EA Sports MMA Review (Xbox 360)
My shins sore and calves tired, we began sparring -- practicing the technique from the lesson of the night. Putting any apprehensiveness to rest, I took a combo to the face that smashed my cheek off my black rubber mouth guard. Whoa. With that out of the way, I’m ready to continue my studies in Muay Thai with a new-found confidence. I flashed a smile for a second, shook my head and went back at it.
Journeying into the world of MMA has provided me with an inside perspective to review the new EA Sports MMA title from EA Tiburon. And while we both may be new to the sport, we have something in common: fundamentals.
EA Tiburon firmly grasps mixed martial arts, and the developers have created their own interpretation of the sport, which in this case is a technically sound fighter with innovative gameplay design. This is a representation of MMA at its finest.
Gameplay - Strike to Pass, Pass to Strike
EA Sports MMA has licensed professional Strikeforce fighters and MMA fighters from around the globe. The game breaks down a broad array of disciplines in MMA into a variety of ratings categories, creating a chess match between fighters in the ring.
The different strengths of each fighter shine through, and each matchup offers a unique look and feel based on both the fighter’s ratings and expertise. The approach of the two users in control of the fighters makes the game.
It’s a very technical game. Clean kicks and fundamentally sound strikes are ripped off with ease on the dual sticks. Every position is clearly defined, and there is a basic system in place for each.
The game boasts a simple control scheme designed to balance each discipline out with strengths and weaknesses. From height and reach to strength and quickness to fast hands on the inside pitted against a stand-up game with great kicking range, the matchups truly become fascinating and a joy to play out.
Abusing strikes or ground passes will work against you because parrying opponents will quickly deplete your current stamina. On defense players either have to block passes or counter strikes while on the ground. You may not block a ground pass while the right rigger is engaged. It’s a balancing act to block damaging strikes while avoiding dominant positions of opponents.
The Art of Striking
EA Sports MMA takes advantage of the Total Strike Control that debuted in the Fight Night series. Building from these controls, kick modifiers, foot work, slips and parries are mapped to capture the freedom MMA fighters have in the ring.
There is a solid foundation to the stand-up game here. The ability to dash in and out plays into the stand-up strategy of finding your fighter’s kick range and striking reach. This is especially important because each fighter has different disciplines and skills.
My recent studies in Muay Thai allow me to critique the motions of some of the fighting stances, foot work and strikes in the game. I believe the animation design in this title is fundamentally sound. Fighters pivot and plant smoothly, and they naturally return to fighting stances -- all the while bouncing on the balls of their feet. It’s quite beautiful to watch in action.
The kicking animations are done especially well. A missed kicked results in a pirouette by your fighter before returning to his stance. Receiving a strike while up on one leg after a missed kick will send fighters wheeling back as they attempt to regain their balance, which also reveals one of the few branching animations in the game.
This fighting game is animation-driven. There are both pros and cons to this direction.
Throwing a punch will execute a full animation of your strike. After resetting, you may wish to throw again, thus making combinations difficult to chain together because you have to wait to complete your punch animation. The difficulty here is your opponent will undoubtedly counter, so you will want to hit him when he leaves an opening.
There are not many branching animations here to work with. In my opinion, the striking could use a bit more responsiveness to it. The time it takes for a fighter to throw, come back and reload takes precious milliseconds out of my hands for a quick counter strike.
The same situation occurs when slipping strikes in the pocket. In Fight Night Round 4 slipping a punch allowed for some well-timed counters, rewarding gamers who noticed the incoming punches. In EA Sports MMA slipping and parrying animations must be completed before any new animation is thrown. This sequence resets both fighters to their basic stance, taking the advantage away from great defense.
Another frustration is collision-detection issues. At times two fighters will throw a strike at the same moment. One fighter may throw a kick just within range, and another fighter may simultaneously throw a hook. Inherently, the kick should connect, but sometimes the animations clip or collide with no detection, damage or even response from the fighters being struck.
