and where the controversy wades in, is that you can spend money on packs. Whilst this is no guarantee, you could, in theory, buy many packs, get lots of gold fighters and moves, and have an immediate stat advantage.

What I have found so far, from having 40 online fights in Ultimate Team (which works well – generally the online side is very good so no complaints) I have secured enough gold to buy many packs. Your ‘team’ consists of four fighters, one at each a different division – I’ve secured all silver fighters, and have won enough tokens in solo challenges to upgrade one to gold. I have spent no real money so far. I have come across people that have destroyed me with bronze fighters, and I have decimated gold opponents. I would suggest that ability is a much bigger factor in Ultimate Team than ‘pay-to-win’ so far, but time will tell. Seasonal challenges and packs add variety too, and so far this has been my most played mode (outside of finishing the career).

Unranked and ranked online modes round out the full set for those not interested in Ultimate Team and like many games, this is where the true enjoyment shines. There’s nothing like the unpredictability of a human opponent, and nothing beats someone taunting you before you roundhouse kick them in the head for the instant win.

UFC 3 captures a lot of the excitement of the real-life in-cage product. The outside world elements are referenced but not really captured well enough, although longevity here is probably going to be from playing human opponents (in person or online) or on Ultimate Team. From someone who enjoyed UFC 2 a lot, UFC 3 is better and a decent improvement. I think they could have gone a bit further, but like a lot of games these days it builds a good foundation for the next iteration. I’m pleased that there have been a few updates already, tweaking frames of animations and fighter moves and stats, and the devs seem committed to linking real-world events into the game. For anyone that’s not interested in UFC, combat sports games or fighting games though, I think the barrier of entry may be a little high, but from my experience, it is well worth sticking with.

Reviewed on PS4

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