UFC 3 Review – Swingin’ Like A Screen Door

As someone who has never been in a honest to goodness dust-up in my life, I couldn’t imagine the stones it takes to step into the octagon and face down madmen who could break necks and cash cheques in one motion. Thanks to video games, I can live the dream vicariously through a television screen. UFC has slowly gained momentum under EA’s watchful eye and this third iteration manages to be the most accessible and complete yet, thanks to the inclusions of a lot of EA Sports’ staples — good and bad alike.

Of the combat sports, mixed martial arts has always managed to stand above the others due to being a sort of brutal ballet. A chaotic blend of style, strategy and attrition where swinging for the fences is often as effective as slowing the pace and locking up your foe like a constrictor. While there’s a destructive beauty to the ground game of mixed martial arts, it’s in the explosive stand-up game that I thrive. I go out and swing like a screen door, never having dedicated much time to mastering the ground game in any of UFC 3’s predecessors, which often make taking it to the mat a complicated and frustrating affair. Thanks to a lot of skill challenges and tutorials that hold your hand through some of the game’s more intricate systems, I’m far less reserved in going to ground, quite often shooting for takedowns and making the move to ground and pound.

Submission and defense rely on the same mini-game that pits you against your opponent in a brief fray of anticipation and timing. It’s a bit of a task and I lost a great many matches I was dominating thanks to simply not being able to break out of an opponent’s hold. It’s not impossible to master, but thankfully there’s a simpler option for those less inclined to spend a lot of time becoming as adept on the ground as a Gracie. It devolves the whole affair into a simple button-mash war that does rob submissions of their beauty, but it’s at least accessible.

Rather than rework the formula entirely, UFC 3’s gameplay has undergone a series of small tweaks to tighten it up. It’s in its modes that this new UFC title excels, adding a lot to its tool-shed.

Even the stock standard career mode has been supercharged, tasking players with becoming the G.O.A.T. by breaking a number of existing promotion records. I’ve always had a soft spot for the career modes in UFC games; not only is it lobbing up each week to pummel blokes into a bloody pulp, it’s a race against Father Time as your longevity is constantly pushed to its limits. Social media is, I’m sure, a huge aspect of an athlete’s life but I do wish they’d stop shoehorning faux Twitter feeds into these games in an attempt to make us care about how we conduct ourselves. Let’s be real, we’re here to crush heads not count our followers. Of course, social media begets rivalries and that does add spice to climbing the power rankings but it could be handled better.

One thing I also didn’t vibe was being subjected to what felt like adverts for a great many other of UFC’s programming. Of course, they’re given fair context as your fighter carves out a career but the self-love on show borders on masturbatory, to be blunt. No one should pay full price to have Dana White’s head invade the screen without fair warning.

Ultimate Team, this particular game’s avenue for ‘recurring player payment’, returns in UFC 3 with a few notable changes. You’re now able to collect and play with real-life fighters like McGregor, which does help in forging a connection with your team and makes the whole exercise a more worthwhile chore. There’s also dynamically-updated solo challenges that are good for progressing your skills; which helps someone like me who tends to hate playing with others. I’ve already read a fair amount of criticism levelled toward the game because of this, which is odd because I’ve never seen anyone condemn FIFA for the exact same thing. I didn’t enjoy keeping track of Ultimate Team before and I can’t see myself caring here, but for those who get into deep and seasonal competitive modes then EA has really pushed this further in the right direction.Knockout Mode is back for those who just want to stand and bang. It’s a party mode at heart where contestants have limited health bars with repeated headshots leading to some pretty spectacular knockouts. I only watch the sport to see people get folded so this mode is my bag. In an amazing turn, it’s commentated by Snoop Dogg who, I learned, is no stranger to the broadcast game as he makes regular appearances on smaller UFC telecasts. It’s every bit as confounding as it sounds on paper.

As far as the rest of its presentation goes, UFC really knocks it out of the park. To the finest details, it’s all there. The glitz, the glamour and the garish branding fill every inch of the screen in a game where fighting’s elite are brought to life. It’s only a minor graphical upgrade over its predecessor, almost indistinguishable but it’s still the best looking fighting game on the market. The realism is so on point that I sometimes still look away as a knockout goes wrong — as they do — and a leg folds under the unlucky recipient. I wince so often seeing people leak claret all over the canvas as hammerfists free them of their senses.

As far as sports titles go, UFC’s play-by-play is better than most. Joe Rogan’s delivery can be jarring, though it’s forgivable when they couldn’t even get him into the studio to record this time around. Joe Anik, however, has a very organic flow and is the glue that holds the duo together. Bruce Buffer — or the voice of the Octagon as his friends are forced to call him — is sublime as ever. Never change, Bruce. I might be showing my age a bit, but EA’s track selection for the soundtrack was entirely forgettable this time around. Like, I literally couldn’t name a song that wasn’t “The Man” by The Killers on it. I know one featured Kendrick Lamar, but beyond that? Bagel. Nada.

UFC 3 is a rare sports sequel that probably does enough to justify its existence. The betterment of Ultimate Team and the career's focus of becoming the greatest ever help the game feel different from the last. A rich bevy of modes coupled with top notch presentation is a winning formula every time.
Good Selection Of Modes
Top Notch Presentation
Accessible And Easy To Learn
Disappointing Soundtrack
Fairly Gratuitous Self-promotion
Having To Manage Public Image Detracts From Career