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Review: UFC 3

UFC 3 is EA’s third attempt at making a successful official game of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a fighting competition that is most popular in the US. While the fighting mechanics aren’t that deeply developed, the game does offer a satisfying simulation of the real deal. Even gamers that know little about UFC, like me, will be able to find some enjoyment in this game.

The Notorious

The game starts with a video about the career of its poster boy, Conor McGregor. You see his progression from starting in the minor leagues all the way up to him winning the lightweight category in the UFC. The video basically serves as a tool to hype you up for winning the UFC in the game and to show how remarkable a fighter’s journey can be in real-life. After the video, you take control of Conor McGregor in a fight against Tony Ferguson, who is a basically a punching bag in this fight since it explains all the controls and rules of the game. It’s in this tutorial that you’ll quickly realize that the fighting mechanics aren’t that deep. There are four basic attacks: left punch, right punch, left kick, right kick. By combining an attack with another button, you can perform more powerful attacks that require more stamina, such as uppercuts and hook swings. There are also two ways of blocking, being high and low. Most attacks can be blocked, but some are so powerful that they can get through your defense if your blocking stamina is too low. Lastly, you can also perform grapple moves, which will put your opponent on the ground while you hold him and dealing out some punches to the head. The tutorial is well-made, as it explains almost every move there is and gives you enough time to memorize the controls. But enough about the tutorial, let’s get to the real meat of UFC 3.

The tutorial lets you control the game's poster boy, Conor McGregor
The tutorial lets you control the game’s poster boy, Conor McGregor

Greatest of all time

UFC 3 comes with several game modes. The most interesting one is probably the G.O.A.T. Career Mode, which is EA Sports’ equivalent of a story mode. In G.O.A.T., you can either pick an existing fighter or create one yourself and put him or her in fights until you reach the UFC and battle for the famous champion belt. Between matches, you can train your fighter in several gyms that each have their own advantages and require a certain amount of money in order to become a member. The more valuable the advantage, the more expensive the membership. You can also promote yourself to garner fans on social media (which looks a lot like Twitter) by predicting the outcome of your next fight or attending autograph signings. While the G.O.A.T. mode starts off pretty promising, it didn’t quite manage to keep me interested enough to replay it with a second fighter. When you’re halfway through your career, you start to get bored with the repetitiveness of it. You fight against someone, train somewhat, mess around with social media and get back to fighting again.

The GOAT Mode has you work your way up to become the next UFC Champion
The G.O.A.T. Mode has you work your way up to become the next UFC Champion

Other game modes

Next to G.O.A.T. there are several other gameplay modes that you can hone your skills in. These include Stand & Bang, Submission Shootout, and Knockout Mode. Stand & Bang focusses on striking fast and hard, with one well-aimed strike being enough to knock out your opponent. It also disables ground game, so you can’t push your opponent down and hold him in submission. Submission Shootout is basically the opposite of Stand & Bang. You have to use holds, ground-and-pound moves and submissions to win the fight. Knockout Mode gives you a health bar that indicates how many strikes you can take before you are KO’ed. It may sound a lot like Stand & Bang, but there’s a major difference. Knockout Mode is commentated by Snoop Dogg, the famous rapper. His comments during fights can range from simple observations (eg. “Missed that shot”) to humorous remarks (eg. “They used to be bests of friends and now they fighting over a girl”). It’s easy to see why this mode is a fan-favorite.

The red blocks in the top corners of the screen represent your health in Knockout Mode
The red and blue blocks in the top corners of the screen represent both fighters’ health in Knockout Mode

Bad submission controls

While most of these modes are fun to play (especially Knockout Mode), Submission Shootout is the most frustrating to play at times. The problem with pulling off submission moves is that the feedback you receive is not always that easy to understand. Most of the submission and reversal moves are done by moving and holding the right analog stick in a certain direction. While you do get an icon that shows you the moves you can perform while on the ground, it doesn’t always tell why you can’t pull off a specific move or which direction you have to move the stick to perform a reversal. This gets even more difficult in multiplayer, where you have less time to do any of these moves and get even less feedback.

The controls for submission moves are confusing and don't give enough feedback
The controls for submission moves are confusing and don’t give enough feedback

Great simulation

Even with the weak submission controls, one thing I have to make clear is how well-made the overall simulation of mixed-martial-arts fighting is in UFC 3. The punches sound powerful, the animations look great and the commentary makes you believe that you are listening to a real fight. It’s especially satisfying when you manage to uppercut your opponent and hear Joe Rogan or Snoop Dogg go “OW!”. It may sound silly, but it was at moments like that, that I was completely immersed in a fight. But even without the commentators, you still get some great audio feedback from the crowd, who cheer you on when you’re destroying your opponent or when you manage to get out of a submission. The character models of the crowd look a little too fake, though.

Ultimate Team

Before I end this review, I want to write a little about the Ultimate Team mode. This mode can best be described as the UFC equivalent of Fifa’s Ultimate Team. You earn fighters, moves and customization options by unlocking card packs (basically loot boxes). These packs can be bought with either in-game currency that you earn by fighting or with real money. The problem is that earning enough in-game currency to buy a pack takes way too much time, making it obvious that EA wants you to spend actual money. While I’m not a fan of practices like this, everything that you have to unlock is completely exclusive in this mode. All the other game modes have everything unlocked from the start, so if you ignore Ultimate Team then you don’t have to spend a single penny on anything. Sure, it would be better if Ultimate Team didn’t require you to spend money, but at least it’s not necessary to enjoy the game.

Opening card packs unlocks new fighters and other items in Ultimate Team
Opening card packs unlocks new fighters and other items in Ultimate Team

Conclusion

UFC 3 manages to make a complete amateur like me enjoy the simulation of mixed-martial-arts fighting. The fighting mechanics are solid, with the exception of the submission controls, and sound great. The G.O.A.T. mode is okay but could benefit from a little more variety of activities between fights. The additional game modes all have their benefits, although Ultimate Team is obviously made to get you to spend money on virtual cards. A great game for UFC fans, even for newcomers.

8/10

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