Reviewed: October 29, 2010
Released: October 19, 2010
THQ's UFC Undisputed series might have just found a disputer in EA SPORTS MMA. A new entry into the mixed martial arts arena formerly dominated by the THQ video game, EA SPORTS MMA brings its innovative Total Strike Control scheme from Fight Night, upgraded for mixed martial arts combat with kicks, elbows, ground strikes, and numerous other options, along with groundbreaking online features that might redefine sports gaming, let alone mixed martial arts games, for years to come.|
EA SPORTS MMA is designed entirely around the online experience, but that doesn't mean its single player is weak. While its tutorial is lackluster, trying to introduce the entire game at once, the career mode serves as the tutorial role more than well enough to make up for that, leading the player through a standing fight, clinching, and ground fighting before putting them all together. The career mode is a superb introduction to the world of MMA, allowing you to make a customized fighter specializing in a style ranging from boxing to sambo, with a truly impressive array of customization options.
The game spends its first few minutes teaching the interplay between positions and stances and the types of holds that fighters will encounter on the ground, which is invaluable. Someone entirely new to mixed martial arts can go from fresh meat to, if not an expert, well-versed enough to understand what's happening within a few hours of play, and the voices and likenesses of professional MMA fighters and commentators adds a level of verisimilitude to the game.
Additionally, outside of career mode, there is a quick match mode that allows players to fight as real combatants, largely from the Strikeforce promotion that dominates the roster, from numerous nations. Additionally, each promotion you can fight with in the career mode has its own rules which apply to other game modes when you fight in their arenas, letting the player fight in the more orderly, segmented matches of Strikeforce or Unified rule sets, or the grueling, brutal, head-stomping combat of the Japanese or Vale Tudo rules.
While the array of options in single-player isn't exactly dazzling, the fights unfold like a violent dream. Total Strike Control takes some getting used to, with every attack using the right analogue with other buttons being used to modify attack styles and change your position on the field. Once you learn it, however, combos become fast and easy to snap out, and the player will be able to smoothly dance in, land a few punches, and dance out, waiting for the next opportunity to inflict pain on their opponent. Additionally, special moves are handled by a combination of joystick commands and context-sensitive button presses, which are easy to remember and execute in the heat of battle. It might take a bit to get used to, but once I got the hang of Total Strike Control, I never looked back.
That said, I was too busy looking forward, since EA SPORTS MMA is absolutely glorious in its depiction of battle. The fighters look practically real, and in the filters applied during post-match highlights, sometimes even tricked my brain into believing they were there. Each of the fighters is authentically represented, muscles flex and jiggle, noses break, blood sprays across the mat, onto shorts, and even opposing fighters. There's a beauty, if a grisly one, and a gladiatorial thrill to watching the men in EA SPORTS MMA take one another apart.
Of course, all of the wonderful graphics and smooth controls in the world wouldn't be worth much if EA SPORTS MMA stopped at its offline modes. Lucky for us, EA SPORTS has provided some of the most fascinating online offerings in memory. The Fight Card mod lets players host four fights per card with up to a party of ten connected. Players can talk, challenge each other, and even commentate for matches. The belt race tracks your progress through belt ranks and allows you to participate in championship bouts to claim a title and defend it against other players, and replays, highlights, and fighter sharing let you share your accomplishments and creations or just look for ways to improve your game.
However, all of that pales in comparison to the EA SPORTS Live Broadcast mode, which is one of the most exciting things to happen to sports gaming in the history of things happening to sports gaming. Players can create their fighters and produce hype videos to promote themselves, while EA SPORTS promoters comb through the masses and look for players to bring up onto the grand stage. When selected, you'll have the chance to have your online fight broadcast to be seen by gamers via console or web, with live professional commentators and real prizes at stake for the competitors.
Not only does this add a fascinating element of real, meaningful competition to the game, but to the best of my knowledge, it's not only the first time a publisher has given real support to e-sports, it's the first time e-sports and actual sports have intersected. Its historical value aside, it's a great time to watch players who are excellent at the game take each other on. It brings real meaning to the saying that mixed martial arts is a human chess match, especially compared to my amateurish flailing through my career mode.
While it might not have the UFC stars that bring some fans to the table, any dedicated fan of mixed martial arts should take a look at EA SPORTS MMA to see the face of the future. Even fans of fighting or sport who haven't yet ventured into the world of MMA should take a look, since there's a lot in the game and its long-term potential to grab players, and the foundation is there for a series that could re-define what it means to be playing a sports game.