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Review: EA Sports UFC 3 spices up career mode, revamps striking experience

Joanna Jedrzejczyk, as represented in EA Sports UFC 3
EA Sports

It seems Conor McGregor is not only changing the MMA world, but also the way people play video games.

There are many significant new features in the upcoming EA Sports UFC 3 video game, highlighted by a rebuilt approach to striking, but what may stand out the most is what the EA Sports team created outside of face punching.

“There were several (new changes), but the two biggest were certainly the investment in Real Player Motion Tech — overhauling the standup game play experience,” Brian Hayes, the creative director of EA UFC 3, told MMA Fighting. “And then also the career mode experience, because we know that almost every player goes into that and plays a career, and we wanted to make sure that we create a gaming experience that they found deep and engaging, and that they feel motivated to finish. So those were the two big ones: Overhauling the standup game play and delivering a much deeper and more engaging experience in career mode than we have in the past.”

By “deeper and more engaging” Hayes is largely referring to what players will be able to do outside the cage.

When it comes to career mode, in which a player creates a fighter then has them climb up through the career ranks, the EA Sports team has turned things up a notch, adding an element that’s become crucial in today’s MMA world.

In the McGregor era, possessing trash-talking abilities is nearly just as important as knowing how to actually back up those words. Now, the team at EA has added the ability to trash talk your adversaries, hype up your fights, and create rivalries.

Hayes believes that the addition of trash talking will be a fun wrinkle for players as they groom their fighter to become the greatest of all-time, which is essentially what players will seek to do when starting a career mode in the game.

“In previous versions, we did kind of rely on the player to create goals for themselves,” Hayes said. “We didn’t explicitly put them out there for people. So this year, we wanted to put some carrots at the end of the stick or put a finish line out there for people to shoot for, and that one big finish line is becoming the greatest of all-time. I think that for anyone to be in that discussion (for the G.O.A.T.) there are obviously in-Octagon performances that you need to do, but nobody ever gets to that level — the greatest of all-time — without being also a super star.

“Muhammad Ali won a lot of fights, but also did a whole lot of talking. Conor McGregor is also another great example. You can win all of your fights, but if no one is watching, no one is really going to put you in that conversation of being the G.O.A.T. Although the man behind me, Demetrious Johnson, is almost the counter to that argument — because he’s won almost all his fights and he doesn't do a lot of talking and he’s arguably the greatest of all time — we wanted to put it in there and be like, ‘Hey, you have an obligation as a UFC fighter, if you want to get to the highest level, to not only have to prepare yourself to perform at your optimal abilities inside the Octagon, but also to drum up your popularity and drum up hype for your fights so the most people possible are watching.’ Those two counter objectives of where you want to spend your time in is what people have to deal with when they’re playing career mode on UFC 3.”

The addition of an interactive social media platform to the game is a interesting concept the EA Sports team incorporated. Having played career mode, I felt it made the journey toward becoming the GOAT a bit more interesting. You can take different approaches of how you handle yourself publicly. Your possible responses on social media usually range from respectful, to neutral, or brash.

This is how it all works: Each week during a fight camp, you’re given a certain amount of points to invest in learning new techniques, increasing your stats — like speed, power, and stamina — sparring, or posting on your social media page, which looks basically like Twitter. Promoting your fights helps you become more popular, but as you may have guessed, it takes away from your training.

When playing career mode or any type of campaign mode — where I’m able to make my own decisions and carve my own path — my objective is always more than a finishing the game, or in this case becoming the GOAT. It’s also about building a personality within the game, and with EA UFC 3, you’re able to do just that.

But despite the revamped new career mode, Hayes’ excitement for the new game still remains inside the cage. Hayes says the addition of Real Player Motion Technology (RPMT) has brought the feel of the in-cage action to a different level. This new technology, a first for a UFC video game, has captured the actual movements and styles of fighters. RPMT has also made the striking more fluid, allowing players to strike and perform other moves while in motion.

