The explosion of the sport known as Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA for short, has led to nothing but continued success for UFC, the largest MMA organization. By proxy, the UFC line of games from THQ has also had some success and credibility. That doesn't mean that there aren't other organizations trying to get in on the action, and so far, one of the more successful ones is Strikeforce. Like THQ, EA is also trying to get in on the MMA video game business with its own game in partnership with Strikeforce, simply titled EA Sports MMA. This time around, EA isn't the pioneer in this particular sport but the underdog, making this a game that fans are genuinely interested in learning more about. EA had the game on display and playable on the E3 show floor this year, and from the brief play time we had, it looks like the development team at EA Tiburon, famous for its Madden NFL franchise, has a very good grasp of what to do with this new breed of sport.
With the basic elements being universal, there were a few elements that already stood out. The first, and most obvious, is the presence of meters. Depending on your position in the match, you'll see your fighter's energy meter, along with stamina and damage meters for some of the more important body parts. We didn't see an option to turn off the meters in the match nor did we get a chance to ask the producers if such an option exists, but it does become helpful if you're bad at reading body language.
The other difference — and the main focus of the demo — is going to be the control scheme. Those who are used to playing with the UFC series are going to have to re-learn a few things. Like the Fight Night series, the right analog stick is used to initiate different punches, and doing the same while holding the left trigger/L2 button initiates different kicks. Like the boxing game, different analog stick motions will yield different punch and kick types, so those proficient with EA's boxing titles will be able to pull off some slick combos immediately. The face buttons now take care of grappling as well as defense, and controller vibrations will give you a better sense of when to time your blocks so you can get up faster or block the takedown in time.
Submissions come with their own minigames designed to make the game more technical and less like a button-mashing/analog-twirling experience. Some submission moves ask you as the attacker to start applying pressure to make the opponent tap, and this is done by furiously tapping away at the given button. Likewise, the defender does the same in order to escape. Like the strikes, both offense and defense in a submission is governed by stamina, and less stamina means your fighter becomes less effective. This leads to more strategic button-mashing instead, as players will often try to figure out when to mash and when to wait for the stamina to recharge. For choke holds, the analog system comes into play, as both the attacker and defender fight to make the on-screen circle shrink or grow, respectively. To accomplish either task, players must twirl the right analog stick until they find the spot that makes the controller vibrate, changing the circle size. Getting the circle at its largest means you've successfully escaped while the circle at its smallest means you've lost the match since you just passed out or tapped out.
Due to the noise level of the show floor and the fact that the game wasn't being shown in a closed door setting, it was quite difficult to make out the sounds of the game. Graphically, though, the game looks terrific. The fighters all look like their real-life counterparts right down to the scars and tattoos. The same care has been crafted on to the referees and announcers as well. The animations are all pristine, and you can easily tell between a punch with no stamina and a punch delivered at full force. That same impact transfers over to the mat and in the clinch, where every strike looks painful; as we mentioned in our review, this is a shortcoming in the most current UFC game. We only saw one arena in the demo, but it looked great and the sway of the cage when pressed against the walls was already present in the build we were playing.
There were a few other tidbits of information we got from the game that we, unfortunately, couldn't try out for ourselves. On the demo reel running in the booth, we saw images of other arenas that not only had different mat designs but completely different ring designs as well. Some maintained the cage aesthetic of the traditional Strikeforce ring while others looked like the typical roped arenas you'd see in a boxing match or from the defunct Pride fighting organization. We were told that the different ring types aren't just for aesthetics since the ropes and cage act differently from each other, but only more time with the title would see if that holds true.
More promising, however, was the announcement made at the EA press conference concerning the online leagues for the game. For those who missed out, Live Broadcast will let you create your own fighter using EA Gameface and then let you videotape you delivering a taunt to the world. If you get chosen, your online fight will then be broadcast live to other players, complete with live commentary from the Strikeforce broadcast team. It sounds very ambitious and if it works out well, it could be the secret weapon that can turn the tide in their favor. One thing we could not confirm is whether or not the game would feature female Strikeforce fighters as well, since the demo only showed off seven male fighters. The organization has garnered some fame over the years for its female roster, and it would be interesting if they're included in the mix.
There's still some time left before MMA hits store shelves, but so far, it looks like it could be a worthy contender against UFC Undisputed 2010. It looks very polished from a graphical standpoint, and the ring variety will make every fight feel unique due to the strategies you can and can't use. The control scheme already feels more intuitive, and the promise of an online league of an unprecedented scale will certainly be something to anticipate, assuming it goes off without a hitch. Producers confirmed that a demo for the game will be coming to PSN/XBLA, but there isn't a solid date for it yet.
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