Following the collapse of THQ, Electronic Arts secured the rights to make UFC games under the EA Sports label. Since 2014, EA Sports UFC has been the only game in town when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts. The UFC games from EA have had mixed receptions. With EA’s debut of UFC they failed to impress critics, while their second offering two years later saw improved scores across the board. Unlike its other sports games, EA hasn’t been releasing UFC on an annual basis. Instead, they’ve been doing one every other year and this year we’ve got EA Sports UFC 3 — a game that makes marginal improvements to the gameplay, adds in some new modes, reworks some of the character models for the game but comes in feeling a lot like its predecessor. That is except for one key area that seems to have gotten a lot of focus, and that’s in the Ultimate Team mode that leans heavily on loot boxes (card packs) that allow players to build out fighters and take them into the online Octagon.
EA Sports UFC 3 is a fantastic looking game. Of all of the sports titles in their catalog, UFC 3 might be the very best when it comes to how realistic the game looks. At a glance, it’s hard to tell whenther you’re watching a real life UFC presentation or a video game. Everything is pitch perfect on the visual presentation front for this game. It’s hard to scrutinize even one aspect of the visual fidelity of the game as it captures the bloody carnage of a MMA fight brilliantly. For those that are coming from UFC 2 and wondering what’s changed, well it’s not all that much. There have been some changes to some character models in the game, but much of UFC 3 looks like UFC 2. That’s not entirely a bad thing, but if you’re familiar with EA’s approach to making marginal improvements to a game and shipping it with a different number behind it, you’ll know that there are some iterations which are entire overhauls for a franchise and there are some that come in feeling like more of an update. UFC 3 feels like the latter. From reused character models and announcer commentary to entrances and appearances, there’s a lot that feels like it was recycled for UFC 3.
When it comes to its fighting systems, UFC 3 has been improved. The combat is fluid and feels more responsive than the last game, especially in the striking department. EA boasts that there have been over 5,000 new animations added to the game and it definitely shows when looking at the two games side by side. From a control standpoint though, not much has changed. EA Canada seems to have struck the right note when it comes to the many different fighting systems of the game. From the grappling and submission systems to the stand-up fighting and striking aspects, UFC 3 feels very familiar for anyone that played the last game. Your stand-up game is the most straight forward aspect. You throw punches with your left and right hands and feet with the face buttons of the controller, with some advanced moves in there for modifiers. The grappling game takes a little bit more practice to get the hang of. It features numerous transitions on offense and defense with both players constantly looking to press button prompts to advance and defend themselves. There’s also the submission aspect of MMA, which in UFC 3 is essentially a mini-game where you race against the other player in making controller inputs to either complete a submission or escape from it. The way these three systems come together was likely a challenge, but they do come together to form something that feels intuitive and approachable for all players, yet really complex for high-level players. There have been some changes to the different interfaces of the game, but they’ve largely come in the form of small tweaks rather than big overhauls. That’s not entirely a bad thing. The core fighting of UFC 3 feels great. There are many different disciplines and aspects of combat to learn and master before tackling either the career mode or online opponents.
The new Career Mode in EA UFC 3 is actually a nice upgrade for those that have been with the series for the last two iterations. They’ve seemingly hitched their wagon to Conor Mcgregor’s star here in the new G.O.A.T. career mode. This is a pretty robust offering that allows you to start out from the lowly bottoms of MMA and work your way to the very top of the UFC to hopefully retire as the greatest of all time. I like that in this Career Mode EA Canada hasn’t gone down the road of other sports games in trying to deliver a cinematic experience full of bad acting and half-baked story telling. Instead it’s the fighting that stays center stage, and everything that surrounds it that makes the mode fun. Not only are you looking to win inside the Octagon, but you’re also managing things like your training and ability to hype up a fight prior to the event. As you start moving up the ladder you’ll face tougher and tougher opponents and the game gives you the opportunity to learn new moves and abilities by joining discipline-specific gyms. Simply becoming the champion in your weight class is not enough though. You’ll need to win and hold titles in multiple divisions (like McGregor) and then perform a list of activities to become the G.O.A.T. at which point you can retire and head to the online arena or check out the other single player and local multiplayer aspects of the game.
On the local side there are some interesting modifiers made to some of the game modes. Knockout mode is a best of three mode where you play against the computer hoping to land head shots with punches and kicks to whittle away at your opponents health. This is a mode for those that don’t want the complexity of the full MMA experience, completely excluding things like jabs, leg kicks, and grappling. The upshot, Snoop Dog replaces Joe Rogan as the announcer for this here and he’s about as entertaining here as he was in his Call of Duty VO pack. Stand and Bang is another mode that can be played either locally or against the AI that also focuses on stand-up combat. While Submission Showdown is the exact opposite of Stand and Bang mode allow you to only grapple and win by submission. There’s also a custom “Fight Now” mode that allows you to customize settings for a fight to your liking. In the road to mastery of UFC 3 and the different facets of MMA, this game definitely gives you the tools to learn with a variety of modes.
