Games Review: EA Sports UFC 3: A worthy opponent

EA Sports UFC 3 marks EA’s the third tilt at creating an authentic, complex mixed martial arts experience. While it’s not a total knockout punch, it’s safe to say UFC 3 provides hardcore and casual fans alike with a reasonably accessible fighting sim.

EA Sports UFC 3 gets a few more things right this time around, improving on its 2 predecessors while adding new modes, control schemes and fighters to boot. The first thing thatUFC 3 gets right is presentation. Lighting effects and stadiums are realistic enough, and the octagon is no stranger to some awesome lighting effects mid fight. Each fighter is painstakingly detailed with fan favourites like Conor McGregor looking particularly lifelike, even managing to nail down his ring entrance and celebratory walk. Muscles flex appropriately, faces flinch and cringe when they take shots, and players react accordingly when they’re gassed or hurting. It manages to add a nice touch in the field of realism, but also helps when determining where a fighter is hurting the most from a strategic standpoint. While it looks better than the first and second instalments, UFC 3 is still partial to some janky animations and a couple bugs where your fighters arms will randomly punch the sky or their bodies will fall awkwardly like their skeletal system just decided to call it a day and take a nice holiday, leaving the body altogether. Thankfully these moments are few and far between, and the visuals maintain a consistent appeal for the duration of the experience. While it’s not NBA 2K levels of greatness, UFC 3 is showing that’s it’s not far behind at all.

However in the way of fighting, there’s much, much more to love this time around. I wouldn’t say the mechanics have been completely overhauled, but there’s enough that’s new here to really draw you in, and keep you engaged. Striking feels fluid and responsive, while the addition of head movements controlled with the right stick, adds a level of depth I honestly never thought I would need. Shoulder buttons modify punches and kicks, and can be easily chained together to create various combinations. While the stand up game is my personal favourite, the ground game has also undergone some much needed tweaks and improvements. Firstly, movements and positions are clearly indicated beside you, only requiring you to hold the right stick in that direction, provided you have the stamina to do so. Submissions are equally accessible, but require a little more finessing of the analogue sticks and rightly so, as submissions in the real UFC are no easy feats. The issue with the ground game however is that as accessible as it is, moves and positions are sometimes either inexplicably difficult, or too easily blocked and countered by your opponent. Even with enough stamina, sometimes your fighter just refuses to move, even if you have the positional advantage. This could either be subject to the lack of detailed ground game tutorial or bugs, but either way, the ground game can become excruciating difficult (and annoying) for no reason at all.

Thankfully, UFC 3 offers an expansive array of modes to compliment its solid mechanics. As usual, exhibition fights allow for a quick and easy entry into a fight, while career mode makes a welcome return, alongside newer additions like ultimate team and knockout mode. The career mode here is really damn good. Creating a fighter may not offer the most diverse creator mechanics available, but definitely enough so every fighter can look unique. Upon taking a created or current fighter through small time fights or the ultimate fighter, your ticket to the UFC feels rewarding and nerve racking at the same time. You’re constantly reminded that your victories are keeping you not only amongst the most elite, but within the sport itself. There is little room for failure on your quest to become the G.O.A.T.

The career mode allows you to train in between selected fights and contracts by signing up to gyms that centre around various fighting styles, allowing you to disperse a total of 100 training points each and every week leading up to a fight. You can chose to flat out train, or even endorse yourself on social media. While these options are varied, you’re encouraged to touch on at least every section, and there’s just not enough points to do so, leaving you feeling a little cheated that while you chose to train, the hype of the fight suffered from your lack of social media preparation. Overall the career mode is a bunch of fun, keeping it simple between the already engaging and entertainer fights. Another standout mode is knockout mode. The optional commentary by Snoop Dogg is awesome enough, but the mode itself is one of the most interesting pieces UFC 3 has on offer. Each fighter is given a simplistic health bar, as strikes wear your down until one of you is knocked out. It’s a simple as that. I never thought a UFC sim would need such a mode but it allows for some hilariously fun moments, especially for those that are it hardcore fans of the ground game or the UFC itself, and a great mode for when friends come over. Online fights are present, and while these are basic enough, I found connectivity issues like lag made the game a little harder than intended.

The last mode worthy of a mention is the Ultimate Team mode, and while it bares a resemblance to its FIFA counterpart, there are more things to dislike here than any other mode. The Ultimate Team mode encourages players to acquire cards in order to build a squad of fighters, flesh them out with moves, and take them into fights, with the obvious goal of making the “Ultimate Team”. I was totally on board with this idea, but the issue here is that everything feels a bit too heavy on the micro transactions. While fighters and moves are all achievable through in game means, I felt like I was putting in too much time for such a little payoff, making the grind for cards overly long and difficult, pushing you to open your wallet for the sake of convenience, which doesn’t feel right. The mode isn’t total trash however, with a nice range of fighters and deep variety of moves to add to them, but feels like one step forward and two steps back.

Overall, EA Sports UFC 3 is one of the best UFC games in recent memory, topping its two predecessors by a considerable margin. Presentation is above average, and fighters look awesome in the octagon, while an expansive array of modes balance the line between simulation and fun ever so gracefully. Take UFC seriously? Try the career mode? More of a casual fan that likes the highlights and big finishes? Then Snoop Dogg will help you out with Knockout Mode. The solid fighting mechanics round everything out so nicely with a system that feels easy enough to learn but oh so difficult to master. The learning curve can be a little too steep for more casual fans with the lack of tutorials managing to annoy even the biggest fans. Through all its flaws, UFC 3 is a fighting sim to admire, and is most definitely a must play for any UFC fan.

Score: 8:0 out of 10
Highlights: Greatly improved fighting mechanics, variety of modes for both hardcore and casual fans alike.
Lowlights: Difficult ground game, lack of detailed tutorials, micro-transaction based Ultimate Team mode.
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: Electronic Arts, EA Sports
Available: Now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 with retail code provided by the publisher.