Slowly but surely the EA Sports UFC series has managed to gradually improve with each offering. The first title offered a solid base, and the sequel revamped the ground game. Now on its third title, it seemed like everything was in place for a content-deep offering that really catered to mixed martial arts fans. Instead, EA Sports UFC 3 feels like yet another gradual step forward rather than a revolution.
The biggest gameplay improvement comes from the actual striking. In past games, it often felt as though characters were overly robotic in their animations. That issue is totally fixed here, and it all builds to create a really satisfying system with plenty of depth. On the other hand, submissions and jiu jitsu largely work as they did in EA Sports UFC 2, which means players will use the right analog stick to choose positions. That’s largely fine, but there is still one issue when playing against computer-controlled characters with high submission ratings: it’s nearly impossible to win the submission minigame if you’re defending. In other words, if they attempt a submission, it’s largely game over. It’s a real oversight that hurts the later stages of the career mode since nearly every fighter you’ll face will have insanely high stats.
The career mode has also been overhauled and is framed around trying to become the greatest fighter of all time. Players will have to do a lot more than just winning a championship this time. Instead, they’ll have to set records (both financial and fight-related) to make sure they etch their name in stone. It’s a cool system that focuses a lot of what prize fighting is about, and it’s nice that things like legacy aren’t ignored. There are a few issues, such as a ham-fisted rivalry system that doesn’t make much sense unless you lose fights, but I really enjoyed the career mode for the few hours it lasted.
I wound up becoming the greatest of all time in just an afternoon, and afterwards I realized that there weren’t really any other modes I found interesting. Ultimate Team returns, and it once again is built around gaining different moves and perks for your team of fighters. It’s definitely interesting mechanically, but the big problem is that it isn’t very fun to be using fighters that only have a quarter of their offensive arsenal at their disposal early on. I don’t see any reason why I’d ever want to play this mode over just jumping into the game’s “fight now” mode and using the actual fighters. That said, the Ultimate Team modes have never clicked for me in any of EA’s offerings, so your mileage may vary (clearly someone likes them).
With little in terms of single-player besides a tournament mode, the saving grace winds up being EA Sports UFC 3‘s multiplayer. I actually had a blast playing online & locally, and had some incredible back-and-forth matches. Much like the actual combat sport, there are so many different strategies that players can try to implement. For example, in a match I recorded, I attempted to focus on leg kicks since my opponent wasn’t checking them with any regularity. This led to a third round stoppage from leg kicks, and it was super satisfying.
There’s also a pretty in-depth roster of fighters at player’s disposal (although the game is missing two of the newly added women’s divisions). A few legends of the sport have been added, such as Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell, although there aren’t nearly enough to make this a nostalgia sell. Liddell even gets his iconic fight gear rather than having to wear ugly Reebok shorts, so he quickly became my go-to light heavyweight fighter for that reason alone. I do have an issue with the way the stats are distributed, though, as there are way too many highly rated fighters. Any contender basically has a stat line filled in either the low 90s or high 80s, and even CM Punk has mid-80s statistics despite his disappointing debut.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s Knockout mode, which focuses purely on striking. Typically I don’t like modes that limit your moveset (there’s also “Stand and Bang” and “Submission Showdown” modes in the game that I find useless), but this has Snoop Dogg on commentary (which isn’t the first time). It’s a weird mode that is all about landing more power strikes than your opponent, and I didn’t find it fun or interesting, but it’s definitely worth playing to hear Snoop’s commentary. The rap legend gives some great advice while often breaking the fourth wall, and everyone should experience gems like this: “There’s a science to this shit, man. Being in the Octagon is a science, man. It ain’t just go out there and swing, you gotta have a strategic plan about yourself. Understand that.”
Other than Snoop Dogg, though, none of the other modes really stand out in a bad or good way. Rather, they just sort of exist and are totally adequate while offering little in terms of unique gameplay. It’s really too bad that EA didn’t attempt to flesh out its mode offerings more, as it still feels lacking compared to THQ’s UFC 3. They should be leveraging the UFC’s history better by allowing players to relive rivalries or at least give them the opportunity to fight in a ring rather than a cage (look, I really miss Pride).
Besides dealing with computer-controlled submission attempts, I largely feel that EA Sports UFC 3 is the best playing mixed martial arts game to date. That’s why it was so disappointing to find out that so few of the modes managed to capture my interest. Perhaps it’s more of a statement on the current over-saturation of the UFC, but there’s not a ton of appeal of going into the exhibition mode and seeing meaningless fights play out anymore. I need something more than that, and I don’t feel like either Ultimate Team or the career mode provide it. It’s in the weird position of being a game that I like playing, but one that I’m not drawn to at all. But hey, at least there’s Snoop Dogg.
EA Sports UFC 3 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.01 reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.