The UFC games have always been a happy moment on the calendar. In the absence of a current generation Fight Night or indeed any Boxing game and the continued disappointment of the WWE 2K series these are all fans of semi-serious fighting have to look forward to. Unfortunately, UFC 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel and falls victim to the same ground and pound as all its predecessors.
To get it out of the way the main problem with UFC is the nature of the ground game of the sport. It is hard to portray the strength and manoeuvering for position that goes on in the real life octagon accurately in a game. No matter what system EA try to put in play it just fails miserably. UFC 3 is no exception. A normal fight can involve some of the most detailed and technical stand-up striking and tactics only to be ruined when the game goes to the floor. That’s not to say the action isn’t realistic it just isn’t fun, enjoyable or even a game in any kind of way. When you get taken down or take someone down you are faced with four options of what position in the grapple to take, then you hold this selection until a bar slowly fills before your on-screen character moves into that position. It is slow and painful and multi-layered and completely ruins what is a fantastic striking game. But it does accurately portray the threat of an opponent taking you down in the real world. You could be dominating an opponent and have them on the verge of a knockout only for them to grab you in a kimura lock and the match to be over while you struggle with the controls. In real life this is thrilling, when you are controlling the characters it is frustrating and cheap. You can take the time to learn the ground game and counteract this but it feels like such a thankless grind compared to the rest of the game that most will ignore it.
Luckily the game is saved from the abyss by two things, the excellent new Career Mode and the stand up striking game. Firstly the striking game. This is as close to perfect as you could hope for. Jabs sting your opponents head and following up with a straight can stop them in their tracks, modify the punches and kicks with the shoulder buttons and pull the triggers to block high and low. It is simple enough to get straight into but nuanced enough to keep you hooked. Moves are realistic and kicks no longer seem like something out of a Bruce Lee film. Everything is solid and the body deformation on the fighters makes you wince in pain as repeated blows really leave their mark.
The striking really comes into its own when you start the career mode. Anyone can select Conor Mcgregor Or Stipe Miocic in an exhibition and pound away on their opponent but picking a created fighter in the career mode makes the game come alive. The AI opponents all feel dangerous and have their own style and it makes for some truly epic and air punching moments when you finally defeat someone who has been causing you trouble. In only my second fight I ran into a fictional computer opponent who kept getting the better of me. They were defensive in the first round as I blasted their head repeatedly with a variety of punches all the while neglecting the stinging body shots my character was taking. By the third round, the opponent had weathered my storm of headshots and came on the attack. Of course, my broken body meant my stamina was half what it should be and I was unable to muster any attack, I just had to survive and either lost by a KO or unanimous decision. I still believed I had the power to end it early with a KO and despite trying the match usually followed the same pattern. Only when I changed tactics and fired in some of my own body shots and kicks was I able to make my opponents stamina match my own. Throw in a few well-timed blocks of his rib kicks and I finally was able to end him in the third. I could almost swear there was a look of surprise in his eyes.
Fights like this are commonplace in the Career mode which this year has got the full treatment. Dana White videos, press conferences, social media and a much-improved training mode mean that you genuinely look forward to the next fight as you try to tick off career goals to become the G.O.A.T. Before you may have had to do the same heavy bag or sparring routines before every match to make your stats go up. now you can pick things like protein shakes, defence training, social media posts and many more that auto-simulate as well as more realistic and more importantly faster manual training sessions like land 20 punches in 25 seconds. They are over fast and the load times are fast meaning the whole mode maintains momentum and keeps you invested in the outcome.
Being an EA game there is the obligatory Ultimate Team, microtransactions and other modes that most people will only dip their toe in. This year they seem less forced and the star of the show is the career mode. Unfortunately like every UFC game you are left wondering why there is no new Fight Night game. Yes UFC is the most popular growing sport in the world but the biggest PPV event of last year was a boxing match between Conor Mcgregor and Floyd Mayweather. Surely there is room for a new boxing game using this fantastic striking engine? Perhaps knowing this EA have included an exhibition mode that completely leaves the ground game out. The fact this even exists means they know what everyone thinks. The ground game needs such a drastic rebuild that it threatens every release. Perhaps soon we can forget about it altogether and get a new boxing game.