“EA Sports MMA” video game review – overrated or better than expected?

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Reviews of the EA Sports MMA game might be old by now for some people, but I wanted to take my time with this review and devote some time to really play the game and pick it apart piece by piece. If there is one thing I am good at, its nitpicking, although in some reviews like the one I did for the new Strikeforce DVD, I did not need to look far to find a hideous mistake on all of the DVDs. Today, we buckled down, put on our serious hats, and plugged in our controllers to try out EA’s debut entry in the MMA market. I made this intro sound more professional than what it really was, which was getting a bunch of people over to screw around for a few hours.

The EA Sports MMA game has received praise from all over the reviewing spectrum, for its controls, graphics, and overall ability to simulate an MMA fight in an allegedly ground-breaking way. I will admit, I was very underwhelmed and absolutely disappointed by the demo, and came into the review of the final copy with an open mind, especially since I brought along of group of several other people to try this who had not played the demo, and a few were not even fans of MMA. If they could pick it up and play it much like they could with the UFC Undisputed series, we had a real contender on our hands.

So enough dicking around, let’s get to the review!

The first thing we all noticed was the awful loading screens. These were unbearably long at times, but on the plus side, it gave us time to stretch our legs, get a drink, watch webisodes of “The Office” and run a marathon. Adding to the initial bitter taste was the menus. My God, the menus! If you want to see this game jitter and lag, look no further than the first batch of menus you go through. Overall, start to finish, the lag when it loaded fighters or menu screens was always an issue, but that is not much of a deal-breaker for me – the important part is gameplay and graphics, in that order.

I am one of those people that will take controls over graphics any day, and when it comes to a fighting simulator that is especially critical. Nonetheless, the graphics of the EA Sports MMA game were very impressive. Everyone looks the way they should for the most part (although I could nitpick about Lyman Good’s physique being off but I think only I would notice that). I was pretty happy with the appearances and the overall look and feel. Texturing was superb and I would not be going on a limb if I said I liked the graphics here more than in UFC Undisputed. The roster was full of known MMA fighters, if you are a hardcore fan that is. If you want UFC fighters, there are plenty in there, just most are not really welcome back to the UFC ever again. Otherwise, you have some great fighters that casual fans sadly have not heard of, but I hope playing this game encourages them to learn more about MMA outside of the octagon. Speaking of that particular cage, the game allows you to choose your fighting surface (ring, hexagon cage or circular cage), and a few fictional locations and the Strikeforce arena. You can also choose from three different sets of rules, which modify the use of elbows and knees on the ground, and everyone’s favorites, soccer kicks and face stomping. Now, let’s actually start gaming!

I started my review first with a group of four gamers of different experience levels when it came to modern gaming to see if they could pick it up and play. I began by having everyone go through the “MMA 101” option, which is supposed to be a quick tutorial. Everyone who tried that out, myself included, felt like they did not really understand the controls of the game at all and were still very confused by how things worked, especially with the foreign “Fight Night” style controls. The instructions were not presented upfront to us, rather they popped up on screen when prompted to in a situation (such as how to sprawl moments before it was too late to escape a shoot). We sojourned on and jumped into an exhibition match, each playing the same match as Bas Rutten taking on the computer-controlled Matt Lindland ( an interesting match that I kind of want to see now) on the default easy difficulty setting. For the most part, more experienced gamers were able to survive but not really put up much of a fight against Lindland, especially when it came to sprawling from takedowns, working from the clinch and even being outstruck on our feet. None of us beat the computer but most of us survived to lose by lopsided decisions.

We tried a few other weight classes, this time as person vs person, and the fun really began. In some cases, experienced gamers actually began to lose to inexperienced noobs who button-smashed, despite the game warning us not to. In one surprising match, Shinya Aoki easily dispatched of Hayato Sakurai, who was unable to defend the Baka Survivor’s double leg attacks and submission attempts, and was eventually finished when Hayato shot for a takedown of his own, only to be guillotined. The person playing as Aoki won purely by pressing the X button repeatedly! After an hour of battling the computer and each other, none of us had really learned how to play the game much better and still were unconfident in our ability to push the difficulty up to something worse than easy. It was time to check out the career mode of the game and see if things got better with that.

