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It was 2:15 in the morning and I had to be up for my day job in a couple hours, but I couldn’t stop playing EA Sports UFC 3. I had become gripped with a singular purpose: To divorce my opponent of his consciousness using the fist-shaped sledgehammers attached to the ends of my arms. Unfortunately, this was proving to be difficult as I had been replaying this one fight over and over again more than 20 times now. Sarel Seemonster, the brutal middleweight I had created through the game’s incredibly in-depth character creation system – he was equal parts cave troll and troll doll – was a punishing in-close brawler, with devastating hooks and uppercuts and a leg kick like a long-handled wood axe. However, this focus on the art of knocking people the f—k out came at a cost as his ground game was akin to a flopping mackerel on the deck of a fishing trawler. This was a huge problem for two very significant reasons.

Firstly, my opponent knew it. He was a fighter I had knocked out brutally in the first round of just my second fight as a pro in the dingy bush-league fighting circuit in which UFC 3 starts off your very lengthy Career Mode. I kept up the brutal knockouts which led to UFC President Dana White’s Looking For a Fight show coming to check me out and eventually offering me a UFC contract. Now that contract was up for renewal and who would be standing opposite me but the very same chump I had dispatched earlier who had now become my rival.

As we fought in this rematch it appeared that it would be a case of violent deja vu as I rocked him repeatedly with heavy punches only for him to shoot in for a takedown and drag me to the mat before ol’ Sarel could respond. In some of the matches, this was the beginning of the end as a rapidly sunk in submission slid through my almost non-existent defences. Other times I got back up to my feet and proceeded to give him an acute case of the “stanky leg” numerous time only for him to take me down again right before the finishing blow each time. Rinse and repeat. Cue frustration.

That is until I caught a kick he had tried to throw to my mid-section and staggered him with a hellacious straight right as he hopped on one leg. As he desperately threw a looping overhand right at my face to keep me at bay, I ducked my body to the side and came back with a right uppercut, left hook, right body kick combo that had him reeling. I pumped two more stiff jabs into his face to ensure his eyes were still watering and proceeded to start an overhand right of my own… then pulled it back almost immediately.

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The fake-out was enough as it prompted the inevitable takedown from him, except this time instead of wrapping up my legs and dumping me on my butt again, his face drove straight down into an uppercut I had seemingly begun swinging from all the way back in the locker room. That his head didn’t pop clean off his shoulders was a miracle, as commentators Joe Rogan and Jon Anik noted. The same sentiment was echoed in the spate of tweets of praise Sarel Seemonster received post-fight, and as I rapidly clicked through the menus so that I could finally go get some sleep I even noticed that the KO had earned him a post-fight bonus that would help him on the path to eventually becoming the “Greatest of All Time”.

And what I have just described is basically a perfect summary of nearly everything that UFC 3, EA’s third crack at emulating the professional mixed martial arts experience, does right and wrong.

As many professional fighters love to profess, every fight starts on the feet. And from the moment you start slugging – whether it be in the game’s G.O.A.T. career mode where you need to rise through the ranks of the UFC, the quick and dirty KO Mode returning from UFC 2, local multiplayer, custom created PPV events, or any of the myriad other ways UFC 3 lets you play – you will notice just how good EA has made it all feel. Like previous entries, you will still sometimes end up doing finger gymnastics to land complex combos (the above one I used to dispatch my rival was Right-stick to duck, R2+Triangle, L1+Square, L2+Circle, Triangle, Triangle, Left-stick forward+R2+Triangle tapped briefly, Square+X) but the game gives an unparalleled control over your fighter’s body and limbs.

Combine that with additions to the fight engine like distance management to make sure you choose the optimum strike for the moment, health meters for independent body parts so that you can pinpoint an opponent’s weaknesses, a revised blocking system that forces you to duck and weave and not just turtle up, a stamina system that makes you need to watch just how many attacks you throw out as well as defend against, and a very accurate clipping and animation system, and you end up with the most realistic mixed martial arts striking we’ve ever seen in a game. Most of the time.

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It’s rare to see a fighter get knocked down more than three times before being finished in a real life fight, but UFC 3 seems to occasionally give opponents limitless resiliency as long as they interrupt your would-be fight-ending barrage. Sometimes, they don’t even have to do any interrupting, they just need to not be hit in the head. In one fight I threw devastating liver kick after liver kick against my opponent, unbelievably dropping him 17 times in one round, and still the fight didn’t end no matter how much his body health meter was flashing. The very next round all it took was a single head kick and he was taking a nap. Inconsistencies like that just smear the otherwise near-perfect immersion the striking system creates.

