Developer: EA Tiburon
Publisher: EA Sports
I was about to call this “Let’s get ready to rumble” but then realised that’s the boxing cry. For the face-pulverising sport of Mixed Martial Arts the equivalent is... “Let’s get it on.”
Hmm. Not exactly a blood and guts cry is it? Still, at least their musical equivalent (Marvin Gaye) widdles all over boxing’s (Ant & Dec) so that’s good. Before playing this surprisingly accomplished sports sim / beat ‘em up, I’d have assumed the opposite would apply in a discipline v discipline bout. The sheer power of a pro boxer would surely triumph? But, as your coach here, Bas Rutten, explains, boxers only have to master one sport. Mixed martial artists have to master many.
You certainly get a taste of that with this game. You won’t get as fit as the average ultimate fighter, but you will develop thumbs of steel – seriously I could take a teenager in a texting competition now – and have to work on your Jedi-like sense of anticipation.
I should state early on that my feelings for these sorts of titles range between “non-existent” and “meh”. EA’s latest entry to the market has changed that considerably. Whether it will have the same effect on those of you who live and breathe these games remains to be seen – and do feel free to comment. I don’t pretend to be an expert in every genre, but I do know what I like. And what I like is a game this well thought out and challenging.
Previous forays into console fighting sims left me pretty cold. Yes, you could be artful and crafty and master all sorts of combos but, frankly, button mashing saw you most of the way home pretty much all the time. That’s fun if you’re up against mate (probably, ahem, in a similarly refreshed state) but a bit dull when you’re making a time investment to see a game through to the end. Two minutes of career mode in EA MMA will prove you can’t get away with shortcuts.
Under the tutelage of Bas Rutten – apparently a big noise in the world of Ultimate Fighting – you get taken through the various aspects of the sport, and the skills you’ll need to master if you want to complete career mode and it’s multiple championship prizes.
This basically means using the right stick and the L2 button (on the PS3) to throw a combination of jabs, roundhouse kicks, low kicks, knees to the abdomen, uppercuts and blocks. Assuming you’re on your feet, that is. If you’ve managed to grapple your opponent to the floor (thanks to a bit of Track and Field-style button thumping) you can then instead throw elbows and punches to the face.
Pay attention, work on the combos in training, and focus fully in the ring and you stand a chance. Attempt random stick action and you will pay the price. Time a move badly and you will pay the price. Miss a block and you will pay the price. Get distracted during a grapple and you will pay the price. Even in the practice bouts, your opponent shows something akin to fighting spirit. It’s not enough to floor them, you have to keep them there, and they’ll wriggle like a marlin in order to block your legs, and they will attempt to flip you. They’ll also succeed in doing both, which requires some button mashing to recover and, as a neat if unexpected touch, some carefully timed caressing of the stick to apply the perfect choke hold.
To fight though you have to get through the training sections and that’s not a given. The tutorials, while incredibly thorough, go far beyond the basics to give you a taste of what’s in store: exacting standards and a reward for hard work. The speed with which you have to throw combos to proceed is exhausting and the range of skills to master is vast: so vast, in fact, I may actually have a new found respect for the sport’s real participants.
Beyond career mode, EA MMA packs several good things in. Customisation is detailed and simple, multiplayer has “post pub fun” written all over it and the online experience is slick and varied. Intriguingly, demonstrate a mastery of the title and you might even feature in one of the weekly online sports casts and the “best of” fight card.
- The basics can be picked up in minutes, but mastery will take days – it’s good to see a game with that sort of depth.
- Graphically it’s rather peachy
- Very smart use of the controller
- I’m told that, due to a dispute between EA and the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ruling body, there’s a lack of big names featured.
- You’ve not known niggly pain til you’ve had thumb cramp.
- Go online and you will get owned by a fat 12 year old in the US.
The Short Version: I look forward to seeing what the beat-em-up regulars make of this but, for this frequently jaded gamer, EA MMA has almost converted me to the genre. Accordingly, I don’t care (or notice) if the big name fighters are here or in another UFC-themed game. All I know is that this is a thoroughly thought through and cleverly realised sports sim.