Everything up to this point with EA Sports UFC 3 is pretty great. The game looks great and plays well, and there are plenty of modes to dive into in fighting against local opponents or the computer. The next logical step is to take your finely honed MMA skills learned in these modes and head online for some competitive play. Here’s where EA Sports UFC 3 gets a little bit weird. Like other EA Sports games, there’s an Ultimate Team mode, because of course there is, despite MMA not being a team sport. This mode is structured similarly to its implementation in other games. Except, instead of earning and opening card packs that earn you players for a team, you are essentially earning power-ups for your fighters. You can have four active fighters at any time in your Ultimate Team and they can all be outfitted with a number of powerful cards that give you buffs to your stats. This fully featured mode allows you to climb through Divisions in online play against other human opponents with your Ultimate Team, while also allowing you to earn card packs and coins through playing against the computer and tackling different training challenges. As is to be expected at this point from EA, these card packs are for sale. Effectively, you can purchase card packs for real money, bypassing the progression system and outfitting your Ultimate Team with powerful stat boosting cards ahead of everyone else if you’re willing to pay.
EA Sports UFC 3 Video Review
It’s hard to tell just what’s going on here and how much of an impact it has on the gameplay because there’s a real lack of transparency when it comes to seeing what boosts the other player is using. In any given match, you could very well be running into a situation where you’re simply outclassed in terms of important attributes like stamina, strength, or other things that can make a match completely lopsided. It’s hard to classify this as anything other than pay to win. If you’re willing to pay for UFC coins, you’ll definitely have a leg up on the competition when it comes to Ultimate Team online play. That said, what’s even more disturbing is a number of items that are just available for sale in the “Item Scouting” area of Ultimate Team. You don’t even need to wait and hope that items, fighters, or attribute boosts come randomly in a card pack, you can simply buy them from the in-game store with new items refreshing daily in this marketplace.
All that said, my experience in the pre-launch environment wasn’t a bad one in Ultimate Team. I earned a fair number of cards in just a handful of matches that I applied to my fighters and managed to remain relatively competitive with other players. It’s just hard to see this ending well once the game goes live for the public. It’s a similar situation to what we saw in Battlefront 2, but it might actually be worse because of the nature of fighting games. I mean, imagine playing a game like Street Fighter where the playing field isn’t level. If the other player was willing to pay for a booster that gave them more health, quicker recovery, and more powerful attacks — it would ruin the experience. I’m afraid that this is what will happen to Ultimate Team with the current system in place, but that’s yet to be seen.
Online play isn’t tied exclusively to Ultimate Team but this seems like the most full featured aspect of the online components of the game. There are other ways to fight other players. There is a quick online fight mode which allows you to play with created fighters off if you don’t feel like running into a completely mismatched affair. There’s also a similar Divisional system in place for the Ranked Championship mode. Here you’ll play with UFC fighters and this doesn’t feature the unlockable cards that Ultimate Team does. There are actually quite a few other ways to enjoy UFC 3 without touching the loot box driven Ultimate Team mechanics. There’s a custom Tournament Mode which features numerous settings for weightclass and fighting style, it even allows you turn on “continued damage” which is a throwback to the first days of UFC. Though with the wealth of modes Ultimate Team is the thing that EA puts front and center. It would be nice to see some of these other modes get the love that Ultimate Team clearly receives.
Like other EA Sports titles, UFC 3 is packed to the brim with modes to play and it’s got exceptional gameplay and graphics to boot. It’s not surprising that this isn’t a huge overhaul for the UFC series, but it does often make you wonder whether the upgrades that are found here actually warrant a numbered release in the series. Sure the G.O.A.T. single player career is a welcome addition and something that’s actually worthwhile, but everything else, from presentation upgrades to other new modes feel minor in comparison. On the online front, Ultimate Team has taken another turn for the worse as EA continues to design games that introduce pay to win mechanics that are more suitable for a free to play game than a retail release.
UFC 3 very well may be EA’s best release in the series, but it’s only by a small margin that they’ve improved on their previous effort.
EA Sports UFC 3
- Available On: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Published By: EA Sports
- Developed By: EA Canada
- Genre: Fighting
- US Release Date: February 2nd, 2018
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "UFC 3 very well may be EA's best release in the series, but it's only by a small margin that they've improved on their previous effort."