If you were to look back ten or fifteen years ago, chances are there wouldn’t be many who’d ever even heard of the UFC. Back then, switching on the TV to catch the biggest fights of the year didn’t happen until the WWE’s Royal Rumble, or WrestleMania Pay-Per-View events rolled around. Nowadays though that’s all changed, and whilst WWE continues to attract a huge following, the UFC has really become a household name. With big fights at every event, even bigger attitudes, and some crazy knockouts, there’s no surprise that it’s become a worldwide brand.
For many of us though, the thought of stepping into an Octagon and taking an absolute pasting for a pay cheque doesn’t feel like the safest way to live our lives, and unless you’re happy to get covered in blood and sweat, sitting by the ringside of the professional athletes that do decide to step into the cage isn’t a great way enjoy the action either. Fortunately for us, EA are back with EA SPORTS UFC 3, the latest annual franchise that aims to bring us the biggest fighters, the biggest fights and the biggest experience, all without the blood, sweat and tears… at least until you step online. But can EA SPORTS UFC 3 bring us a true to life experience? I stepped into the virtual Octagon to find out.
He may not have spent much time in a UFC cage recently – instead opting to tread into the uncharted territory of the boxing ring – but cover star Conor McGregor is the clear focus of attention as players start up for the first time. After watching some of McGregor’s finest moments from his rise to superstar status within the UFC arena that have been recreated within a video scene, players are quickly thrust into a battle against one of the top contenders, Tony Ferguson, in a UFC Lightweight title matchup. There’s no real challenge in this fight, with it mainly serving as a tutorial to allow players to get used to the changes of some of the main controls over the previous entry, as most of EA’s sports titles typically tend to do.
The controls in UFC 3 aren’t majorly different this year, but the changes that have been made certainly allow for a simpler experience. The most noticeable change coming down to the blocks now sees RT set for a high block and both triggers for a low block. The main switch in terms of gameplay is the striking system which has been completely overhauled and now feels much more realistic in terms of making a connection, and the general weight of the moves with stamina even proving manageable this time around.
Unfortunately, one disappointing change has seen the fluid swerving movements from last year’s entry made slower and much more basic than usual. Although it gives a more realistic look to things over the usual frantic bobbing and weaving, it is easy to predict, making it near useless in an online fight.
From the main menu, there are a multitude of options to let you get your fighting underway. Fans of single player modes will want to start with the Career mode, however other options include the UFC Ultimate Team, one off Fight Now modes, Tournament mode, a chance to Practice and the usual multiplayer options.
Starting a new Career is an exciting prospect, as players can begin with either a popular fighter from the current roster, or create an entirely new fighter. Cover star Conor McGregor will probably be the draw for many, having the chance to take him back to the humble beginnings of being the next up and coming star.
After signing a new contract with the WFA (World Fighting Alliance) for a set number of fights, you work your way through every opponent until reaching your rival, who is the last fight of a contract – win all of your fights and you will be able to move up through the ranks. The first contract allows you to fight towards becoming a UFC fighter and from there, up through prospect, contender and so on until you reach the top-ranking places in your weight division, letting you then go on to fight for the title.
This year’s Career mode isn’t just focussed on becoming the UFC champion however. Sure, it’s still an important goal, but after becoming the champ, players will still need to take their career forward and master a number of challenges if they hope to meet the ultimate objective of becoming the G.O.A.T. – The Greatest of All Time.
It’s not only your results that will put you amongst the greatest though, with your actions outside of the Octagon playing an equally important part in your success. Between each fight players will need to drum up hype for each upcoming fight in order to gain new fans and followers. These will count towards the many challenges that you’ll need to complete should you wish become the G.O.A.T.. You see, whilst winning is a must, popularity also goes a long way.
Drumming up the excitement is simple enough with multiple options to choose from. Each will bring a different effect to fans and popularity, but they will also take a number of weekly allocated points to use. These points are also used for training – so you can prepare for each fight – and you will therefore need to have some level of planning to ensure you don’t waste everything and find yourself unfit for the fight, falling to an early T.K.O. due to a lack of training.
