EA’s turn on the UFC license has been a mixed bag so far. The visuals, depth of licensing and disdain for button-mashing garnered praise across its first two efforts. However, the attempts at working grappling and submissions into specialised mini-games left a lot to be desired; terms like ‘confusing’ and ‘awkward’ were common. UFC 3 improves a little in the series’ strongest areas and somewhat addresses its shortcomings.

UFC 3
Measured aggression will have your opponent on the back-foot or the mat quickly but you need to make it count

Kicking Off

UFC 3 is a stunning looking title. Each fighter, male and female, looks exactly like the real thing complete with their signature moves, victory dances and general gait. The game is mesmerising to look at, the characters moves naturally as if they have weight. The octagon and the surrounding area are rendering flawlessly with a rowdy crowd observing. These details and the signature EA Sports TV-perfect presentation leave quite the first impression.

UFC 3
It’s basically McGregor on TV via the uncanny valley

The sparring controls are intuitive and flexible in UFC 3. There are a wide range of attacks and blocks. Each shot needs careful consideration as stamina conservation and maintaining balance are integral to success. Constantly kicking will have you on the mat, under the other fighter’s thumb in no time.

Submissions come in two varieties – too easy to have people use online or nigh-on impossible vs remotely capable AI

Combo Harvesting

A new combo system has been implemented in which players can pick and choose between combo sets for each fighter. As players level up, more of these combo packs will be available and there is a large number to choose from in each striking style. In the actual fight, landing a longer combo can be difficult with the opponent constantly trying to interrupt or just falling/leaning away. But keeping to simpler combos after breaking someone’s guard or tiring them out is both effective and incredibly satisfying.

UFC 3 now includes a dynamic weight and stance system in its combat – players can weave, dodge or lean with the right stick. It feels realistically connected with your balance and centre of gravity so a player can intuitively manipulate their opponent for a chance at  takedown or combo etc.

UFC 3
Timing, smart use of space and good decision-making are needed for the money-shots

While it will take some time for the necessary discipline to emerge; being conservative with your stamina will aid you in the less intuitive areas of the game. Grappling is overall much better than previous efforts and allows players to manipulate themselves to various positions and stances with relative ease, after the tutorial. Submissions come in two varieties – too easy to have people use online or nigh-on impossible vs. remotely capable AI.

someday, maybe, the ground games of UFC won’t need to be cordoned off from n00bs. Someday…

Back to the Gym

Players should really take the tutorial. Even if they have played Utah Fried Chicken series before, the revised grappling and submission systems will not come naturally to players.

Grappling is functional and accessible after some basic education

While I managed it myself, I have spoken to healthy adults who couldn’t finish the default submission tutorial – default subs can be that bad. In fact, the default submissions are so obtuse that I never escaped one nor completed one against the AI in a proper game yet almost never lost one against human players. The offline submissions in UFC 3 can be switched to a button-mashing mode but you will be cast adrift online if you stoop to it – way too easy.

Grappling isn’t nearly as bad, a player will attempt to manoeuvre their opponent into a position where they can best attack or defend. But as already stated, you need the tutorial or someone who knows what they are doing will annihilate you.

There are options to play games with only striking or grappling and submissions – likely to placate those who never get the hang of the different systems. This is an effective compromise but someday, hopefully, the ground games of UFC won’t need to be cordoned off from n00bs. Someday.

Each bout feels ‘big’, our spare time between fight-nights feels important and measured decision-making pays off

Career-focused

Until now, EA Sports had really never carried their career pedigree from their other sports series into UFC. Thankfully, UFC 3 has finally caught up with every other sport in EA’s stable in this respect.

Player Name is my player’s name; so what?

Our choice of fighter works their way from the bottom, through the undercard and all the way to top billing in a deep and rewarding career. In between fights, the player will choose to train, hype their fight or rest up. This simple decision-making cycle adds a lot of agency to the mode.

The learning curve isn’t too steep to begin with. Early on, each of the fighter’s opponents will have a different style to make sure your skills are well-rounded. As the larger fights open up, the bigger names will sometimes try teach you, the newcomer, a lesson. These big egos will try overwhelm you and they will often succeed. But these tactics afford you the chance at a big upset if you can keep your stamina and hit when the storm has passed.

Players have certain optional goals for their current contract, fulfil them all to progress much faster

Each bout feels ‘big’, our spare time between fight-nights feels important and measured decision-making pays off. UFC 3 has the career mode we have been waiting for.

Exactly Like Anderson Silva But Without Multiple Bans for Doping

The generous offering of modes and modifiers to be found in UFC 3 give it a longevity it just shouldn’t have. Aforementioned striking-only bouts or the furious KO mode are arcade fun online or on the couch. While the complexities of the full-bout experience are hard to master – a full range of skills is catered to. Just like in real UFC, a player can succeed with practically any area of expertise.

Plenty of content to tease a series of 10-15 minute fights out to a few months

Similarly, the online section has legs. And not only due to the single-fight adjustable rules and parameters – UFC Ultimate Team, while not up to par with crack-like FIFA Ultimate Team, is very involving.

In UFC:UT, players gather a team of four real-life fighters and through online clashes or competitions they earn coins or sometimes special cards. Cards are used to adorn your fighters with new skills, buffs or visual customisation while coins buy more cards.

This games idiot is not a fan of loot boxes but in this context it is largely acceptable. In-game currency can buy you what you really want so relying on gambling is not necessary. However, the items can be expensive.

Assuming the position for pain

There is also a bit of a disconnect between your stable of fighters. Other than being contracted to you and having ‘chemistry’, they don’t really function as much of a team. The chemistry system is just a small buff for fighters with complementary traits. The entire team aspect just feels hollow compared to its squad-sport peers.

Title Fight

EA Sports UFC 3 is a faithful digital slice of the real thing. Superb presentation and the typical EA Sports’ attention to detail make for an immersive simulation.

UFC 3 is commendably difficult to master, asking players to ‘git gud’ rather than lower the bar too much. From its satisfyingly brutal striking game to its less satisfying groundwork, nothing feels cheap. An exacting stamina and weighting system punishes the foolhardy while rewarding clever and considered play. With a delicate balance of its fighting-styles, this game has depth and challenge that will keep fans hooked.

Xbox One review code provided by publisher