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EA can still publish a good game? Wow.

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    EA Sports UFC 3

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    EA can still publish a good game? Wow.

    Talk about surprising. With EA’s latest love of shutting down beloved studios, cramming microtransactions into their products, and usually forcing developers to rush a product out half-baked it’s pretty amazing that they can still publish a game that’s actually pretty solid. A sports title, no less, which usually have run-of-the-mill yearly cycles. It’s something of a joke that sports titles under big companies are just yearly roster updates with maybe a couple graphical improvements. I haven’t given a whole lot of attention to the UFC games since they went under EA’s banner, my last game one of the UFC Undisputed titles, but I decided to give this one a go. How does it hold up?

    Before even starting the game proper you are thrust into a cinematic that transforms into a tutorial mode of sorts, controlling Conor Mcgregor. This is a neat way to build engagement and get somebody used to the mechanics. The very first impressions are not all that great; in this first fight the controls seem kind of sluggish and the real-time fight doesn’t exactly allow for any time to think of which buttons to push. Skip this, however, and the actual game is much more fun. Upon getting into main menu where you create a custom fighter or play in a variety of modes, you can go to practice mode and properly get used to the mechanics. practice mode lets you choose the rules for an AI opponent, and there are certain drill challenges to practice specific aspects of the fighting system.

    The big highlight of this game are the striking mechanics; streamlined and intuitive yet engaging and deep, UFC3 allows for a multitude of stringing strikes through different buttons, and the timing doesn’t ask you to be precise to the millisecond. Changing your target by pressing L1 or L2 feels very natural after a while, and the multi-button attacks are relatively easy to execute. Most players, especially casual players, are going to love striking because it’s just so fun and engaging. It’s also quite satisfying with an immersive series of pops and thwacks accompanying the punches and kicks you land.

    Visually, the game is pretty good but not amazing. The character models for fighters is done pretty well, and every fighter definitely looks like who they are supposed to be. The bruises and cuts that get on a fighter’s face overtime are pretty realistic. That said, the physics are a little wonky. Occasionally the movements of fighters go from being slick and smooth to jerky and weird. Everything outside of the octagon (Crowds, stadium, etc.) has a somewhat mediocre look to it. Also, I fail to see the ¡®anguish’ or ¡®rage’ in the fighters when they get hit, something a few have claimed to be in the graphics. I see some pain in a knocked out or bloodied fighter, but I don’t really see a ticked off fighter when they suffer a hard blow. Good looking character models, usually some slick animation, and some occasionally weird physics with hollow graphics outside the Octagon. Not much else to highlight.

    Grappling mechanics could definitely use some work, as they are nowhere near as intuitive or engaging as striking is. Grappling in this game somehow manages to be streamlined, convoluted, underpowered, and overpowered all at once. There’s many slick moves that are easily executed with a quick movement of the right joystick, but trying to play defensively is not easy with everything going on. Paying attention to the offensive moves available while simultaneously watching for counters from the other fighter feels like playing two mini-games in separate sections of the screen, which makes it feel overly complex. Your best bet is to just memorize a few transitions and submissions and stick with them. Pulling off a submission victory is an incredibly satisfying experience, but getting there is more of a pain than it should be.

    The Submission mechanic in particular aims to be a streamlined and organic system, but really just comes across as a glorified and frustrating QTE that requires both joysticks. I’d recommend the simple submission mechanic, because even though it’s just rapidly pressing one button it actually seems more effective and useful. Also, takedowns are a finicky beast. Against CPU opponents, takedowns can be overpowered as they are almost never defended against unless you’re in the high rankings of a division in career mode. Then again, the CPU seems to enjoy perfectly timing its own takedowns in an avoidable fashion so I guess all is balanced, in a really unbalanced kind of way. Conversely, against a human opponent the window of defense is so big that takedowns can feel worthless. It’s kind of a bummer, because takedowns and throws are very crisp and sound great when they are executed. As much as I and many other reviewers knock it, the potential for an amazing grappling system is there. The mechanics simply need to be a little more intuitive with a better merging of defense and offense. Sticking to a few go-to grappling moves allows you to mix up the combat nicely and have more fun, but trying to memorize all the moves or have drawn-out wrestling on the mat tires out quickly.

    The custom fighter mode is streamlined and makes creating your personal fighter a relatively quick and easy time. The amount of variety available for things like hair and body type is acceptable, but nothing too astounding. The ability to customize your fighter’s entire move set alongside their specialty style is incredibly cool, reminding me of a WWE game in a way. It’s here that you realize the sheer amount of combat moves available, especially for striking. Perks allow for specific advantages as well, allowing you to really mold your fighter to fit your personal playstyle. Keep in mind that stats and perks don’t apply to career mode, and have to be earned overtime in that mode. After all, building an OP fighter from the start wouldn’t made for an exciting story mode, would it?

