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EA Sports UFC 3

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Feb. 2, 2018


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PS4 Review - 'EA Sports UFC 3'

by Cody Medellin on Jan. 29, 2018 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

EA Sports UFC 3 is the next installment of the MMA fighting franchise, and lets you step back into the Octagon with celebrities like Conor McGregor, Demetrious Johnson, Anderson Silva, and Joanna Jedrzecyk.

Buy EA Sports UFC 3

In 2014, EA Sports UFC felt like a proof of concept rather than a fully fleshed-out title, especially when compared to UFC Undisputed 3. A small roster and lack of game modes marred an otherwise promising start for the series, which was under new ownership. EA Sports UFC 2 rectified all of the major issues with a good number of modes, a packed roster, and some significant gameplay improvements. It was a big leap forward over the previous game, so some people are expecting EA Sports UFC 3 to follow that upward swing and deliver a top-notch MMA experience. The game makes some improvements but goes backward or staves off improvement in others, making it a title that stays the course.

When you boot up the game, you're greeted with a video chronicling the rise of cover athlete Conor McGregor as simultaneous champion of both the Featherweight and Lightweight divisions. Told with a combination of real and in-game footage, it works for fans of the controversial fighter and features various career highlights, like the Jose Aldo 13-second win. The video culminates in a fantasy match between McGregor and Tony Ferguson for title unification, which transitions into the now-familiar tutorial given via a full match, where you'll notice that a bulk of the combat remains largely the same as past titles.

Series fans will notice that the development team has once again tweaked the controls, forcing players to relearn a few things instead of being able to jump in instantly. For example, blocking is handled by R2 for high blocks and L2 + R2 for body blocks, with a well-timed body block used for catching kicks. R1 and L2 become strike modifiers, while it takes a combination of L2 and a direction to initiate a takedown. The bigger change involves the use of the right analog stick as your body lean. That change is significant, as it not only opens up your defense but gives you better positioning for setting up counterattacks.

The change also means that striking is a bigger focus of the fighting system. Though the stamina drain per move has increased, so has the damage, so pure striking is a more viable way of winning. Stuns from blows occur more frequently and give you a chance to unleash another hit or more combos. Feints are now available, so you can force an opening for a good hit, but a random big blow to stun the opponent and excite the crowd is more important due to these changes. The emphasized striking also means that individual body parts get more damage meters, and their ratings are lowered every time they take on sustained damage. This includes general blocking and individual leg damage, so you can end a fight pretty quickly if you deliver enough leg damage to prevent a player from standing, but you can also cripple yourself if your kicks keep getting blocked.

The focus on strikes means that the submission game remains largely the same, though those who didn't like the system will feel that it has gotten worse. The same right analog system is in play whenever you're on the ground or in a clinch, but instead of showing a preview of the moves that can be accomplished, you can't see it until you attempt them. The moves don't seem to respond to stick direction immediately, so the grappling system can feel like it suffers from lag. The gating system for submissions is back, and while it is clearer to read this time around, the amount of time that passes allows for easier escapes compared to executions. Interestingly, the game gives you the option to replace the analog stick gates with button-mashing, and while it isn't as elegant as the gates system, it feels more satisfying.

There are three main modes, and each has received some pretty significant changes. The various fighting modes remain largely unchanged, at least as far as Knockout and Fight Now are concerned. Online performance is stable when checked against a fairly sizeable pool of reviewers and EA personnel, and the performance in past games suggests that there shouldn't be an issue when the public joins.

With that said, the changes that have made it to the general fighting modes are certainly welcome. Tournament mode can be done with persistent damage in mind, so those longing for the old days of UFC can live out a small part of that. Submission Showdown has it so that you can only get a win via submission, but the emphasis on striking makes Stand & Bang more appealing, since you're essentially playing Knockout mode but without the hit goal in mind. There's also Custom Fight Now, which allows you to tweak certain mechanics like toughness and stamina, so those wanting a little more of an arcade experience can get it.

Introduced in the last game, Ultimate Team mode returns in largely the same format as before. You're still assembling a team, with each of the four fighters representing four different classes (Heavyweight, Middleweight, Lightweight, and Women's Bantamweight), with the goal of making each one a champion and having them retain the belt for as long as possible. Each performance gives you coins and XP for the team as well as points to take you to another fighting tier. Those who don't particularly care for online play can also play the mode offline, complete with separate ranking systems, as well as participate in special challenges for more coins.

The big change is that you can now use pros on your team alongside your created characters. While this change might seem rather unfair at first, it balances itself out by having several different rankings for the same fighter. For example, you might get lucky and get McGregor on your team, but your excitement will taper off once you learn that he's a bronze rank, and you can get the silver or gold version of him  if you get lucky in a booster pack. The pros can also rely on the cards normally reserved for custom fighters, so in a way, the pros are simply better-sculpted custom fighters rather than huge advantages.