With that being said there are also pros to the striking animations. Combos are not impossible, and this animation engine nails the feel of real MMA stand-up: Every movement must be tactically and thoughtfully planned out.
Each step to the left or right, every slip, every strike and every pass must be calculated. At any moment you can get caught and be on the defense while trying to survive the round.
Predicting what the opponent will throw will prep you to land a deadly strike upon your opponent's opening. You can ask Anim8or on the forums about my flash knockouts on him. Taking his Middleweight belt in an online bout, I dropped him with a precisely placed and timed right cross as he opened up to attack me.
Ground Game and Submission Battles
The combat is designed around two major factors that work in concert: stamina and ratings. Every movement requires energy on your fighter’s behalf, and an exhausted fighter is susceptible to being knocked into a gray state of confusion. A blocked strike or denied pass in the ground game will only tire your fighter and create better odds for your opponent to execute his game plan.
During my own training stamina has played an important role in my ability to stay technically sound. Defense can be much more tiring than offense. I found denying and fighting through a Muay Thai clinch to be a heavy battle all by itself.
The game captures these dynamics, depleting the overall stamina bar and current energy bar at varying levels based on the animations taking place.
The ground game and clinch will be more exhausting to a fighter’s overall stamina bar. Parrying a combination will deplete the yellow temporary energy bar, but it will not influence the fighter’s overall stamina as much.
You can begin to see the depth of this title by breaking down each strike and body movement to an exact science of the human body. This is kinesiology being applied to simulate a player model’s movement and responses in the game in real-time. The best part is the visual feedback from tiring fighters in the form of weaker punches or even blood and sweat falling from the brows of fighters.
EA Sports MMA gameplay designer Victor Lugo and I spoke recently about how both ratings and stamina are blended. "You may have a few seconds to deny a transition if your a fighter is really skilled," says Lugo. "If your stamina is low, you would only get half of that time, which makes a big difference in terms of being able to deny, especially if your stamina is halfway. That means that you are going to only have…milliseconds to deny."
In the ground game, there are two types of submissions that will launch you into mini-game submission battles: choke holds, and arm and leg submissions. These particular situations have been designed with visual cues that provide immediate feedback in the ring, and a control scheme that is easy to understand. These submissions can provide users with some great battles, and they will dig deep to test a player's skill and knowledge of the game.
The ratings make a significant difference. Recovery ratings influence how fast the bar replenishes. "The Progress that I make per mash will be significantly better than the progress you make per mash [if] my submission rating is higher," says Lugo.
Considering all these factors, EA Sports MMA inevitably trains fighters to be precise and execute a game plan. It’s vital to know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, know the strengths and weaknesses of your fighter, and you must know your own stick skills.
All you can see is the blackness overcoming your peripherals as the choke hold becomes stronger. Blood and sweat swish together and fall to stain the canvas, displaying your heart and chin ratings. The choke becomes tighter, the crowd fainter, but you don’t panic. You wait patiently in one position to momentarily regain stamina, and at just the right moment you find the sweet spot to exploit and escape.
The presentation and visuals in this game blend well with the gameplay. Immediate feedback is provided in submission battles, such as the example above describes. The camera moves well with the fighters to bring you inside the ring, providing a perspective to view your opponent's throws more clearly; this aids you in parrying and blocking.
There is a lack of signature style -- almost all animations are the same for each man. In addition, motion capturing was only done for a few prominent fighters.
To me, this is unacceptable for a sport that is based on individuality, and a title that is not incredibly deep with its roster. These fighters should be customized to perfection, all the way down to their facial expressions. There are only three player models on the screen at once at all times: the ref and the two MMA fighters.
Dialogue between Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock is almost nonexistent. Shamrock chimes in from time to time but offers nothing in terms of the history of the sport. I want insight into the sport from a fighter who has been in the cage. I want stories about training around the world, and anecdotes about the character of these fighters that will bring them to life. It’s just not here.
The rings and cages feel authentic. When you fuse the sound design with the different elements and collisions occurring in the ring, you can begin to feel the pain of your fighters.
