UFC 3 – Review
PS4, Xbox One
Now three games deep on current gen systems, it’s not unreasonable to expect that EA Canada’s latest entry in their UFC series, aptly titled UFC 3, would be everything fans of the combat sport could hope for. After all, the past few years have seen the UFC go from strength to strength on the back of returning cover star Conor McGregor, a one-man hype machine if there ever was one. Unfortunately, this doesn’t translate over to the experience UFC 3 offers, with a Career mode that suffers from a disconnect between the action happening inside the octagon and the media circus outside that fuels it.
If there is any sports game that should live and die on its Career mode, it’s UFC 3. Unlike those based on team sports, these titles (much like the WWE series) have the potential to engage players in conflict and drama on a much more personal level given the individual nature of the sport itself. It is unfortunate then that UFC 3 lacks much of the pomp and ceremony that surrounds real-world bouts and instead offers a selection of menus to choose from varying training and promotional options in between matches. What grates most is that this is something WWE games were doing, albeit clumsily, on the PSX so it’s disappointing that there aren’t more ways to interact with rivals outside of the limp ‘social media’ system. Balancing time between building up fight hype and training is interesting once you feel confident in your abilities and strategies but early on it makes more sense to try and gain an edge over opponents through stat increases, sparring or move unlocks. It can lead to situations where you spend almost as much time sifting through menus as you do hammering it out in the octagon, but the overall brevity of the whole affair encourages the creation of multiple fighters to explore different styles. Those looking for an extremely deep experience will find this mode lacking but the replayability factor somewhat eases this gripe.
Along with a number of multiplayer modes comes EA’s signature Ultimate Team which looks to be the same money grab it is in every other EA game. Players looking to seriously invest some time in their Ultimate Team should also expect to be spending some real-world cash to stay competitive as booster packs are not always easy to earn through gameplay and their random nature means that you could spend quite a while hunting down a particular move or fighter to complete a set. Whilst exploitative of a particular type of player, EA get points for Ultimate Team not being as tactless as NBA 2k18 when it comes to microtransactions and hounding players throughout multiple modes.
While I’ve been fairly down on UFC 3 thus far, I do have to give credit where it’s due: striking is phenomenal and easily my favourite element of the entire game. The heft and weight of each blow is communicated perfectly through the combination of sound and animation, with fighters reeling back when eating a hit and hobbling when their legs have been targeted throughout a round. The robustness of the entire striking system makes it even more enjoyable to customise a fighter’s moveset throughout the career mode as more options are unlocked. However, striking is only one side of the equation in a UFC bout which is unfortunate for UFC 3 as its ground game needs some work.
From the outset, the grappling and submission systems aren’t very well explained. In fact, the entire tutorial system in UFC 3 consists of a handful of videos, a feature which doesn’t hold a candle to the On-Ice Trainer found in the NHL series, another EA Canada title. What’s worse is that this method of play isn’t particularly satisfying to engage in compared to the phenomenal striking. Instead, submitting an opponent or grappling with them is a slow and stilted process which involves a lot of pushing of the analogue stick to a series of on-screen prompts. It’s not quite QTE levels of dull but it certainly isn’t as much fun as pounding away at an opponent, blocking carefully and using openings to land a savage roundhouse kick to the face.
Visually, UFC 3 isn’t the heaviest hitter but consistently the fighter models are on point in game compared to their real-life counterparts and arena designs and crowds convey a good amount of excitement, depending on the popularity of the fighters involved in a bout. Where the work of EA Canada stands out is in the animations – there are some moments during a bout where character movement, strikes and blocks flow together beautifully. In what I can only assume is a move to keep licensing costs down, the music selection in UFC 3 is not what it once was in EA titles given some of the great soundtracks they have put together in previous years. However, I realise that with no music blaring throughout a round, there are limited areas within the game for licensed tracks to appear and spending a lot on menu music doesn’t make much sense.
It’s hard to imagine UFC fans not getting something out of UFC 3 – after all, there aren’t really any other options. Were this an annualised franchise, I’d perhaps recommend waiting until 2019 as this feels like an entry that, with some more development time, could be all-encompassing. However, with a 2-year release cycle, there’s no reason for fight fans not to take the plunge right now.