Not to make assumptions, but it occurred to me that a lot of EA Sports UFC 3 reviews wouldn’t come at the game from the standpoint of a hardcore MMA fan. There just aren’t a lot of those in general, but I happen to be one. I watch hundreds of hours of MMA every year, rent most of the PPV events, follow the fighters on social media, and even endure The Ultimate Fighter reality series that is long overdue to be cancelled. I’m an MMA nut, so with EA Sports UFC 3, I was looking for more than just blood spatter and knockouts. There needed to be a depth in striking and grappling. I wanted to see a fluidity in transitioning from standup to ground fighting. Progression in a series that was somewhat clunky and prone to hilarious bugs in past iterations. That’s a tall order to fill, but EA Sports UFC 3 checks most of the boxes on that list.
Tale of the Tape
The first mode I checked out was Ultimate Team. It looks and feels a lot like the Ultimate Team you’ve come to expect from other sports games, such as NHL 18, but far more watered down. The core concept of earning points through online or offline matches is there. You still spend those points on packs that will drop you fighters, moves, and perks that can be applied to members of your team. You still buy currency from a store with real money, spending over $100 on the biggest option if you so choose. What’s missing, though, is a marketplace where you can buy or sell with other players. This puts you completely at the mercy of RNG when it comes to customizing your team and fighters. In NHL 18, the most knowledgeable players tell you not to buy packs (with real money or earned in-game currency). You should buy the assets you need right from the marketplace. That isn’t an option in EA Sports UFC 3, and as a result the mode felt less connected to other players than I was hoping it would.
Becoming the G.O.A.T
Once I took my leave from Ultimate Team, I was pleasantly surprised at the options available to enjoy some face punching. Career Mode is back with more depth and very few flaws. I spent most of my time here, growing my social media presence and earning new contracts from Dana White as I progressed. There are now rivalries, but they aren’t exactly engaging. It was nice to whoop Travis Browne, though.
What works best with Career Mode are the fight camps. There are several gyms, all of which require you to buy a membership. Some cost more than others, and each has a specialty, like boxing, kick boxing, wrestling, or Jiu-Jitsu. Each gym has a stable of fighters, with UFC stars at the top of the pile, ready to teach you high end skills that you can apply to your created fighter and take into the Octagon. Learning new skills is accomplished by stepping into the cage with these fighters, then completing small tasks. It has a certain fluidity to it. When I was about to throw down with Daniel Cormier, I spent my entire camp focusing on submissions off my back and getting back to my feet. I knew I couldn’t stuff all the takedowns, so I adjusted. The depth of fight camps tie perfectly together with pre-fight training and planning.
Each fight camp is broken into weeks. They usually range from three weeks to five weeks. Each week starts you with 100 points, and every action you take costs points. For example, posting to social media will cost you 10 points and give you a bump in followers. Sparring will improve your fitness and reveal pertinent information about your opponent, but that’s 40 points. Learning a new skill is also 40 points. On the lower end, you can automate some training, improving your stats by spending a certain number of those points.
Then there’s the promotional aspect to fight camps, which also costs points. On the low end, you can spend time live streaming games (a nod to Demetrious Johnson, the #1 P4P fighter on the planet) to your fans, increasing your popularity and hyping the fight. As you become a bigger star, the opportunities to promote get bigger (like magazine shoots), but so does the point cost.
But why promote if you’re on a fixed salary? Well, once you become the champion you’ll start getting a cut of PPV sales, as is the case in the real UFC. If you don’t promote your fight, the hype for it will often be low, PPV sales will suffer, you’ll earn less money and, as a result, won’t be able to afford to train at the best gyms. The entire system is about balance, and I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked.
There are online modes beyond Ultimate Team, like Ranked Championships and Quick Fights, neither of which are tied to Ultimate Team. This means that avoiding pay-to-win mechanics online is solved by playing any other online mode. This is what makes the microtransaction heavy Ultimate Team okay for me; it’s easily avoidable. Just be prepared to fight Conor McGregor a lot. He’s not hard to beat, but his popularity means that you’ll get a steady diet of him from the casual fans out there.