“Hands down it’s the stand-up game play, Real Player Motion Technology,” Hayes said when asked what the biggest change has been between versions. “The game is so much more responsive than it ever has been. The fighter movement is so much more fluid and authentic, slipping and throwing combinations feels better than it ever has.

“I’ve literary never had an experience (like this), and I’ve worked on a lot of fighting games in the past and they’ve been totally awesome — but once we implemented this technology in the base-sort-of-level, and got it working, right away we were having an absolute blast. We’ve been playing this game now probably for like eight to 10 months bi-weekly at work and we’ve been screaming at each other and people throwing their controllers because they’re upset. So, overall, the stand-up gaming experience has been so much fun. I think probably the best thing about the stand-up game play is not only the animation technology that makes it more fluid and responsive, but what we’ve done with the stand-up strategy and the meta game.”

RPMT is the first big change I noticed while playing EA UFC 3. The fighters don’t have a stock style, but their own. This may seem insignificant to people who don’t watch much MMA and are just interested in a fighting game, but if you’re a fan of the sport, you’ll definitely notice how well captured the movements and fighting styles are for each fighter. You can have a good idea of who you’re playing with just by the movement of the character, even if you can’t see the fighter’s appearance.

But apart from the aesthetic and feel of the fighters’ movement, RPMT also affects the the actual game play, pushing players to use striking combinations that make sense and that would be implemented in MMA. Fighters don’t move as fluidly if you’re just smashing your controller’s buttons in hopes to landing a strike. You actually have to throw strikes that transition well into other strikes. EA UFC 3 has the best striking of any MMA video game created. It’s fluid, fun, and it feels natural.

Since the last UFC video game, EA UFC 2, a lot has happened in the UFC.

The UFC has added two new weight classes to its roster: Women’s featherweight and flyweight. EA UFC 3 won’t feature either of those weight classes, but Hayes says the EA team will look into potentially adding the women’s 125-pound division in the future.

“Certainly the women’s flyweight division it’s going to be something we’re going to have to look at in the future,” Hayes said. “But that’s just something that came along a little bit too late with the TUF season, there [were] no official rankings in the UFC and all that sort of stuff; whereas, women’s featherweight is a little more nebulous and I don’t know where that’s going to go, but we’re going to stay in communication with the UFC and obviously with our fans as well. So, if authentic divisions get added to the UFC, you can expect us to follow suit in relatively short order, depending on how technology allows us to support it.”

Even though the highest weight class for women will be 135 pounds, EA UFC 3 will still allow you to play with women’s featherweight champ Cris Cyborg.

“She’s in the game, you can play with her as a bantamweight, but she doesn’t have nearly as much difficulty in our game making weight,” Hayes said with a laugh.

And if you were worried that CM Punk wouldn’t be featured in the game, there’s good news. The former pro wrestler is available for play in the welterweight division, and he also has picked up a new set of skills. CM Punk is pretty competitive and he’s basically just as good as fighters in the lower to middle tier, such as Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown, Pascal Kraus, and others. This was annoying for me because I’m obviously a fan of MMA and not so much of pro wrestling. However, I quickly got over the idea of CM Punk being a skilled fighter in EA UFC 3.

For those interesting, each individual fighter’s rating was released earlier this month. The roster size for the game will be similar in size to the one in the previous game - Hayes says it will be “north of 250.”

Overall, EA UFC 3 is a solid game. I really enjoyed the clean look the EA Sports team gave the general aesthetics and just the overall clean feel you get browsing through the game. They also did a good job with the soundtracks, picking some decent tunes other than the old UFC standards such as Face the Pain.

The only thing that turned me off a little was the grappling experience. It felt somewhat limited and very slow. Throwing punches and transitioning to different positions took a long time. Ground-and-pound is something that can be used a lot and often in MMA, but in my experience, not in EA UFC 3. Ground fighting is close to impossible to simulate in a video game, so there’s that. I still think some previous versions of the game allowed players to be more active on the ground.

EA Sports UFC 3 releases Feb. 2 and will be supported on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

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