The game can be a brutal sight to behold. Blood drips to the mats, staining the canvas maroon for the remainder of the fight. Sweat glistens and drips fly after each punch to the head. Bruising occurs with repeated strikes, and the crowd jumps up at the sign of danger in the ring, which builds the intensity.
Sending you off on your own journey, the game will train you to fight with discipline and precision in an RPG-influenced Career mode. Travel across the international waters in your MMA studies and immerse yourself into the rules, origins and basics of each martial art. Brazil, Japan, England, USA and Thailand all represent different fighting styles.
While testing your skills against the world, you will encounter AI that feels a bit scripted. To counter this, the game will provide a good challenge on Legendary difficulty, and the game can stay fresh with the many ways to customize your characters. You can also create your fighter with Photo Game Face, similar to the Tiger Woods series.
The training sessions could use some more variety. The developers could have added different equipment for your fighters during sparring or something new besides a punching bag. After all, we’ve seen it all before in Fight Night.
Overall, it’s a fun mode. Jumping from league to league internationally and competing for different belts brings freedom to your path to greatness, but there is a lack of innovation here. The bottom line is the Career mode sticks to the script of every other career mode out there, even with its global approach.
The training facilities you visit around the world all look and feel like authentic international gyms. To take this Career mode to another level, I would recommend full functionality of your fighter to walk around the facilities to choose the exercises. Provide a third-person perspective and check what the facilities have to offer.
In my own gym, literature can be found on the history of Muay Thai, which I have enjoyed checking out. Immerse gamers into the country and the origins of these disciplines, and we will be talking about a game of the year contender right here.
This is a multiplayer game at heart. Taking this game online will add some lasting appeal. I find myself testing my skills against a variety of fighters and disciplines. I also like to see how well I adapt to the different strategies I come across.
However, there will be frustrations. The game is very slow to match up fighters in a quick match, and sometimes the game freezes.
After a number of fights, I have come across a few abuses in the online community. Gamers are switching to the Classic control scheme, which allows you to throw hooks upon hooks with ease. It’s very difficult to take on a created fighter with high take-down defense, an incredible reach and Muhammad Ali quickness in the stand-up game.
Body punches have also been abused because they seem to be the punches that can be chained together most effectively. It’s very hard to handle opponents online using these abuses. Fortunately, the development team at EA Tiburon is already discussing how to address these issues.
Online has some innovative features, my favorite of which is viewing the fight history of anybody on the leaderboard. You can go in and watch anybody’s last five matches for some much needed scouting.
Another nice feature is the fight cards. Gamers can join a lobby, put a fight card together and talk through their headsets while their friends battle it out.
Ultimately, you are going to enjoy this game in the multiplayer arena because it's all about testing your skills and knowledge of MMA against every new contender you come across.
There is so much depth here behind all the variables that come into play. It’s truly a ratings-driven title.
EA Tiburon has designed a grappling and striking system superior to THQ’s titles, a company that has been developing wrestling/fighting games for years. Fight fans everywhere will enjoy this title.
This game captures the true essence of MMA combat. EA Sports MMA will leave you holding your breath while you fight to survive in the ring.
In the Ring: The game is fundamentally sound in a variety of popular disciplines. The game's direction was meticulously thought out, and the result is a fun and balanced fighter.
Visuals: The game’s camera angles bring you inside the ring, aiding you in your pursuit of finding openings as you try to escape difficult situations as a fighter. Player models look realistic, and the ring feels authentic.
Sound Design: The commentary is stale. Crowd reactions will build the intensity of your fights. There are not enough sound effects from the fighters inside the ring.
Learning Curve: There are a variety of ways to approach a fight. Learning all of the moves will take time.
Entertainment Value: Each fighter is unique in his own right, and so is each gamer. Finding fighters to suit your strengths as a gamer can be quite rewarding.
Online: Online and multiplayer in general will carry this title for a long time. You can compete for belts online and test your skills and strategy against other top contenders. It has not gotten old for me yet after 100-plus fights online.
Score: 8.0 (Very Good)