Kick, Punch, It’s All in the Mind
Combat sports are a relatively new thing for me. I started watching professional wrestling in roughly 2013, and since then I’ve learned to appreciate the artistry and storytelling potential of the “sport.” I’m not as familiar with MMA, but I have come to notice an everlasting bridge constructed between the two, as marketing, fanbases, and even talent have a long history of intersecting. It makes sense; while one is a true sport and the other is entertainment, both borrow from the other in different ways. If only WWE, the wrestling juggernaut, could have contemporary video games as cool as its punchier rival, UFC.
EA’s UFC series is relatively young, but it has that EA Sports pedigree strapping that proverbial rocket to its back. Everything you would expect out of an EA adaptation of UFC is present – in-depth, obsessively designed mechanics, a laundry list of game modes, and an endless stream of numbers. This is a simulation as much as any given Madden or NHL installment. But, being a one-on-one combat sport, it feels substantially different compared to its peers. I’m new to the world of sports sims, having dived in headfirst late last year. But I’m not new to fighting games, and I admit to having a bit of a chip on my shoulder going into this year’s UFC 3 . Generally speaking, my confidence was unearned, but not unjustified either.
Having partaken in enough UFC events to have a basic understanding of how things usually go and knowing what I know about EA Sports sims, I figured going in that grappling would be the real test. Grappling is the most nuanced part of UFC, therefore it would be the most difficult to translate effectively in a video game. I was right, and the times I felt forced into playing with those systems colored my experience with UFC 3 in a negative light, at times. But when I first started, I went in planning to swing my fists as much as I could and treated the game like I was playing Tekken or something similar. And for a while, it worked!
The striking game in UFC 3 is satisfying in that horrible, self-reflective way that makes you wonder why the human psyche gets so much glee out of participating in brutal violence. When I time the strike just right, see my opponent’s head rock to the side as my controller vibrates just so, and the doofus ape man providing commentary shouts, “OH!” with the perfect pitch of feigned disbelief, it’s like the rest of the world stops for a second. Then the blood starts pumping again when I realize the dude’s stunned, and it’s my chance to end things with another meaty swing or a sweet, flying kick. It’s ridiculous.
And in terms of playing UFC 3 , it’s easy to do and easy to understand. It really is like Tekken , with a face button acting as a proxy for each limb. But instead of juggles and special stick movements, you can modify your strikes with different combinations of the trigger buttons. Even if you can’t memorize your fighter’s whole moveset, the fundamental concept lends itself well to making things up on the fly and succeeding. But eventually you will get grabbed, and that is when the sports sim part kicks in.
Once you’re grappling in UFC 3 , you’re dealing with what feels like a whole other game, a game in which you uncomfortably jam the analog stick in stark directions, hold the right trigger at what might be appropriate times, and hope for the best. The game tries to explain how it works, but between unwieldy visual cues and that inorganic split between game inputs and onscreen action, it doesn’t work well. If you end up in a submission, it’s still obtuse, but the explanations given are just slightly better and that was enough for me to figure it out. It still feels like climbing uphill, and until sports game devs can find the secret sauce, I fear it will remain that way for a while yet.
I made my way through UFC 3 ’s career mode as a striker, taking my Ls when mis-matched against grapplers (or spamming the reset option), but more often gleefully ending match after match in the first round with my inhuman fists. I was champion in no time, and even apparently the owner of a pretty successful video game stream channel. While Madden 18 has its Hollywood-style Longshot gimmick all to itself for now, UFC 3 has more in common with NBA Live 18 in its stilted, fake social media feeds and sterile menus. But I found myself motivated to keep going, with an added element of time management making me choose how to spend time between fights helping built the anticipation of an increasing ladder of challenges. With each new contract came a jump in AI toughness; by the end, the stakes felt high and the knockouts even more vital to the experience.
After I spent time in the career mode, I hopped over to Ultimate Team, a staple of the EA Sports line. In this mode, you dump coins into random card packs, which nets you roster additions, temporary bonuses, moves, and stat boosts. With these cards, you put together a deck of sorts and fight online either against other players or CPU versions of other players in a single-player alternative. You earn division points and climb the ranks, along with currency to buy more packs. This cycle continues in perpetuity until, ideally, you’re sitting pretty with a team full of gold.
There are other UFC 3 game modes, such as the usual standard on and offline quick matches, as well as a few other gimmicks such as knockout, which takes my fighting game approach to the logical extreme. But Ultimate Team seems to be the main attraction in terms of emphasis and depth. I just wish it wasn’t such a grind, with card packs clearly being designed to take a long time to unlock. Microtransactions rear their ugly head yet again, but being isolated to the one mode means they can slip by more inconspicuously.
UFC 3 feels the most like a video game in the pool of big sports simulations. Being a one-on-one combat sim, it still feels like you’re at the mercy of your own ability even though there are stats. A punch is a punch, and while some chins are more durable than others, patience and care can help you overcome the odds. It feels like a different kind of fighting game for folks interested in real-life martial arts, with a cumbersome grappling system and some branded bumbling with numbers and menus to appeal to the core audience. UFC 3 is fun and exciting, and I can see it acting as a potential entry point for its real-life counterpart.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Smooth, detailed animations and super high-quality character models make this a treat to see in motion. A bit low on pizazz and detail outside of the ring, however. 4.0 Control
Striking feels spot-on and thoughtful, delivering the satisfaction of masterfully punching another consenting adult in the face. Grappling is weird and obtuse. 3.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Licensed music tracks and not much else. Commentary occasionally kicks into relevance for high-energy moments. 4.0 Play Value
Career mode is a bit light but competent and engaging for what it offers; Ultimate Team is too grindy but not lacking for things to do and earn. Everything else feels like bonuses thrown in to mix things up a little. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best