Luckily for EA, the career mode gave us a complete turnaround and the game suddenly became much more fun and way easier to play! The create-a-fighter/ career mode is really where you learn how to play the game, as Bas Rutten FINALLY explains to you how the game controls work. The tutorial was completely unable to do this, so in order to really grasp the games controls, you must do the career mode. The create-a-fighter options were very limited, in that you have a set of faces you can choose, some hairs, facial hair and a few other minor tweaks. Customizing your fighter is pretty difficult, and reminded me of UFC Undisputed 2009 in a negative way. The pre-set faces are all basically real fighters, which you can add proper facial hair and head hair to in order to make them who they are. If you were unsure who to make, the game gives you plenty of hints, especially when we saw a fighting stance called “Generic Hawaiian Prodigy.” Who could that be? There is an over abundance of T-shirts however, with 245 of them, and about 150 shorts to pick from. In other words, you get more options for pre-made shirts and shorts, but if you want to make yourself in the game, unless you have the Xbox camera, you can not do that.

As I mentioned, the career mode was pivotal for us learning the game better and after two fights against the CPU, we went back into the exhibition mode to test out our new skills. Suddenly, easy mode was too easy and we were dominating matches as much as the computer dominated us before. Now that we knew how to play, we could actually grade the simulation and controls. The controls were as good as I had read from other reviewers, but this was not the kind of game one can just pick up and play like the UFC games. EA Sports MMA really requires you to devote some time to learn how to play, and once you do it’s a rewarding experience. This might deter some casual MMA fans to play, but then again, so would buying an MMA game that does not have UFC emblazoned on the front of the box.

The controls take a little bit of time to really get them down, and this is far from a button-masher. Timing is the key word, especially since there is a slight delay in some cases when it comes to striking and some of the grappling. The oddest thing for me with the stand-up was really the kicking, since you have to press the kick modifier to execute a kick, while using the analog stick to choose the kick, then press the high-low modifier to target. It felt clumsy at first, but we got used to it and were upping the difficulty setting in no time. Takedowns were nearly impossible to sprawl a few hours before, but now we were escaping Matt Lindland and even King Mo with ease, and taking his back in no time to pound him out for the finish!

One of the more novel concepts was the grappling mini-games, which I was very happy with. Smashing buttons failed the older UFC releases, and the current UFC series of using the analog stick was very creative, but the mini-games for chokes and joint locks are very fun and a way to break up the pace (and far from being a gimmick). Bettering your position in the game is also very clever, since you have to trick your opponent into opening themselves up essentially. The game is as close as MMA has gotten to having a perfect sim of a fight. The only downside, once again, is taking the time to learn the controls and moves. Once you do that, you will be unstoppable, but if you or a friend just want to pick this up and play, the learning curve is difficult to overcome.

Now that we were rolling on and having a great time, we started to notice that something still felt off, and that was the sound effects. Punches and kicks sounded generally weak and inaudible, and had no impact to them. The only time you felt an impact was with a big slam takedown. Otherwise, there was not much to hear except for the same dozen or so generic lines of commentary from Frank Shamrock and Mauro Ranallo, where they explain the basics of MMA. Considering the target market for this game, it was not needed and there was a lack of personalization. Only twice did we hear Frank or Mauro actually speak about the fighter in the cage, and then we heard no more from them. During times of inactivity, there was never a boo or more commentary to hide the dull moments, just more silence.

Overall, by the end of our marathon gaming session, we went from disliking the game to wishing we had more time to keep playing it. If you can take the time to learn the game, you will have a ton of fun, but it does take some investment in your time to do that. This is not a game for casual players, but if you can find an hour to learn it, you will be glad you did. The fighters are all interesting, the graphics look great and the gameplay is unparalleled when it comes to fighting simulators. EA modified their previous controls perfectly for MMA and revolutionized how an MMA game should be made. My main cons are simply the sound (like sound effects and commentary), the abysmal loading screens that never end, and the lack of depth in the create a fighter mode. These are things that can be changed in a sequel, and I look forward to when EA makes that game, but for now I will be playing EA Sports MMA for a long time to come!

What did you think of the EA Sports MMA game if you played it?

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