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EA Sports MMA video game reviewPosted on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 5:23 am
by IDMA Editor
Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3
Developer: EA Tiburůn
Publisher: EA Sports
Released: Out Now
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EA Sports finds itself in an unusual position with the release of its first Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) game. Not only is EA Sports MMA the company's first foray into the pugilistic and rapidly-expanding world of mixed martial arts, but itís also a game that could change the very industry itís representing. Without the ubiquitous UFC license to prop up its bottom line, EA MMA (as the developers are calling it) has scoured the globe for its talent and joined forces with Strikeforce, the second largest fight promoter in the United States. In a mutually beneficial arrangement, Strikeforceís branding is plastered all over EA MMA and vice versa. If the game does well, Strikeforce grows. If Strikeforce grows, EA MMA gets more exposure. Itís a unique case of art not only imitating life, but actually influencing it.
Challenging for the title: EA is taking on UFC Undisputed for dominance in the MMA fighting genre.
Of course, these are the concerns of smartly dressed corporate VPs and not your average digital fight fan. What really matters is how EA MMA performs when the cage door is locked, the fighters have touched gloves and the bell rings, and this is where the game shines. What at first seems like an overly-simplified recreation of a very complicated sport soon reveals itself as a tremendous mix of brutal catharsis and supreme balance. In short, itís one of the finest fighting games ever made.
Describing Mixed Martial Arts to the layman is a tough job; making them understand it enough to enjoy a video game even harder, a struggle UFC Undisputed knows only too well. EA MMA, though, takes time to educate players not only on its own intricacies, but those of the world it represents. Make sure you ignore the ham-fisted MMA 101 pseudo-tutorial and dive straight into the career mode, where the effervescent lunatic Bas Rutten slowly takes you through the three facets of MMA Ė standing, clinching and grappling. Itís never overwhelming, testing you on each area of understanding before moving to the next. After twenty minutes, youíre fighting fit and ready to get into the ring.
The career mode itself is an enjoyable mix of globe-trotting, stat-building and face-punching, focusing less on RPG minutiae and more on getting you back into the action. Far more depth comes from the superb online modes though, which feature lag-free bouts, a smart levelling-up system and even the promise of Live Broadcasts, a potentially revolutionary online telecast with real-world commentary.
When you do finally find yourself under the bright lights and staring into the cold eyes of your first opponent, whatís immediately apparent is just how good the game looks. EA MMA uses a modified version of the Fight Night engine, and it shows. Every one of the rosterís combatants moves, flexes and grimaces just as they do in real life, and while it might lack the star power of the UFC, hard-core fight fans will rejoice at the flawless representations of Fedor Emilianenko, Nick Diaz and protein shake-guzzling company. The animation, too, is superb. At first, it seems the fighters are skating across the canvas, but in time youíll learn to keep movement to a minimum in order to maximise your effectiveness. A bout between two seasoned players look remarkably like the real thing, with no clipping even when bodies are pushed up against one another.
Striking, like Fight Night, is placed on the right stick. Button-bashers can switch the controls to a more familiar set-up, but doing so loses some of the systemís subtlety. This is the area of MMA that everyone understands Ė hitting people hard in the face until they donít want to be hit anymore. With practise, youíll be throwing out specific combos, judging your range, parrying strikes and landing thumping counter blows. Thereís even a bob-and-weave system thatís astonishingly similar to God Handís, of all things, and skilled practitioners will be handing out some Anderson Silva-style ĎMatrixí dodging; utterly confounding their opponent in the process.
Knockouts can occur at any time, but are based purely on physics. If youíre caught with a particularly heavy strike, you might be laid out cold, but more likely be put on shaky legs or drop unceremoniously to the ground, activating a fearsome and shudderingly violent minigame. Fight-finishes are what make MMA so exciting, and EA has captured this brilliantly, as the aggressor tries desperately to pound his opponent into unconsciousness while he rapidly hammers B (circle on PS3) to try and recover. Itís the type of moment that you rarely get in gaming Ė one that provokes raucous shouting and riotous laughter. Itís nasty, but this isnít table tennis.
It is, however, often called human chess, and the other elements of EA MMAís in-ring (or cage; the game offers myriad rule sets and locales) action capture this cerebral edge. The clinch and ground-games (as grappling is known) operate a three-button system. One to pass to a more advantageous position, one to stop your opponent doing the same thing, and one to get the hell out of there. If youíre taken down to the ground or pushed into the fence, your first instinct is to flail. Just as Royce Gracie showed in the inaugural UFC event, though, a calm head and a steady nerve wins the day.
Desperately bash the buttons and youíll deplete your stamina, leaving yourself open for a bone-breaking submission or a thunderstorm of leather on your prone face. Keep cool, and you can deny your opponents Ďpassí attempts (where he tries to move to a position where you have less defensive options). The pad will rumble when an opponent tries to pass, which is your cue to deny. Cleverly though, it will also rumble when heís hitting you, making the ground game as much about expectation and deception as it is thumping a man in the nose.
Some fans will cry that there are obvious positions and moves absent from EA MMA. Thereís no option to throw shorter strikes when in close, for example, and some of the more advanced elements of ground-fighting donít make an appearance, but itís important to realise why. EA Tiburůn has crafted EA MMA for balance. Everything has an opposite Ė every strike can be parried, every pass denied. As long as youíre conscious, youíre always in the fight. It only takes one clean punch or one slick submission to end a bout, and after 25 minutes (in real time) of a gruelling title fight, youíll have experienced an epic masterpiece; one that traditional fighting games could never hope to match. It takes a special game to make you appreciate losing just as much as winning. EA MMA does it every time you step into the ring. Now thatís a knockout.