But things get considerably worse when the fight goes to the ground. As you may have noticed at the end of the first paragraph, I said Sarel Seemonster’s lack of a proficient ground game was a huge problem for two reasons, but only gave one. Don’t worry, I’m not senile, I’m getting to it. EA has done a great job in completely overhauling how wrestling transitions work now so that they’re easier to understand than past iterations. Moving from one position to the next is now the simple matter of holding the right stick in a particular direction, with a context-sensitive on-screen prompt guiding you with options (the better your fighter’s grappling stats, the more options you have). But when we get to submissions, it all falls apart.

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Now you need to tap your right stick in different directions almost in a game of Simon Says as the aggressor needs to match the stick motions of the defender for each stage of the submission. Not only does this feel completely disconnected from the actual jiu-jitsu action happening on-screen, but it makes submission attempts a lengthy affair. There are no exhilarating sure-fire flash subs here. Well, not unless you’re the computer AI. Whereas on the feet the AI’s leaps of intuition and responses to your actions feel incredibly lifelike and suitably challenging, here it borders on the supernatural as they almost always know which moves to make resulting in any submission attempts made against you mostly being a death sentence from the word go, irrespective of how good your character’s ground game is.

I can see why EA went with this system, as it definitely is much easier to understand than the stick-manipulation mini-games of past entries, and I’m sure in casual couch games with your buddies it will be a fun little distraction. When it comes to competitive play though, or even just during your career mode, it’s so unforgiving with such an infinitesimal margin for error that it’s almost certain that only the real elite of the elite players of this game will be making full use of it. Everybody else will just stand and bang.

As for getting better at banging (no, you pervs!), while you still need to do drills for sparring or learning new skills from a selection of different gyms (a very neat new feature), gone are the training mini-games of the first two games’ career modes which have instead been replaced by a series of menus. Initially, this sounds like a terrible idea, but it actually becomes a rather engaging number crunching act of trying to figure how much time you will spend training, sparring, learning new skills or doing self-promotion in the weeks before a fight.

And yes, you did read self-promotion correctly, as you now have to interact with fans on social media or host events to hype up your fights as the more popular you are, the bigger your opportunities will be. Unfortunately, unlike training, here the menu-heavy approach doesn’t work. Social media interaction is all canned and incredibly repetitive – just four fights in and I had seemingly seen every twitter comment I was ever going to see in the game. And the rival system is the most laughable component of it all, as all it results in really is a random fighter insulting you on social media every once in a while. There’s zero emotional investment or feeling of believable hostility.

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Then there’s the game’s Ultimate Team mode which… Well, which makes no damn sense. Not the actual gameplay mechanics of you managing a stable of four fighters who you collect and upgrade with techniques with packs like a collectable trading card game before using those fighters in fights – that works really well if that’s your thing. Rather it’s the implementation of this mode in a UFC game. Mixed martial arts is not a team sport like other EA franchises where UT has been used, and it’s really out of place here.

Much like those other EA franchises though, UFC 3’s audio-visual presentation is second to none (with the only possible exception being its commentary system, which lacks some variety and personality). Character models are rendered in incredible detail, and EA has recreated real-life fighters with unnerving accuracy through subtle touches to movement and reactions. The game also boasts a thumping soundtrack composed of some killer rock, hip-hop and EDM tracks (I’ve been bopping my head non-stop to Run These Jewels’ “Legend Has It” for a week now) which is sure to get you even more fired up.

Not that there isn’t enough in the game to do that already because honestly UFC 3 is a knockout when it gets things right, improving from its predecessors in several areas. However, as good as it can be, it also makes a couple of silly mistakes that will frustrate some players and leave others just ignoring large parts of the game. Right now, this is a good game – the best of its genre even – with a lot of depth and with which I had a lot of fun with, but it’s not the ultimate fighting game that EA was hoping for yet.

Last Updated: February 16, 2018

UFC 3
Summary
EA Sports UFC 3 is definitely fun to play and does an amazing job at recreating several aspects of competing in MMA's biggest organization. But despite the knockouts it delivers in some places, it's unforgiving submission system, uneven AI, and a few silly UI and gameplay choices means it's still susceptible to a few knocks itself.
7.5
/10
UFC 3 was reviewed on PlayStation 4
75 / 100

Kervyn Cloete

A man of many passions - but very little sleep - I've been geeking out over movies, video games, comics, books, anime, TV series and lemon meringues as far back as I can remember. So show up for the geeky insight, stay for the delicious pastries.

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