October 20, 2010
When you think about it, fighting is primarily about who has the most stamina. That's why Rocky could beat even the most formidable opponents, including Ivan Drago. Anyone who says that Rocky isn’t real... well, fiddlesticks to you sir! Then again, MMA isn't about just one fighting discipline like boxing though, as your coach Bas Rutten first notes upon taking your character into EA Sports MMA's Career Mode. A boxer, practitioner of Judo or whatever, focuses on just one martial art, whereas an MMA fighter, has to be able to master several.
Like pretty much every sports game these days, Career Mode is the heart of the experience, so clearly EA Tiburon has sunk a lot of effort into making EA Sports MMA's career as deep and all-encompassing as possible. Like UFC Undisputed (yes, prepare for lots of comparisons), you start your burgeoning fighting career under the wing of a legendary MMA coach, in this case, champion Dutch pugilist Bas Rutten is your mentor, and he's always on hand to offer his own enthusiastically delivered wisdom, as you train and spar your way towards fighting fitness.
Where UFC 2010 Undisputed gave you the option of breezing through your training regime between bouts, by allowing you to keep your skills sharp by simulating exercises pertaining to certain attributes, EA Sports MMA does not. You could spar in UFC 2010 if you wanted to, but it was entirely optional. In MMA, you have to spar at least once to bolster one of your skills and thereafter you can then simulate the same action. You're given 8 weeks in which to train, but you don't need to concern yourself with resting or pacing yourself. Just squeeze in as much sparring and exercises using the gym equipment as you can in the allotted time. Put in enough training and you'll eventually unlock special moves to add to your repertoire.
All the time you're leading up to your big chance though, and it doesn't take long before you're fighting at pro level with your created character, climbing the MMA ranks. Career is precisely as in-depth as you'd expect then, but it doesn't feel quite as immersive and comprehensive as UFC Undisputed's own career mode. The added emphasis on training and developing your pugilist is welcome though, and choosing which aspects of your skills to zone in on adds a heavy dose of strategy. Do you scout your opponent to gain the edge over him or do you spend time working on the fundamentals like ground & pound, submissions and stand-up fighting (which is not punching and telling jokes)? As we said, strategy!
The same applies to EA Sports MMA's fight mechanics, which rely on tactics arguably more than UFC Undisputed does. Everything pretty much revolves around managing your stamina bar and every action you perform in the ring expends some of your endurance. There's no room here for mashing buttons, as you'll wear your fighter out and leave yourself wide open for a fast takedown. Utilising a Fight Night-inspired analogue stick control system, MMA takes some getting used to, and initially, controlling punches and kicks with the sticks feels sludgy and counter-intuitive, compared to Undisputed's logical blend of face-button jabs and strikes with analogue stick grappling and clinches. That being said, you can switch the control scheme to the face buttons, but where’s the fun in that?
Over time though, the controls gradually start to make sense. For starters, it's a perfect way for MMA to distance itself from Undisputed, while still presenting you with plenty of options in what soon becomes second nature. Movement is mapped to the left stick and flicking directions allows you to do step dashes, while holding the right trigger blocks and executes parries with timing. The right stick enables you to throw quick jabs with diagonal flicks, while uppercuts and elbows are pulled off with upward quarter turns (if that makes sense). Perhaps the stiffest challenge is resisting the temptation to forgo EA's analogue stick-fixated 'Total Control' and just rotate it and flick it like Neanderthal man discovering the first controller.
Of course, giving into the compulsion to abuse the stick will get you nowhere, as MMA is more like “a game of chess” as Rutten notes in the career mode gym. Holding left trigger turns your right stick gestures into kicks and if you want to conserve stamina, you might consider going in for a clinch and try the ground-based stuff. Pressing Y initiates a clinch, and then a well-timed tap of A moves your fighter into an increasingly dominant position with each press. A sure way to get the edge over your opponent is to get your weight on top and then club them to death with your fists, carefully wearing down their head and leg stamina bars. We found slamming a rival's head with precision jabs to be brutally effective, as you would.
