EA Sports MMA Review
Intuitive controls, a lengthy career mode, and impressive online options make this mixed martial arts game a serious contender.
- Controls are intuitive and responsive
- Rewarding Career mode
- Good options for lag-free online play
- Fights force you to focus on defense as much as offense.
- Unconvincing AI opponents
- Camera gets a little crazy sometimes
- Load times are occasionally longer than fights
- Strikes don't always feel like they have much power behind them.
Stepping into the mixed martial arts arena for the first time must be a daunting prospect for any newcomer, but you wouldn't know it looking at EA Sports MMA. A contender for the UFC Undisputed series' previously uncontested crown, EA Sports MMA steps into the ring with a swagger that belies its lack of experience, and gives a good account of itself at almost every opportunity. Its fighting style is so different from that of UFC Undisputed that there's no reason both games shouldn't be winners where your wallet is concerned, and although UFC Undisputed is ultimately the better fighter, EA Sports MMA doesn't disappoint and--assuming this game spawns a series--is definitely one to watch in the future.
EA Sports MMA makes a good first impression with responsive, mostly intuitive controls that are reminiscent of those in last year's Fight Night Round 4. You move with the left analog stick and throw punches with the right, and the shoulder buttons are used to modify those controls to target the body rather than the head, to throw kicks or fakes instead of punches, and to block. Face buttons are used for clinches, sprawls, takedowns, submissions, and ground position changes. The choke submission system involves rotating the right stick in search of a sweet spot and takes some getting used to, but like the rest of the default controls, it works well. There's an option to play with a completely different controller setup that uses face buttons for punches and kicks, but it doesn't afford you the same level of control, and because you'll almost certainly want to use the superior default controls at some point, it's not recommended. Even if you're not familiar with the controls in recent Fight Night games, there's an MMA 101 option accessible from EA Sports MMA's main menu that does an excellent job of teaching you the basics, and there are also ample opportunities to familiarize yourself with the stand-up, clinch, and ground controls when you start out in Career mode.
Depending on how narcissistic you are, you might be disappointed with the level of customization that's available when you create your career fighter. There's support for EA Sports' Game Face technology, but regardless of whether you use your console's camera or photos uploaded to the EA website to put yourself in the game, the results are disappointing. Furthermore, there are no options to manually tweak the physical properties of heads and faces in the game; if you don't use Game Face, you're limited to choosing one of around 50 premade heads. You can play around with different hairstyles, eye colors, skin tones, and tattoos, but even these options are limited compared to those offered in other EA Sports games. Licensed clothing options, on the other hand, are excessive, and picking out a shirt from the 245 that are available is hardly worth the effort given that your fighter only wears a shirt briefly before or after fights. Scrolling through 160 different pairs of shorts isn't much fun either, especially when you're prompted to choose not only a primary pair, but also an alternate pair that--even when you're matched up with an opponent wearing identical gear--never comes into play.
While creating your Career mode fighter you're also prompted to choose one of nine different specializations, all of which have key strengths and weaknesses. Play as a boxer, for example, and your kicks aren't nearly as effective as your punches. Specialize in judo, on the other hand, and your takedowns and ground skills are much more useful than your striking, and you have a glass jaw to boot. You can train in other styles by visiting different gyms once your career gets under way, but a kickboxer is never going to be great at submissions, and a sambo practitioner isn't likely to win many fights with powerful kicks. Once you settle on your look, your fighting style, and on the name that announcers will call you, you get to meet your trainer, retired MMA champion Bas Rutten.
After training with Bas and turning pro, the first thing you need to do is decide which of two fictional leagues you want to start your career in. EA Sports MMA features six different leagues, including the Strikeforce league that many of the game's licensed fighters compete in. The rules vary somewhat depending on which leagues you choose to fight in, but regardless of whether or not elbows and knees are allowed on the ground, the action plays out in much the same way. The most interesting fights tend to be those that pit two different fighters against each other, because then the two of you have very different agendas and force each other to adapt. Wrestlers want to take the fight to the ground at every opportunity, while Muay Thai guys stop at nothing to get their opponent into a clinch, for example. You can defend against both with a single well-timed button press, and blocking incoming strikes is just as easy. The ease with which you can defend, coupled with your fighter's finite amount of stamina, means that going on an all-out offensive is rarely a good idea, at least not against a skilled opponent. Sadly, there aren't a lot of those to be found in Career mode.
If you play Career mode on the default difficulty setting (there are two more-difficult options that improve things somewhat), the AI opponents don't always put up much of a fight, particularly early on. You can win fights simply by spamming jabs over and over again or, later on, by stacking your opponent and hitting him in the gut for minutes at a time while he pointlessly protects his face. It's not a satisfying way to win a fight, and it's unfortunate that you might spend far less time fighting than you do training early on, but things do improve as your career progresses. Regardless of where you are in your career, you're forced to spend eight weeks training in between fights. Most of the weekly training challenges take under a minute to complete and do a great job of forcing you to use different moves while simultaneously beefing up your fighter's stats. To improve your movement and range, you might be asked to survive for 60 seconds in a fight without the option to block or strike back, for example. Some of the training challenges can be completed very cheaply (at least one instance of the aforementioned example can be aced by circling an opponent who does nothing but try to circle you at the same time), but most pose a reasonable challenge and, appropriately, get easier as your stats improve.