    Career mode is touted as a highlight of the game, and it’s definitely a fun experience. You start out in the minor leagues and have to make an impression to make it to the UFC. Afterwards, the main goal of this mode aside from winning all the fights is to become the G.O.A.T by breaking previous records such as performance bonuses or consecutive victories. Naturally the mode starts to get repetitive after about 10 fights of the same thing with just slightly more difficult AI opponents, but there’s a simulation of an MMA fighter’s duties between fights that’s pretty nifty. The game requires you find a balance between training, sparring, learning, and promoting your fight between fight nights. If you don’t train much you’ll be quickly outclassed, but overtraining will be leaving you prematurely injured. You won’t get far if you don’t take time to unlock new moves, but if you forget to hype up your fights you’ll be a nobody regardless of what your record says. After a while the whole thing does seem to go on cruise control with a pattern of train, hype, spar, train, hype, fight, rinse and repeat, but the entire process is streamlined and quick to you to progress your career swiftly. Plus, the additional feature of rivalries throughout your career add some flavor, with occasional social media posts and video packages showcasing your highlights going into big fights. While it definitely could’ve been spiced up more, it’s a pretty solid experience as far as career modes go. There is a definite sense of progression and legacy-builder as you try to become the greatest ever, which helps against the repetition that eventually sets into the fighting itself.

    In general, the variety of modes is a strong point of UFC 3. Aside from career mode you have a mode where only striking is allowed, a grappling mode that’s purely for wrestling fanatics, and a quick fight mode where you can set handicaps or advantages for either player. Quick fight in particular is a very nice addition for more casual players who don’t want extremely competitive gameplay. Even those with limited skill or those who just don’t have the time to master every nook and cranny of the game’s mechanics can enjoy a couple rounds in quick fight mode. There’s also a tournament where one can set up their up event of elimination contests if that strikes your fancy. Of course, you have the online features, in which EA will try to strong-arm you into opening an EA account every time you open the game if you don’t already have one. Naturally there is no playing online without an EA account, which is nothing more than EA’s way of maintaining some sort of control over those that aren’t playing the game through Origin. It seems EA can’t completely stay out of the way of the experience; they always have to find a way to make their presence known. After all, they still snuck microtransactions into one of the modes.

    Ultimate Team Mode is probably the most out of place for the game. While fighters do train together in camps, MMA is not exactly a team-based sport. Aside from that, however, this mode is simply way too convulated. The mode practically puts you through 15 minutes of tip screens that I basically forgot as soon as they stopped appearing. You can’t put together any team you want from the get go, you have to pick fighters the game unlocks for you. This means no custom fighters unless you get a custom fighter package, which is a real let down. Unlocking stuff naturally means grinding through challenges, and of course EA had to make sure their micro-transactions got put in somehow. Either grind and earn coins, or just buy your way to items you want. Overall, I just fail to see the point of this mode, aside from historical challenges based on real UFC events. The whole thing just feels out of place, and there’s plenty of other modes in the game.

    For a few other points about the game, the fight commentary is pretty well done but it becomes noticeable after a while how many times the analysts repeat themselves. A few extra lines of commentary, especially for the pre-fight and post-fight moments would’ve been really good. There are a few minor glitches such as fighters occasionally trying to walk through the cage and character limbs occasionally protruding during submissions. Sparring itself is not always accurate, either. You can spar against an opponent simulating a striker and find yourself on the end of takedown after takedown. Also, while I know it’s an attempt to simulate real UFC action the way a single good strike can end a fight out of nowhere is a little off-putting. Realism does not always equal fun, and while a sudden burst of undefended offense should win a fight it ought to take more than just one or two strikes. Instead they could’ve implemented other ways a fight can end, such as TKO finishes or doctor stoppage if a fighter is getting too bloody. Previous UFC games included such stipulations, so why not this one?

    Overall, UFC 3 is a very solid MMA experience and a pleasant surprise for an EA-published game. The game shines best in it’s striking mechanics, streamlined custom fighter creation, career mode, and multitude of additional modes. The overall grappling mechanics definitely need some work, and the overall visuals are not as super realistic as I’ve seen some claim. There’s also some balancing issues, and naturally EA had to find a way to sneak their monetization policies into one of the game’s modes. Luckily, they are exclusive to the most pointless mode, and despite these drawbacks the game is still overall really fun. Anyone with a real itch to play as a UFC prospect can’t really go wrong with this one.

    +Great Striking Mechanics
    +Career mode is pretty solid
    +Lots of different modes for replay value
    -Grappling mechanics could use some work
    -Ultimate Team Mode feels a little pointless

    Final Score: 7.5/10

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