Close to two years after the release of UFC 2, EA has released its sequel. UFC 3 is a console exclusive, now available for PS4 and Xbox One. We playtested it on Xbox One for this review.
I never played the original UFC game, but remember being a little overwhelmed when playing the second one. I’ve been playing fighting games for decades, but they’ve mostly been of the Street Fighter, Tekken, Marvel vs Capcom or Mortal Kombat variety. I had also played quite a bit of Fight Night, so I figured I’d settle into UFC fairly quickly. Turns out I was wrong – diving right in, I often found myself losing, and every win felt lucky. Practice makes perfect, but in UFC 2’s case it took me more time than I was expecting.
Despite their brutal outward appearance, these UFC fights have a great amount of tactical depth to them and you can’t just go in slugging. I did, and found my stamina dropping faster than most of Mike Tyson’s early opponents. Managing your energy is key, as an early knockout is – especially at first – not likely. Playing UFC 3 now, I immediately understood why Conor McGregor didn’t last in his boxing match against Floyd Mayweather as well – it’s an explosive sport, but even when you divide your energy well you eventually run out of steam.
Besides managing your energy levels, you also need to factor in your opponent’s style. Face off against someone who charges at you or keep his/her distance by throwing jabs, and you’ll want to sidestep to catch them off guard. Do the same thing against an opponent with a strong and quick hook and you’ll suffer for it. The same dynamic comes into play when you look at ground-based versus stand-up play, where you’ll want to prevent heading to the floor with a strong wrestler. UFC 3 captures these subtleties in a great way, giving even gamers who aren’t fans of the sport an appreciation for it.
UFC 3 controls differently from its predecessor, and the biggest reason for that is the dynamic striking system that’s been implemented. It emphasis counter striking over parrying, and lets you do so from nearly any situation. By comparison, UFC 2 feels relatively static, since now you can pull off attacks while on the move much easier – something that also feels and looks much more realistic and fluid.
Besides making the game more realistic, this change to the stand-up game also makes it both more complex and more fun to play. I still had to re-educate myself on the stamina management front, but without a Fight Night game for about seven years this is easily the most fun I’ve had with a combat sports simulation in a long time.
Part of that is because of the game’s inclusion of several new game modes. There are knockout and ‘stand and bang’ modes for those who enjoy the (kick)boxing aspects of the game more than the ground game – with knockout mode now featuring commentary by Snoop Dogg. Yes, it’s exactly what you’d expect. If you’re the opposite and prefer getting down on the floor, then there’s a submission mode as well. Besides the option to eliminate aspects you don’t enjoy, these modes also provide training opportunities for styles you haven’t yet mastered.
After raving about the stand-up game, it’s probably no surprise that I wasn’t as big a fan of the ground game in UFC 3. It feels relatively similar to UFC 2 in that it offers you the chance to change positions, escape an opponent’s hold on you or even turn the tables on him. My problem with it is that it always feels like I’m not fully in control – the outcome is usually decided by pressing the right direction at the right time. In single player you’re aided by prompts (which almost makes it feel like a QTE), but in multiplayer these visual prompts are eliminated – turning it into a bit of a guessing game. It’s a stark contrast to how deep and direct the controls are during the stand-up game.
UFC 3’s career mode, however, is excellent. It doesn’t yet offer the kind of cinematic experience that we’ve seen in FIFA or NBA 2K, but you have a ton of freedom to shape your fighter’s career as it develops. Choosing the right gym depends on your preferred style, but once you commit you still have plenty of options. For every week in the game you get to divide 100 points between improving your stats, learning new moves, promotional activities and learning about your opponents during a sparring session. It’s a lot of fun to play, and makes for some good replay value as well – you’ll also find that you start making different choices the further you advance through the ranks.
One mode that didn’t quite gel with me was Ultimate Team, which is a different kind of career mode where you take a team of four fighters and try to advance their careers by improving their skills and set of moves. These can only be acquired through cards that you can collect by completing in-game challenges and earning credits. Or…. by buying these credits yourself, using real life money. I’m not against microtransactions, but feel like they should be optional in terms of properly enjoying a game. With UFC 3, your progress without using extra cash is painfully slow and takes away from the enjoyment of what could otherwise be a fun experience – there are, after all, plenty of ways in which you can earn new credits (and thus cards). Perhaps this balance will change with a future patch, but for now Ultimate Team felt like a grind and had me moving back to the regular career mode pretty fast.
Luckily, as a feature-rich package with highly detailed fighter models and a great stand-up game, UFC 3 is still well worth playing. I hope the ground game will receive an update in a future sequel and that Ultimate Team gets “fixed”, as that could push the score up by about half a point I’d say. Nevertheless, it’s a definite improvement over UFC 2.