Mixed Martial Arts with the customary EA Sports spit and polish.
Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, has become big business in recent years. I am not saying that it wasn’t big business before, but the fact that it is now on my radar and has me interested is testament to how popular it has become. Most people will get their MMA kicks from Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, a promotion company that hosts events and is doing for MMA what WWE did for wrestling. As such a lot of Mixed Martial Arts fighters that have become household names and have done so within the UFC.
In the world of video games, THQ hold the license to publish official UFC games and use all of the well known fighters that compete within it. Which I think is the main problem when we come to look at EA Sports MMA. Part of the draw of games such as UFC, or even the WWE games, is being able to fight with, or against, your favorite fighters and, to be honest, most of them are in THQ’s UFC series. There are a few names that may be recognised, such as Randy Couture and Bas Rutten, but over all the roster is weak. But look past this failing, because what lies within is something a little bit special.
Different play modes, tutorials, online multiplayer – they are all important. But what is more important is how the game actually plays once you finally get round to having a match. I will be the first to admit that I am not a huge fan of button mashing games. That being said, when it comes time to learn all of the button combos needed to play such a game like a pro, I will happily resort to mashing the hell out of the buttons like most other people. Which is annoying. If only there were some way to make the player think about their actions.
Being a gamer with many years under my belt, I jumped straight into a match the first time I started MMA. And I got totally pounded. Why? Because I started mashing them buttons once again. However, trying to perform moves that fail in MMA reduces the fighters stamina, making them vulnerable to attack. This is where I had gone wrong, thinking I could just keep swinging until I finally made contact. This one simple premise, which I had drummed into me during the tutorial match that I really should have attempted first, changes the way the game needs to be played, allowing for a much more thoughtful and skillful recreation of the sport.
As I said, the tutorial throws you into a match and then pops up boxes explaining what to do. If you are doing something wrong, or keep getting into the same situations, the game subtly reminds you (don’t button mash!) and points you in the right direction. Striking your opponent is all assigned to the right stick, with variations being applied using the shoulder buttons. Submissions, counters etc., are all dealt with using the standard buttons, which generally have a different use depending on what is happening in the match. Although the controls are fairly simple and straight forward, it does take a bit of getting used to and the player will likely have to go through a number of defeats before getting that first win.
Creating your own fighter is something that a lot of gamers get a buzz out of in these sorts of games and is also a way to counter the lacklustre roster. But what is even more special is Game Face, the ability to import a couple of photos that can then be used to create the facial features of your fighter. The obvious thing to do here is get your own face on your fighter, but you would be amazed at whose photos some gamers use for their fighters. For those that have purchased the game new, or shelled out for the online pass, the chance to upload your fighter for others to use, or download fighters from the huge number of creations by others, is there.
But once you have your fighter, it is time to get them up to strength in the career mode. Players take their fighter through various leagues from around the world, and train them up to become the best. Training takes the form of mini games that really drum different moves into the players brain. By going through this, the fighter will increase their stats and even learn special moves. There are then six different leagues for the player to reach the top of, providing quite a lengthy career for the player to master.
But, just as all roads lead to Rome, all of the single player fighting must eventually lead to online matches, of which there are plenty. Play ranked matches, compete for titles, give your buddies a beat down or, for the lucky few, compete in a broadcast event with live commentary. There are a number of different rule sets within the game, coming from the various different leagues that are covered, allowing for some nice variations in things like match length, rules about what is and isn’t allowed, and even the shape of the ring.
The visuals in the game are, as might be expected, highly polished and looking damn good. This goes a long way towards giving realism to a game that already seems much more true to the sport than the opposition. In fact, watching other people compete is not too dissimilar to watching fights on the TV.
But the sad truth is that most players will inevitably go for the impressive line-up of fighters in the shallower UFC game, if they had to choose. The depth of the actual gameplay within MMA provides a much more satisfying experience. But without those big names and the fact that THQ’s UFC has established itself, may well prevent MMA from being a success.