In MMA's straightforward 'Fight Now' mode, you can change rules between Strikeforce where no illegal ground kicks, knees and elbows are permitted, Japanese rules where ground kicks and elbow are fair game, Unified rules where ground elbows only are fine and finally Vale Tudo, which is no holds barred. Ground kick, knee and elbow all you like: fill yer boots. Then there's the option to change the shape of the ring, the venue and the weight class, all of which are present, correct and catered for. You can also pit your created fighter against the likes of Frank and Ken Shamrock, Randy Couture, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Cung Le, Bobby Lashley and well over fifty other pugilists. Despite all the licensing issues (EA must finally know how Konami and their PES franchise feels now), EA Sports MMA has no shortage of licensed fighters, just not many that non-hardcore MMA fans would know though.
Online, MMA has a whole bunch of unique features, the most alluring of which is the Live Broadcast mode: an aspect of MMA designed for taking your created fighter online to participate in fight cards for real prizes with live announcers and players watching your fights as they happen. You can even got to EASports.com and create a 'hype video' for self promotion. Weird, but interesting. Then there's Belt Race, where your fighter competes through 45 belts, levelling up for a shot at the Strikeforce championship, which you'll then have to defend online. You can also share created fighters and save your favourite fight highlights for upload, making MMA a fully-featured online experience that’s currently the top of its field. Mark this bout down as an EA Sports MMA win.
And with loads of online features and modes, comes loads of online achievements, so attaining different coloured belts, titles and winning fight cards makes up a substantial chunk of MMA's list. The rest are fairly standard, with cheevos awarded for beating certain combatants and others attached to Career Mode and performing certain actions in the ring, like getting a technical knockout or winning with just punches or just kicks. It's a solid list, which is perfectly fine. Just don't expect any surprises.
EA Sports MMA is a strong start for EA's new sporting franchise, and although it's a very different beast to THQ's UFC series (which the publisher now has the licence for until 2018), there's room for both games in your life if you're an ardent fan of the sport. MMA's mechanics, Career Mode and the online component are all robust, but the main focus is on learning more about the sport, with different gyms around the globe and an emphasis on the martial arts disciplines themselves. MMA is a more than worthy rival to Undisputed then, but it's an altogether different animal with a control system that may prove divisive.
EA Sports MMA has a typical metal and hip-hop soundtrack, which is in keeping with the sport, and the commentary is fine, but tends to state the obvious. “ He goes in for a kick! He throws a punch!” It's not nearly as bad as that of course, but you get the idea. Bas Rutten meanwhile, deserves special kudos for his exuberant voice work, which actually succeeds in getting you excited about MMA as a sport.
There's slightly less glistening sweat compared to UFC 2010, which isn't a game breaker. Combatant likenesses are superb, animation is slick and the stadium atmosphere around the ring is superb. Again, if we're comparing to UFC (and we clearly are), we'd say that THQ's game has the edge, but MMA isn't far behind.
EA Sports MMA can seem initially daunting from a control perspective to begin with, but MMA 101 – an interactive tutorial that has you learning by doing with helpful pop up tip windows – certainly helps. Career Mode is equally as comprehensive in teaching the fundamentals, but there's no doubt that yet another analogue stick controlled EA Sports game will divide opinion. That said, it works almost as well as Fight Night's system, and this time, you don’t have to wait for a patch to switch it to the face buttons.
There's loads to delve into here, with stacks of innovative online stuff, a deep and rewarding Career and an immediate Fight Now mode that's equally packed with options.
Exactly what you'd expect. The list is heavy on the online achievements, challenging you to attain every belt, win an online championship and get stuck into all of the game's modes and game types. As an incentive to discover everything MMA has to offer, it works well, but whether you'll want to grind through what is a pretty time consuming list is another matter.
An excellent opening effort for a new franchise, EA Sports MMA has masses of potential to be yet another feather in EA's already feather stuffed cap. There's certainly room for improvement in future iterations, but we're excited to see where the series goes. EA Sports MMA is well-made, impeccably presented and could in time threaten UFC's title, just not yet. Fight fans would do well to give EA Sports MMA a whirl though. You won't be disappointed.