When you see two fighters walk into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) octagon, you know there is going to be a lot of jabs, punches and kicks that are painful to even look at. The sport is hardcore, there is no doubt about it, but does it translate well into a game? That’s what I intended to find out when playing EA Sports UFC 3 the past couple of days and limped away surprisingly impressed.
The game delivers the most realistic-looking fighting experience I have had in a video game, as well as some extremely intense and deep gameplay. Even so, my journey wasn’t all sunshine and mouthguards, as there are a few issues that pulled UFC 3 down, quite literally.
Becoming the G.O.A.T
UFC 3’s campaign is called the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) Career Mode, which took me through a journey of hardship as a new fighter on the scene. Creating my character was a fun experience, as I simply loved the detail I could put into every aspect of Wessel “Magic Man” Minnie, a bantamweight with a red afro and pale skin, covered in black hair. Creating the custom fighter was a great experience and you can customize just about everything, including the type of fighter he/she will be. I chose a brawler, so I can take a lot of hits and really get into the thick of a fistfight.
Your performance inside the octagon is, of course, of the utmost importance and most of the time, I tried to let my fists and feet do the talking. However, almost just as important is promoting yourself and building a fanbase, increasing your fight hype in every way you can. This can go two ways for most gamers, either you will love it, or you will hate it, as for me it became boring really quickly.
The game uses an in-game social media system where rivals would call me out. In my opinion, that just felt like I suddenly had another social media platform to manage. That might be because I am not a hardcore UFC fan, so keep that in mind if you are. The Career Mode took me roughly 16 hours to beat, but I did spend a bit more time in training and lost quite a few fights along the way. I also took a while longer than I think most players will to get out of the Fighting Alliance portion of the game.
Sometimes, it also felt like the game set you up for failure, showing you that there are better fighters out there and that you should never underestimate your opponent. The Career Mode was entertaining, especially with cinematics that
Due to the game’s realistic graphics, I could almost feel the rage from my opponent as I landed that perfect uppercut after dropping his guard with some well-placed jabs. Other great moments include things like blocking an opponent’s kick, catching his foot and knocking the living daylights out of him. That’s what UFC should be about, in my opinion, but that’s only half the story here.
EA Sports UFC 3 is the first game that it actually felt good getting hit in. That’s a weird thing to say, I know, but the fighting while on your feet is so precise that you know you made a mistake, not dodging or moving your head in the right direction when you do take one in the jaw. Then, you also have to watch your stamina, because being too aggressive can hurt you in the long run.
Further, the damage system in the game is quite robust. For example, when you block a kick with your arms, it hurts your arms and drains stamina. As you can see from the screenshots in this review, the game looks magnificent and it plays equally well. When you knock the living daylights out of your opponent, you can see the spit and blood flying, but in a realistic way.
I experienced absolutely no frame rate issues or glitches and everything was responsive. That’s until I got into multiplayer, where the delay meant I couldn’t really compete. The game is all about fast reactions and therefore, dodging a blow while playing from South Africa felt almost impossible. It’s quite unfortunate, as I wanted to wreck other players in the octagon. Thankfully, there is also a local multiplayer mode, so you and a friend can play against each other if you have two controllers.
As I mentioned before, the game feels great to play, when the fighters are on their feet. However, as soon as they hit the ground, it is a night and day difference. Grappling on the ground and moving into different positions feels like a Telltale experience, you simply decide which position you want to move in (or try to) with the right stick. This is the most boring part of the game, alongside the submission portion, where you basically have to complete this little mini-game that you can see below, pushing to certain sides when there is an indication on screen.
The issue here is that in most fights, you will spend 30-40% of your time on the ground, so 30-40% of the fight is boring, infuriating and downright frustration, while the other 60-70% is fantastic. Every time fighters went to the ground, I felt like I just wanted to quit the game right there, which really isn’t a good sign.
The game does give you various options of which type of match you want to play. You can play in the “Stand and Bang” mode, where no ground play or grappling is active. This was, of course, my favourite mode to just play with all the UFC greats and get to know the fighters a bit more. You can then also select all the great stadiums as your battleground, from Madison Square Garden to the Honda Centre and many more.
Every weight division, from flyweight to heavyweight, is also open for selection in multiple game modes, but the one mode I didn’t touch more than once was one where grappling and ground play is all the rage. No way I was going to move my right stick around for hours on end in this mode, but playing it once did teach me some tricks during those inevitable and infuriating ground situations.
Fighting the urge
When I first booted up the game, after the initial fight to introduce you to the game mechanics, I saw the main menu. There were things like Career Mode first, ultimate team, multiplayer and an entire tab called “Buy Bruce Lee”. I could spend R32 to unlock Bruce Lee in one weight division, or R100 for the Bruce Lee pack. I get it, he was the greatest fighter of all time, he was legendary, but show some respect maybe? The good thing is, you can also unlock him by completing the challenges career mode, but charging for Bruce Lee just felt wrong.
Speaking of something feeling wrong, I have to talk a bit about the Ultimate Team feature. In FIFA, it kind of made sense as a lot of players enjoyed it, but does it make sense in UFC? In my opinion, not really, it feels more like just a cash grab by EA. For those who love UFC and have played Ultimate Team modes before, and enjoyed them, then this might just be the game for you. However, for me, it felt incredibly boring and frustrating, as it is basically pay-to-win. You see, there are loot boxes that you can either purchase with currency earned by playing or by purchasing a premium currency.
The premium currency can be purchased in different amounts, ranging from R30 that will basically open up one “premium loot box”. Yes, a premium loot box, as if loot boxes aren’t enough. There is even an option to purchase a boatload of premium currency for R1600.
That’s almost twice the cost of the game. You get to unlock fighters, abilities, moves and everything else you can think of with these loot boxes, but only premium loot boxes are guaranteed to contain a sought-after golden card.
Sure, you don’t have to play Ultimate Team mode or compete in it’s multiplayer, but that’s where the longevity of the game lays and that’s where the loot boxes are as well.
EA Sports UFC 3 is a great, realistic fighting game that looks absolutely spectacular and plays equally well when your fighter is on his/her feet. The game is a big step in the right direction, but unfortunately, the grappling while on the floor really takes a lot of wind out of the experience and the submission portion is just poor.
My journey through the career mode was filled with equal parts thrill and boredom in a quest to rise from nothing to become the greatest fighter of all time. The fights and some rivalries were great, but all the promotion in between as well as the fact that preparation lasted longer than the actual fights brought the experience down a bit. Multiplayer works, but due to the fact that I was playing from South Africa, it was difficult to compete, as latency does make a bigger and bigger difference the more you climb in the ranks.
Unfortunately, what can be considered UFC 3’s longevity feature, Ultimate Team, is built around loot boxes, which is something most gamers just love to hate. However, the thing that got to me was that big “Buy Bruce Lee” option on the main menu. In the end, UFC fans won’t find a better game than EA Sports UFC 3, but the game isn’t perfect, so frustrations can and will arise. If you love something like Ultimate Team mode in other EA titles, then there is a whole lot more content for you to unlock, or well, buy.
This review was based off a review copy of the game provided to us by Electronic Arts
Available On: PS4 and Xbox One | Reviewed