Speaking of the booster packs, those afraid that the loot box phenomena that hurt recent EA titles like Need for Speed: Payback and Star Wars Battlefront II can rest assured that the microtransactions haven't changed from before. You can still use real money to buy the packs and specific cards, but you'll earn the in-game currency at a good enough clip that it doesn't feel like much of a grind. Leveling up the team also happens often enough that you'll earn a number of basic booster packs, and the premium ones aren't priced so high that they feel out of reach. Only the specialized cards are priced high enough that you might be tempted to pull out your wallet, but they only provide tiny advantages.

While the microtransaction/loot box mechanic seems like it's under control, the game's economy is still problematic. New to the game are tokens, which help you get the specialty sets of high-tier cards. Most of the tokens are earned daily, but it can take a while before you can trade those in for a wild card token. That's important since there are also three tiers of token values that can be obtained if you create them via some of the cards from booster packs. Those bronze, silver and gold tokens can only be created with specific cards of matching value, so although you can do something with duplicate cards, it also means that it's a new form of currency that you have to pay attention to. Furthermore, the champion versions of some fighters can only be obtained if you trade in gold versions of top-tier fighters. Overall, it feels like an unnecessary step, and it may be too cumbersome for some players.

Of all of the modes, Career seems to have gotten the bulk of the improvements. Dubbed G.O.A.T., the base still follows a formula of taking time to train for a fight, whether it's building up stamina and stats or sparring with a partner before the actual fight. You can still pick the gyms you want to train in for their character perks, but budget comes into play, since you have to make sure your weekly fees are covered. Your career starts off at the local WFA before progressing to The Ultimate Fighter and eventually the UFC itself, but you don't have to win every single match to reach the end. For example, you can lose a few WFA matches here and there, and while that means being passed over for The Ultimate Fighter, you can become an emergency sub for a UFC on Fox fight and jump-start your career.

New to the mode is the presence of a social media network. The system is rather basic, nothing more advanced than what was seen in NBA Live 18 a few months ago, so you're choosing from predetermined answers to shape your career. The game also gives you opportunities to promote a fight, giving yourself more recognition in the process. It seems like throwaway stuff until you realize that your goal isn't limited to winning a belt. Instead, the game throws out several different goals to help make you the greatest UFC fighter of all time.

The goal-based system of Career mode makes the whole thing interesting. Part of this comes from the fact that you have 12 different goals available, and you only need to accomplish eight of them to win. You might be terrible at submissions, but earning lots of KOs in the early rounds will help you out. Likewise, being good at helping a PPV earn big bucks while maintaining a large social media following pays off in the end. The result is a Career mode that feels somewhat freeform and makes it much more engaging than the expected title chase of past games.

EA touted some big improvements for the graphics and, to a degree, they're noticeable. The big improvement comes from the animations, which play at a more realistic speed than before. Even though you still have a few instances where the arc of the punch or the impact on a body part can look off, everything else looks much more realistic, from the transitions to the reactions and blocking. Elsewhere, the game remains the same as before, with excellent-looking character models that can get covered with all sorts of cuts, welts and blood while moving at a solid 30 fps that only dips during the transitions of the fighter's intros.

Mike Goldberg's departure from the company last year has meant that UFC on Fox commentator Jon Anik would handle play-by-play duties on the main pay-per-views alongside Joe Rogan. For the most part, Anik complements Rogan well on commentary, matching the excitement and overall tone that makes big hits feel significant. Unfortunately, the commentary has a tendency to call the wrong thing. They may note that someone is hobbling from repeated leg kicks, but sometimes, a hook is an uppercut. A combo to the face is called correctly, but a body punch might as well be a kick to the gut. The missed calls feel strange since the previous game got this part right. Luckily, the sound effects and the crowd keep the excitement going, and Bruce Buffer's delivery keeps the big fight feel intact. One pleasant surprise is that Snoop Dogg is the commentator for Knockout mode. It feels weird until you realize that the UFC gave him a commentary channel where he and Urijah Faber talk on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series. It may be strange for the uninitiated, but it's a nice change of pace.

EA Sports UFC 3 is a solid title that comes highly recommended for both die-hard UFC fans and those wanting to get into the series. Even with some fighters occupying several different weight classes, the roster count is huge, and it complements the improved striking system. The modes contain some depth and some twists that work well, while the presentation remains as good as it was before. The knocks against the submission system make it a little tougher for grapplers to deal some damage, and while the loot box system doesn't hurt the game as badly as the publisher's other titles, the additions to the economy seem extraneous. Overall, the combination of good and bad changes makes UFC3 a sideways upgrade rather than an essential one, especially if you're still deeply entrenched in the second title.

Score: 8.0/10

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