As with last year’s iteration, choosing the right training options is vital to any preparation, but this this time around, players no longer have the best opportunities available straight away, and instead must buy training memberships at new gyms to allow for better training options. The higher quality the gym, the more your stats will improve when you train and the better the quality of training you will be able to choose from. But money isn’t given away easily and it will take a good result in the Octagon to ensure you keep the money rolling in.
Of course, you can choose the free option of training from your home basement, but that won’t improve you as much as your local gym. That said, training from home isn’t going to run down your bank account so quickly either and with better training proving expensive, there are many times in which you’ll be left shadow boxing at home to try and save some money.
Although the Career mode is a fairly enjoyable experience, the constant need to build excitement can be a little daunting, especially if you have a fight that ends in the first round and you’ve spent more time promoting than actually taking part in it. Overall it’s a decent improvement over last year’s entry, and with training no longer requiring you to actually play multiple mini-games to boost your stats for each fight, it’s certainly more accessible to those wanting to get in on some solo gameplay without having to know the ins and outs of every technique.
As mentioned before there are many different modes to take part in outside of Career mode, and which one you spend the most time in will probably depend on how much time you wish to invest, as all of them are pretty damn great.
For those interested in a quick fight, there are a number of one off exhibition style modes available that can be played either against the A.I. or another local player. These include Fight Now, Knockout Mode, Submission, Stand and Bang and Custom Fight Now.
Fight Now is simply a standard 1v1 fight, whilst Knockout returns once more. My personal favourite is the new Stand and Bang feature, which is a clear improvement on Knockout with submissions and ground and pound removed from the fight. This means players will only be able to win by either a decision, K.O. or T.K.O. from strikes. Unlike Knockout, Stand and Bang isn’t the first to score a set number of strikes, and is instead played like a normal full-length matchup, only with submissions and ground work removed. It’s a great mode and a welcome addition, although it would have been nicer to have the option of playing Stand and Bang with online play as well. Nevertheless, it’s one I certainly spent a lot of time with and is great if you just want to get down to the nitty gritty head pounding action the UFC is well known for.
Submission hardly needs an introduction as the name spells it out, but it’s the other main new addition this year which swaps out the possibility of a knockout win with submission only moves giving victory. Unfortunately, despite the striking mechanics being vastly improved and more fluid this year, the submission and ground work feels slow and clunky, severely slowing down a fight – especially when your stamina is already partially depleted.
Another exciting option is the Tournament mode. Here players can set up tournaments for up to 16 fighters in a knockout style competition with custom settings allowing for a Stand and Bang tournament if you so wish, and the likes of health and stamina carrying over to the following fight. Again, it would be nice to see this mode made available for online play, although playing against the A.I. is hardly a disappointment and can make for an exciting competition.
For those keen on the multiplayer side of things, the options remain the same this year, with Online Quick Fight providing just as the name suggests – an exhibition one off for players to test their mettle – whereas those wanting something a little more competitive can take on the Ranked Championship option to challenge for the belt online, or the more time consuming UFC Ultimate Team, letting you create a team of fighters and challenge in single player and online divisions for belts, coins and glory. The Ultimate Team packs have changed a little however, and now include official fighters that players can use as a blank canvas to build the ultimate fighter, with moves earnt within the packs. It’s a bit of a pointless move in the fact that many will prefer to create their own fighters, however the option is a nice one for anyone who has a particular affinity to specific fighters.
And that leaves Live Events, a timed mode with fights only appearing as the real-life UFC events do, with you then able to replicate upcoming matches. Expect to find many different live events to watch out for as the UFC events roll around throughout the year.
EA SPORTS UFC 3 doesn’t provide a massive change over last year’s entry other than the few extra game modes and the striking system, but the changes that have been introduced are certainly for the better. With each game mode providing a realistic and fun experience, alongside an enjoyable Career mode, there is plenty to get stuck in to. Online multiplayer delivers fluid online play, and there is plenty of competition to be found, whilst the controls are now even more simplistic to allow pulling off the spectacular knockouts never having been easier.
Mastering the Octagon should no longer be an impossible challenge.