Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sport
Release Date: 02/02/2018
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Whilst EA are well-known for their annual releases of sports sims, when it comes to UFC they like to put a bit more time in. It means that there’re are typically a lot more noticeable differences between each game, with the transition from their original UFC title to UFC 2 proving to be full of changes that completely shifted how you could play the game.
It’s the same situation with UFC 3, the latest release based around the extremely popular sport of mixed martial arts. Anyone who has played UFC 2 will see some big differences this time around, with the game’s striking system getting completely re-worked and the career mode offering more depth and feeling more fighter-focused than ever. Then there’s the improved visuals, the massive roster count, and the addition of some all new modes – it really is the biggest entry in the series so far.
Does that actually make it the best game in the series though, or does it fall short of greatness?
So one of the things that’s made immediately clear about UFC 3 is that it has certainly embraced the ‘Conor McGregor’ side of the sport – not that I mind, seeing as I’m a huge fan of the Irish fighting superstar. Besides being plastered over the game’s box art, featuring in the game’s main tutorial, and also being present in the game’s menu, the glitz and glamour that he’s brought to mixed martial arts is also present in the main game. This means that there’s still a heck of a lot of brutal fighting (that’s supported by the revamped striking system), but you’ll also be taking part in the hyping up of fights in those pre-event interviews too. It comes together to make UFC 3 the most authentic entry in the series so far from both a fighting and a self-hyping perspective.
One of the most significant changes that’s been made to UFC 3 is found within the game’s striking system, which flows completely differently this time around. It’s all in a good way though, with the game demanding more accuracy from the player but also giving them a hell of a lot more control.
Each limb is still assigned to a button, though the player is still able to press the shoulder buttons to apply different modifiers – this might be something like making a punch a hook, making a kick go for the body, or just applying more power to an overhead punch to make it a signature shot. It’s still simple enough to launch a barrage of shots at your opponent, but there’s more of an emphasis on your positioning and picking those shots carefully.
See, this time around it’s more punishing on your stamina if you miss a shot. I was guilty of throwing constant power shots in UFC 2, and for the most part it worked – this time around though, I quickly saw my stamina completely drop as opponents weaved their heads around my shots or fell out of reach. You’ve got to make sure your applying pressure both with your shots and your positioning or you’ll quickly find yourself feeling like Francis Ngannou recently did against Stipe Miocic…
Of course, you’re given a few extra tools to deal with the positioning. You can easily throw shots whilst moving around for example, so you can learn to predict your opponent’s moves and slot a nice few hooks into their jaw as they try slipping away. You can even pull out of punches completely, which not only helps you save on stamina but can see you fooling your opponent into falling into a trap. All of these little touches help make the striking feel more authentic than ever and completely changes up how the game feels.
You know what though? I hated the changes at first. I ploughed over a hundred hours into UFC 2 so I knew exactly what I was doing and how to play the game. When I started UFC 3 I was out of my depth though and quickly found my futile attempts at landing these sweet headshots on my opponent falling short. This wasn’t the UFC I knew and loved and my patience was wearing thin. Then, all of a sudden, it just clicked with me, and now I don’t think I could go back to UFC 2. Believe me, it’s a completely different system and fans of the series will certainly need to get their training wheels back on to get used to it, but once you do you’ll find that UFC 3’s striking isn’t just revolutionary, but also just so happens to be bloody brilliant too.
Don’t expect any changes to the ground and grappling side of things though, because they’re exactly the same. You’ll still be shifting the stick around to go through the motions, whilst submissions still play like a mini-game. If you didn’t enjoy the ground game in previous entries in the series, you’re not going to be convinced here – it’s not that it’s outright bad, but it’s not great either.
Outside of the improvements made to striking, the other prominent new feature in UFC 3 is the ‘G.O.A.T.’ career mode, which sees you having to balance your performances both in and out of the octagon.
The career mode of UFC 2 saw you competing in The Ultimate Fighter and then making your way to the main roster, where you’d eventually see yourself building up as a main event fighter and (if you’re good enough) becoming the champion. It was all very simplified, with repetitive mini-games making up the bulk of the training segments to improve your stats.
In the new ‘G.O.A.T.’ career mode you begin by fighting for the WWA (World Fighting Alliance), with Dana White signing you up for the UFC if you’re good enough. If you don’t catch his eye, you’ll take part in The Ultimate Fighter, so there are multiple routes you can take before you get on the main roster anyway.
