I have to admit, I don’t understand the attraction of competing in MMA competitions. Don’t get me wrong, I adore martial arts – I come from a family of martial artists, ranging from boxing to karate and judo. I just don’t get the whole appeal of climbing into a cage and beating someone up. Maybe I am a pacifist (who plays a lot of violent video games, go figure).
I do have respect for the athleticism, skill and strength of MMA competitors. I guess it’s just something that I wouldn’t do, personally. At least, not in real life. But give me a good game to try out, and I’m there. I don’t mind inflicting pain on pixels.
The thing is, though, that the only franchise that has brought any kind of mixed martial arts fighting to video gamers is the UFC franchise, and that one is not exactly a game that you can sit back and relax with. There is a point where trying to realistically capture the essence of a sport – in terms of controls – goes beyond the sublime, and sets itself securely in the realms of the ridiculous. I want to play a game, not spend four days in a tutorial, only to forget even the most basic moves because I am no good at cram-learning. That was UFC’s issue… the game almost collapsed under the weight of its control complexity.
On the other hand, I don’t want something that is too simple, either. There was a boxing game that came out a while ago – Don King Presents: Prizefighter – that managed to scupper itself by using face-buttons for strike controls. That’s just too simple, and a match in that game would generally devolve into a retarded session of skillless button mashing.
Something in the middle would be nice… something like EA Sports’ Fight Night series. And that something has arrived, from the same people.
EA Sports’ MMA bludgeons its way onto the market in a very different way from other EA sporting titles. It doesn’t have the big license, which is almost always a hallmark of EA’s sports games. In this case, that license belongs to THQ (who do UFC Undisputed) and EA had to settle for the smaller MMA licenses, like Strike Force. So, in other words, EA’s title would seem to be the underdog (which is a bit of a change for them, at least in terms of sports games.) But that’s not going to stop them, and their willingness to dominate yet another category of virtual sports shows in this strong franchise kick-off.
MMA borrows a few things from Fight Night. It uses the latest Fight Night engine, which means that flexing muscles and glistening sweat complement the realistic reactions that the fighters have to being smacked about.
But, more importantly, it uses Fight Night’s control scheme ideas. In this area, it is excellent. The controls are tied mainly to the right analogue stick. Moving the stick in specific ways to the left or right will result in various punches being thrown. Holding down R1 turns them into body blows. Holding down L2 turns them into kicks, and a combination of R1 and L2 held down turns them into kicks to the body. These kicks and blows also apply to grappling, and movement is governed by the left stick. A press of the triangle button will initiate a grapple, and X will see the player’s character attempt to perform a take-down.
Once both fighters are on the ground, the face buttons come into play. Sure, the stick is still used to throw strikes, but passes from one grapple position to another are performed by pressing buttons, as are submission attempts and defences.
This could quite easily have devolved into button mashing, but EA were smart about the implementation of the system. Each time a button is pressed, a little of the player’s stamina is used. Sure, it will recover in time, but relentlessly mashing the square button during a submission attempt will make the fighter tired, and his opponent will be able to break away. Rather, the player will need to strategically manage his stamina, and button mashers will get no-where. It’s a great idea, and one that EA Sports deserve a medal for (because button mashers suck.)
In fact, the game is rather strategic because of this, and the “strike to pass, pass to strike” idea is reinforced. A player who effectively outwits his opponent on the ground with a clever combo of strikes and passes will come out tops, every time.
During the long career mode the player will get to train with virtual versions of some of the top MMA fighters around, starting with their initial coach, Bas Rutten (who, I must say, did a brilliant job for the voice of his character.)
The player will be able to learn up to sixteen special moves from an extensive list from the additional trainers, and will be able to train (there are eight training sessions between each fight) to improve their overall performance.
The game really shines when it is played as a multiplayer game. The single player mode is great, and the career is fun, but the AI alternates between being a little dense and being a little too sharp – near psychic, almost. There are a few multiplayer and online options, but the franchise has a long way to go in terms of these.
MMA is not perfect. The AI can be a bit off, and the tutorial is too strange to be useful. The player will pick up everything they need to know through the career, but those that just want to jump in and play will have a bit of a steep learning curve unless they have done a bit of the career. The commentary is great, and the general sound effects are very good, but the fighters could have been a little noisier when they are on the ground… wrestling is hard work, after all, and a few grunts and groans would not have been out of place.
Despite the imperfections, though (and the above list is far from exhaustive) MMA is exactly what it should be; a very good start to what will undoubtedly become one of EA’s yearly-release franchises, and a very good contender in the genre. It’s already giving the UFC Undisputed series a run for its money, and it’s literally only in its infancy.
Knowing the way EA tackle franchises like this, it’s hard to imagine that MMA will not dominate the mixed martial art simulation market within a few iterations. The combination of excellent graphics, great dynamics and sensible, simple yet effective control scheme is a definite winner, and this is certainly a game to consider, should you want a fun, well-made MMA simulation… whether it has big licenses or not.
I, for one, am very excited to see where this franchise is going to go. If I might hazard a prediction, I think we are going to see very big things coming from it after this wonderfully strong start.
- Xbox 360