EA Sports MMA
With EA Sports MMA, EA have attempted to take on the dominant UFC brand at their own game: the UFC Undisputed series. Released to widespread acclaim in 2009, UFC Undisputed 2009 set the benchmark for MMA videogames by faithfully recreating both the sport’s intricacies and explicit violence. The timing of the game’s release does seem slightly suspect, but the developer has nevertheless maintained it’s been working on the title since 2008. However, regardless of how it came into existence, it’ll still have a tough job of ensnaring Undisputed’s fan-base.
As EA Sports MMA doesn’t have the UFC’s more recognisable roster at its disposable, it has had to rely on using the likeness of fighters from smaller organisations such as Strikeforce and Dream as well as free agents and retired athletes. However, there’s still some big names included such as Randy Couture, Fedor Emelianenko and Dan Henderson. Aside from a different roster, there’s also the inclusion of different cages and boxing rings in which to engage in mutually assured assault, and also the options to use different rule-sets that affect round-times and the legality of certain techniques (for instance, in Japan it’s absolutely fine to slam a knee into the noggin’ of a downed opponent). Graphically, the game looks adequate enough and slightly better than Undisputed, especially in terms of the resemblance fighters have to their real-world basis. Another way the game differentiates itself from its counterparts is in the all-important control department.
Using the Total Strike Control configuration from EA’s Fight Night Round 4 – fighters’ strikes and parries are performed by rotating the right analogue stick and their movement is mapped to the left analogue stick. The shoulder buttons modify high/low and kicks whilst the digital buttons cover clinches, takedowns and the majority of the ground-action. Once you get the hang of it, this system allows for rapid striking combinations and works effectively but canned animations can leave your fighter vulnerable to counter-attacks. However, should you find that TSC is less use than a fist made out of Play-Doh, you’re given the option to change to ‘classic’ style (ala Undisputed). In the stand-up exchanges, you have to fight tactically as too much mindless stick-twiddling or button-mashing will quickly gas your fighter, and usually result in your mental faculties being shut-off by means of brain-scrambling incoming lunch-box-sized hands.
Both the clinch and ground-based parts of the fight are rendered fairly straight-forward by the use of the digital buttons. It’s imperative for players to progress to an advantageous position by conserving stamina and using superior timing to employ blocks and progressions. The ground-work is much less complex than in Undisputed and fight-ending submissions are executed via mini-games depending on whether the submission is a choke (circle the left stick in search of the elusive ‘sweet spot’) or a limb-bending potential bone-snapper (button-based stamina war). Once you’re comfortable enough with the game’s controls, it’s imperative you delve into the game’s career mode.
After a limited customisable character creation (physical options are restricted but the amount of clothing present is akin to Primark projectile-vomiting out its entire wares) you’re introduced to the world of MMA by charismatic fighting legend and purveyor of the ‘liver shot’, Bas Rutten. Starting out as a rookie training in Rutten’s Elite MMA gym – your career progresses at a healthy pace; allowing you to build up your skills and gradually face better opposition in smaller leagues until you’re signed to one of the major organisations. You’re given the same eight weeks to train before every fight, and this takes the form of performing various exercises like increasingly complex striking combinations and grappling manoeuvres in an allotted time in order to boost your stats. Once your fighter begins accruing wealth from bouts, you’re able to travel worldwide to higher-echelon gyms to improve specific aspects of your game.
However, this is the only way to spend your fistically-gotten monetary gains and it’s a shame you can’t spend any on making improvements to, or flying expert trainers in to Elite MMA itself. Also, unlike Undisputed, there’s no option to attend press events, acquire endorsements or release your own instructional video (!). The only nod in that direction comes in the form of a conceited blogger who covers your career from the beginning, writing posts to hype you up which can then be read on your smart-phone (which serves as your in-game information hub). You might think, oh well – it’s better than a kick in the bollocks, but it isn’t. The career lasts for a total of 40 fights and is an enjoyable journey through self improvement, bitter rivalries, title-fights, exquisite highs and morose lows. A word of warning though: if you fight in the heavyweight division, Fedor Emelianenko (contender for the greatest MMA fighter of all time) WILL smack the shit out of you – he’s so overpowered there’s actually an achievement for besting him on the hardest difficulty.
EA has catered well for the online realm by including several modes that offer longevity to the overall experience. Belt Race has you striving to constantly advance through a belt-based ranking system, Fight Card allows you to create and host your own events with friends whilst the Live Broadcast feature is very intriguing indeed. This mode allows you to create your own ‘hype videos’ for your fighter and then upload them for others to see and get worked up about. Players with well-received hype videos and records can then be selected to participate in virtual Pay-Per-View online tournaments that are broadcast live and can be viewed on both consoles and PCs. Professional commentary teams will even call the fights!
EA Sports MMA is a bold statement and an impressive swipe at Undisputed’s MMA simulation crown. The bouts in EA’s contender feel fairly realistic when compared with Undisputed’s, as fighters seem more fallibly human rather than the latter’s largely impervious combatants. Constant loading times interrupt the flow of the game at nearly every opportunity and this is obviously a negative in any game. The career mode would have benefitted from a wider variety of responsibilities in addition to training. It’s also a a shame there’s no option for cross-promotional bouts at any point in your career. With that said, this is a very well realised first attempt by EA and one that won’t require much tweaking should there be any subsequent additions to the series.