Once you’re there though, it’s not just about fighting. You’ve got to manage which gym you work at (with new and improved ways to increase your stats), you’ve got to build up your hype and social media presence, you’ve got to promote your fights – most importantly though, you’ve got to balance it all together and become a fighter that spends as much time training to become the best as they do telling people that they already are. It’s a heck of a lot of fun and feels like a true representation of the career of some of the sport’s biggest stars (remember, I said Conor McGregor plays a big role in the game).
It’s a massive improvement upon the career mode in the other games though, and it’s genuinely exciting to see the trash-talk between you and your rival as you build up to a championship bout. This isn’t something that’s over in flash or meaningless, but you really see your progression to becoming the undisputed champion of the world and maybe, just maybe, the ‘Greatest of All Time’.
It has a few little flaws here and there (why can’t you see your previous fighting record?), but seriously, ‘G.O.A.T.’ has become my favourite way to play UFC 3 and it’s a real step up from EA’s previous efforts in providing a dedicated single player experience.
The ‘Knockout’ mode from UFC 2 makes a return here, so those who like seeing those one hit knockouts will get some fun out of that. In an interesting turn, Snoop Dogg is actually on commentary duties in the mode, which is genuinelly a lot of fun – he’s got a distinguishable voice which is recognisable by almost anyone, whilst his commentary efforts in the real world have always proven to be highly entertaining anyway. It was a good move by EA getting him on board.
A new addition is the ‘Stand and Bang’ mode, which plays exclusively with striking and no ground game. Given just how good the striking game is in UFC 3, it’s a mode that’s a hell of a lot of fun to play, so it’s clear why EA included it. It’s not the most authentic MMA experience you’re going to have, but given that some players can’t get on with the grappling, its presence is a nice one. It kinda makes up for the recent lack of Fight Night games too, even if you do see a few cheeky leg kicks to the head…
On the flip-side, those who love the ground game can now take part in a ‘Submission Shootout’ to prove who is the best at sending their opponents to sleep (or breaking their arm, whatever). As I mentioned earlier, the submissions in UFC 3 are essentially mini-game based, so your enjoyment of this mode will come down to how much you like flicking the analogue sticks around. Still, it’s an extra mode to play around with and one that’ll appeal to a certain audience.
I haven’t managed to play a whole lot of the online multiplayer yet since the game hasn’t officially released, but what I have played has worked perfectly with no issues. EA managed to nail the online mode last time around with the network code working extremely well, whilst the emphasis on becoming a champion proved to be a lot of fun too – it feels like it’s going to be the same here. I can definitely see myself losing hours upon hours with the game’s online modes.
‘Ultimate Team’ makes a return too, bringing the card collecting formula back to the series following its introduction last time around. Again, there’s a little bit of an emphasis on purchasing cards with real-life money, but it’s certainly playable without spending a dime too. This time around you can actually collect real UFC fighters to compete for your teams, whilst the single player challenges mean you’re not always playing against real-life players who might’ve sunk a bit more cash in to get an advantage.
It’s one of those modes that’ll appeal to a specific audience, and those who love it will find there’s a hell of a lot of depth with what they can play around with. On a personal side, I’m not really a fan, but I can acknowledge that it’s still a neat little feature for UFC enthusiasts to take part in.
UFC 3 carries on the series’ tradition of looking absolutely spectacular, with the re-creations of the fighters, the referees, and even the likes of Dana White looking absolutely spot on. Fighter animations have seen improvements to go along with the revamped striking system too, whilst the damage fighters take looks more brutal than ever.
Even the UI and the main menus look a bit cleaner, with every game mode and option not only made perfectly clear to the player but also littered with little visual touches to show off the fighting. These might be minor additions, but they go some way in making sure that UFC 3 is the most well-presented entry in the series so far.
At the start of this review I questioned whether UFC 3 was the best entry in the series so far, and without a shadow of a doubt I can say the answer is yes. Not only does the game feel more authentic than ever with its improved visuals and striking, but it also features a career mode that’s genuinely exciting and a whole host of brand new features that improve the game ten-fold.
It still has its flaws here and there, with the ground and grappling game a little underwhelming and some aspects of the Ultimate Team mode a little uninspired (for me anyway), but this really is the best MMA game that EA have ever released and one that embraces the excitement of the sport both in and out of the octagon.
Whether you’re a casual fan, a hardcore mixed martial arts enthusiast, or even if you just love Conor McGregor – you won’t regret giving UFC 3 a purchase.