MMA is a captivating sport to watch, but as a spectator it’s hard to fully appreciate the complexities of the sport: the strategy that goes into every kick, the timing required to get a full mount on an opponent, and the diligence required to avoid attacks and get into that sweet spot where the opponent’s weakness can be fully exploited. However, playing EA Sports MMA gives you a window into the nearly-scientific process that MMA fighters go through during a fight and training. And the gameplay experience that results is something extraordinary, especially for MMA fans.
The focus in EA Sports MMA is obviously placed firmly on the game’s expansive combat system. Although other MMA titles have definitely played to the strategic aspect of MMA, button mashing has been at least somewhat effective in practice. This hurt the gameplay experience overall, and made the combat system feel shallow when playing opponents who only have a button-mash strategy. However, in EA Sports MMA you have to really pay attention to the controls or you will lose matches very quickly. The controls are compartmentalized in such a way that throwing left and right hooks while in a standing game looks and feels completely different than hammering on the left and right attack while someone is in the ground game. When you start a match, both you and your opponent will be evenly matched, but as you progress you can get them into a clinch, beat them into submission, and of course go for the mount. Although the basics in each of these positions is the same, the way you choose your attacks and go after different body areas will dramatically affect how the match turns out, and the tactics your opponent will use to overtake you. You cannot simply go up to someone and hammer on your favorite attack, as your opponent will likely find an opening in your lackadaisical attacks, and you’ll be taken down with relative ease. However, if you go through the proper stances and create your own strategy, you’re much likelier to succeed.
The controls themselves are actually split into two different types: button-based and total strike control. The button-based controls are designed for casual/moderate users, and allows the user to tap on the face buttons for simple strikes, while the right thumbstick is used to change stance. This input method works well for those who aren’t immediately familiar with fighting mechanics (especially those found in the latest iteration of Fight Night) and want to take a more traditional approach to the combat system.
However, to get the full experience of the game, I heavily recommend mastering the total strike control system, which allows you to control the precise direction, intensity, and style of your strikes using the right thumbstick. The total control system does take some time to master, but the good thing is that the game provides plenty of tutorials for the system, and the directional strikes will feel very natural after a while. The total strike control system also allows you to have greater control when you are changing stances or trying to block specific moves.
Because the combat system is so complex, EA Sports MMA’s single player modes all have an extensive training focus. The MMA 101 tutorial mode is very deep and allows you to react in a real-time environment with suggested moves and tactics. However, if you really want to master the combat system, the easiest way to do so is through the game’s career mode. Like all good sports-focused career modes, this one starts off with a substantial creation mode, followed by a lengthy tutorial mode which can take nearly an hour to complete. Since the game has quite the learning curve, the game also includes extended training sessions that are spaced out between matches. The extended training sessions are actually a really great vehicle for learning the nuances of the combat system, as they force you to learn the basics and then use advanced techniques which build upon these basics to get a passing grade. And you’ll definitely want a passing grade, as the higher you score, the more points you can add to your fighter’s stats, which will affect the relative difficulty (or ease) of the next fight.
The career mode itself is fairly deep, and players will definitely have some fun joining the different MMA leagues and participating in matches in familiar locales. However, the real replay value for EA Sports MMA will come from the online modes. The game has an immersive online mode which includes an online mode that allows you to fight against ranked opponents to earn online belts using XP earned in the ring.
There are over ninety belts you can earn (separated into two classes), and as you work your way through the ranks, your character progresses too. Although if you slip up too many times, you can lose belts just as quickly as you earn them. The belt progression is definitely a great hook to keep you immersed in the game and provides a career-like experience with your favorite MMA fighters (you can only use custom characters in career mode.)
The online fighting modes are probably going to be your go-to modes for online play, but there is another mode which is definitely exciting, and a first for a sports game. Live Broadcast is an online mode where two players (selected by EA Sports) can get together and fight live once a week. The live broadcast will be publicized both on the game’s main menu and the EA Sports MMA website, and fans can tune in every week to watch the selected players battle it out. Of course, if you aren’t at the top of the leaderboard, you might feel like you will never have a shot at Live Broadcast. However, I recently sat down with members of the EA Sports MMA team, who assured me that many factors will be taken into account when selecting players for Live Broadcast, including community activity and creative hype videos.
EA Sports MMA is definitely an interesting take on the burgeoning MMA genre of sports games. Although other games have focused on adding a plethora of modes and abilities, it seems the folks at EA Tiburon were solely focused on bringing an experience to the table that faithfully replicated the MMA sport, and creating a combat system filled with nuance and strategic detail. And on those notes, they have certainly succeeded. EA Sports MMA is a solid start for this new franchise and it will be interesting to see where EA will take it from here. But no matter what the future holds, EA Sports MMA is a title that MMA fans should appreciate, and is a refreshing take on the MMA genre.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.7 Graphics
MMA fighters look good, but animations sometimes look awkward and there are occasional framerate drops. 4.6 Control
Controls offer a large amount of depth, and the total strike control option gives advanced players a lot to work with. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Voice-over work in the career mode is extensive and well-done. Announcers sound realistic and are never repetitive. 4.0 Play Value
There aren’t a lot of single player modes, but the online modes definitely pick up the slack. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.