Bellator: MMA Onslaught Review (PSN)

One of the major surprises from the EA press conference at E3 this year was the announcement of a newly formed partnership between the UFC and EA. Now that THQ San Diego is gone, EA has free reign of the retail space devoted to mixed martial arts (MMA) games. But the UFC isn’t the only MMA organization out there and in 2013, the Bellator MMA organization will start to air its tournaments on the former home of the UFC, Spike TV. This is where publisher 345 Games and developer Kung Fu Factory enter the fray with their new downloadable MMA game, Bellator: MMA Onslaught.

In Onslaught players can choose from eight different real world MMA fighters including Joe Warren, Pat Curran, Ronnie Mann, Patricio “Pitbull” Freire, Patricky Freire, Daniel Straus, Marlon Sandro, and Michael Chandler. Most of the fighters are listed as featherweights, but Pitbull and Chandler are actually lightweights. However, the distinction between weight classes is less important than a fighter’s style. There are four different styles in the game and each has different strengths and weaknesses. As an example, Kick Boxing is a style that favors fast punches, strong kicks and evasive footwork while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu favors going for submissions to end a fight fast. There’s also an MMA style which is more of a jack of all trades class that has a mix of everything.

You can also create a custom fighter with custom combos and movesets. Custom fighters also gain XP which can be spent on skill upgrades to make them more efficient within a given style or add special buffs, like an increased defense against being stunned. Making a custom fighter opens up training challenges which award further XP and act as the game’s version of a tutorial. If you don’t make a custom fighter the only ‘tutorial’ that this game contains is a the How to Play section of the options menu.

Unfortunately, the game goes right off a cliff when the actual fighting starts. Unlike most MMA games, the action in this title is much more fast paced. Fights often have a tendency to turn into slugfests and eschew any of the nuance and tactics of a real MMA fight. The animations appear jerky like an arcade style fighting game which is in stark contrast to how well rendered the fighter models are. Also I found every fight was easier to win the minute I took it to the mat and attempted a submission. But even then, the AI will often start with an advantage in the button mashing minigame which allows them to break out of holds easily. Of course, this was after I had spent a large amount of time leveling up my custom fighter, and also switching the game’s difficulty to easy.

Onslaught is a really tough game primarily because of the way the AI behaves. The AI loves to turtle and blocks the whole time while you punch and kick. In reality, a ref would come out and end the fight, but in this case they can block without any real penalty. Moreover, stamina management in this game is a bigger concern than managing your health meter.

Each punch, kick, or grapple requires the use of stamina and depleting your meter leaves you open to a Flash KO. At this point, the AI will then stop blocking and sucker punch (or kick) you, instantly ending the fight in a knockout. I realize the reasoning behind this was to mimic how a real world fight can turn on a dime, but the implementation is ridiculous. Worse still, each movement from your fighter seems to use a large amount of stamina which means that you won’t get much of a chance to attack before you have to back off and let your meter recharge. At higher levels you’ll be able to get in some lengthier combos, but with the AI blocking the whole time you won’t land many blows.

On the off chance that you manage to stun the AI, you’ll be able to pull off a Bellator Moment where your fighter performs a special attack that deals a significant amount of damage to your opponent. It’s nice, but again with the way the AI loves to turtle it doesn’t happen very often. Here again, going for submissions on the mat was often the method of choice to beat the AI. The game features two distinct single player modes which are the Super Fight mode (basically a fight now style option) and the Championship Road mode.

In Championship Road, you take a fighter and fight eight successive fights against the AI in order to win the Bellator tournament. The tournament is single elimination and even one loss will mean that you have to completely restart the whole tournament. The lack of any kind of retry or continue option was a real bummer and had me almost throwing my controller in frustration when the AI would Flash KO me. Onslaught also features an online mode with both ranked and player matching. Fighting against humans is much better than dealing with the AI, but still devolves into the same basic tactic of blocking and looking for a submission. But the connectivity is good and lag free, so the online package does work well at least.

Finally, the game seems to suffer from some significant graphical issues. There’s persistent screen tearing on the main menu and most of the submenus, and within a fight there are times where the game’s framerate will dip or the screen will cut to black before coming back again. Indeed, there are times where the screen would cut to black and I would find myself the victim of stun lock from my opponent when the screen came back.

Put simply, don’t buy Bellator: MMA Onslaught even if you are an MMA fan. In fact, go play Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown or Skullgirls. Sure, they’re not a realistic looking games, but they’re better MMA/fighting games than this travesty. This whole product feels rushed in every department and is a huge waste of $15. I sincerely hope that Kung Fu Factory and 345 Games aren’t seriously expecting to take on EA with this junk. I had no fun playing this and encourage anyone even thinking about buying this product to just skip it. Seriously….play something else.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

+ Fighters are well rendered and look like their real-world counterparts.

– Screen tearing on menus and screen flickering during fights.

– Flash KOs.

3.0 out of 10