A few new offline modes are in. Stand and Bang and Submission Showdown are fantastic. I’ve always struggled to properly learn all the disciplines in UFC games, and now I can do that without messing around in specific training scenarios, which you can still do if need be. I can enter a grappling only mode and work on blocking transitions, managing my stamina, and eliminating holes in my game. Likewise, Stand and Bang eliminates takedowns, so you can work on your striking or blocking without worrying about being pinned on your back the entire fight. What was disappointing, though, was that these modes aren’t available online. They are offline only. I think having a striking only mode online would be a big hit. Likewise, grappling only would appeal to the Damian Maia fans out there.
Tournament Mode is fun for a minute, but I highly doubt players will put in much time there beyond the first few times they load up the game. You can create tournaments with up to 16 fighters, all competing in one night. It’s a throwback to Pride, and you can toggle options to have damage carry over from one fight to the next. Seeing Jose Aldo’s face just wrecked from his first three fights before the bell rings for the final match was awesome. He won, by the way.
Live Mode is back, and it brings a living element to EA Sports UFC 3. For those unfamiliar, you can view real upcoming UFC events and pick the fight winners, earning in-game rewards when you’re successful. Personally, I love this. It gives me a small reason to load the game up after the initial honeymoon phase ends. It’s obviously completely different in what you’re doing, but it reminded me of elusive targets in Hitman. It’s just a clever feature.
One mode that falls flat on its face, and not because it features brutal knockouts, is Knockout Mode. It’s standup only, with a certain number of punches required to KO your opponent. It should be fun, but it’s over far too fast, and the default commentary is provided by Snoop Dogg, who shouldn’t commentate MMA. He isn’t good on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Fights, and he’s not good here. It’s a gimmick designed to pull you with a name, but it’s bad. Thankfully, Snoop can be toggled off in Knockout mode. I replaced him with Anik and Rogan, but all EA Sports UFC 3 commentary could use improvement.
Fight of the Night
All the cool features and modes of EA Sports UFC 3 are tied together with the fighting. The fighting used to be what felt clunky and somewhat fractured, but it’s much improved. EA Canada calls this Real Player Motion (RPM), but I don’t care what they call it. The combat is fluid, whereas it used to be sticky. Previous games struggled with calculating what to do when one fighter tried to kick at the same time another went for a takedown, but that’s largely been solved with new animations. And by solved I don’t mean just better. The combat in the game is as good as I could have envisioned it being.
The move list for EA Sports UFC 3 is extensive. Of course, real fighters have moves that they are known for in real life, like the Stockton Slap from a Diaz, but you can customize your created fighter to be however you wish. Pick and choose the moves that make sense for you, building a solid all-around fighter, or putting the focus on either grappling or striking. Much like a young MMA fighter, I evolved. I started as a guy who wanted to stand and bang, but quickly realized that elite competition, like Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier, were going to eat my soul if I didn’t develop a ground game. By the time I retired, I was good everywhere, but deadly on the feet.
And putting these moves together with the improved fluidity of fights makes the experience that much more immersive. I built my fighter around the idea that if you stand with me, you’re getting slept. And if you panic and try to take me down, my guillotine is waiting for you. In fact, I originally won the belt from Stipe Miocic because I was beating him up on the feet. He tried to take me down and I caught him in a choke. It played out very much as Cain Velasquez vs Fabricio Werdum did. It felt authentic, and that was a big part of what was missing from EA Sports UFC 2.
There are a few areas where the fighting could use a touch up. One of them is with how fighters get stunned and knocked down. You can knock opponents down about six times in a round, which is absurd. Gray Maynard knocked Frankie Edgar down three times in one round at UFC 125, and Conor McGregor knocked Eddie Alvarez down the same number of times at UFC 205. While casual players will just think it’s cool to destroy their virtual opponent’s brains, I’m looking for a bit more authenticity here. Maybe have the referee step in before we get to half a dozen knockdowns.
Post-Fight Press Conference
EA Sports UFC 3 is a big jump from previous titles in the series. Still, there are improvements that could be made here as well. Tournament Mode would be better suited integrated into Career Mode, Ultimate Team could be filled out more, and allowing players to choose Stand and Bang or Submission Showdown as online options would be a great start.
The pros far outweigh the cons, though. The heart of the game is in its fighting and that’s as good as it’s ever been. Skilled and dedicated players will find it very rewarding, and casual players can dial the difficulty down to enjoy a smoother ride. EA Sports UFC 3 has something for every MMA-loving gamer. It’s virtual face punching at its finest.
This review is based on a PS4 download code provided by the publisher. EA Sports UFC 3 will be available in retail and digital stores on February 2, 2018.