Back in 2009, EA Sports decided that they wanted to try their hands at creating an MMA video game after the huge success of THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2009, but at that point we only had an announcement, not truly seeing any gameplay footage until November of that same year at a Strikeforce event. Over time, more and more game footage has been released to the public, giving a general idea as to what the game is going to be like, and what features would be present. There seems to be a very solid number of people with some form of interest in the game, but beyond that there are many who are very excited about the tile. However, as both a gamer and a fan of Mixed Martial Arts, I am not of that number in any way, shape, or form.
To be truthful to you readers, I’m not being dismissive of the title. There are several concepts in the game that are very interesting (such as the inclusion of Value Tudo and PRIDE rules depending on where you fight in the world) are there are a few fighters in the roster that may be very fun to play as. However, I tend to see the world in a way where everything must be weighed on a scale. The weights on each side are the positives and the negatives. Though the game looks solid from a graphics standpoint, and there are many additional features and ideas that could be excellent if executed well, there are some glaring negatives that are curbing my enthusiasm. So, let me present to you the top five problems that EA Sports MMA has.
Problem One – Terrible Commentary
Now this is only half of the fault of the developers. In a partnership with the promotion Strikeforce, it seems that they received the commentary team that Strikeforce has as well, sans Gus Johnson (which may be a good thing, considering Johnson’s inability to form a sentence when he’s excited). However, there are issues with the team of Mauro Ranallo and MMA legend Frank Shamrock, and the issue is that the two of them simply don’t have the dynamic of a team like Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, where they’re able to play off one another. However, a bigger issue on that front is that they could have included another MMA legend and commentator, Bas Rutten in the game as well. Beyond that, Randy Couture (one of the featured fighters) is also an excellent color commentator, and the lack of his presence is baffling as well. However, the biggest issue is that it seems like the commentary has a hard time keeping up with the action inside the cage/ring. At many points in all the videos of the game I’ve seen, when the action gets too intense, Ranallo and Shamrock will get about two steps behind, which pulls you out of the experience. It’s even more problematic due to the unpredictable nature of the sport. You don’t really want to hear someone talking about a sprawl when you just knocked someone out with a head kick.
Problem Two – The Striking looks fake
In a sport where many people enjoy seeing two men face one another down in a striking war and beat the tar out of one another, you don’t want your striking animations vacationing in the dead center of the uncanny valley, and that’s exactly where this game is sitting right now. When throwing a strike, a fighter in an MMA bout does not usually take a leaping step toward their opponent from halfway across the ring, mostly because that sort of thing is physically impossible. However, in the gameplay footage of EA Sports MMA, we find fighters literally leaping or sliding toward their opponent as they punch, almost as if they were fighting on a trampoline lathered in grease. Even more odd is evidently each fighter is a robot, considering he has the ability to home his punches in on his opponent. This, to be quite honest, makes little to no sense. There isn’t a single fighter on earth that is that accurate. However, I think the one element of the striking that confused me the most was how slow it was. In many MMA bouts, fighters will wing punches at one another at incredible speeds, but in all of the gameplay footage that has been released to the public, every fighter moves at about half the pace that they do when they actually fight, which is confusing to me. Why have all of the fighters in this game been replaced by oiled up sliding robots with slow homing missile punches?
Problem Three – Cage Navigation is Odd
Last time I checked, Fedor Emelienenko only moved at superhuman speeds in the minds of his most rabid fans, not in real life. However, in EA Sports MMA, fighters navigate around the area that they fight in with a surprising quickness. I’m not using the word surprising in the manner that I overestimated or underestimated movement. I’m using it in a manner that means “they can’t do that in real life.” With that clarified, it baffles me as to how EA Tiburon could get it so wrong. Why on earth is Randy Couture moving like Bart Allen (The Flash) inside of an MMA octagon? Beyond that, the animations have an issue with them as well. Though each animation is fairly well motion captured, they do not flow very well at all. In fact, there are very obvious start and stop points to each movement, almost looking like the fighter is being told what to do in an earpiece. The unfortunate thing here is that you can tell by watching the footage that a lot of work went into motion capturing transitions when it comes to the ground game, but with one goof like this, you can go from excellent to terrible in an instant. So far in this list, it seems that EA Tiburon has had a hard time making these fights seem real.
Problem Four – The Fights have no intensity
Mixed Martial Arts is a dynamic sport where every fight could end in a different way any time that two men (or women, in some cases) enter a cage or ring. A fight could begin with an intense striking battle, and then one fighter could feel desperate, shoot in for a double leg takedown, get caught in a triangle choke, and the fight is over. MMA is a very intense sport where anything can happen, and when trying to recreate the experience, that is one idea that should be at the front of the mind of any developer. However, Tiburon seems to have missed it, because it doesn’t seem like the fights in EA Sports MMA have any intensity to them. Aside from the aforementioned issues with the striking, when strikes connect they don’t seem to have much of an impact, making the striking look like an amateur sparring session in the worst kickboxing gym on the planet. Beyond that, when it comes to clinch work and grappling, it doesn’t seem like the fighters are really working that hard, or struggling in each position. Rather, it looks like they’re either practicing, or simply being much more affectionate than I’m comfortable to see two half naked men be. In a sport when two men come into the fight with the intention to either wear down, beat up, knock out, or submit their opponent, each fight should consistently have that intensity to it, and this game seems to be lacking it.
Problem Five – The Roster is Terrible
This is an area where EA Sports shot themselves in the foot from the get-go. Though they may deny it, it goes without saying that if an organization wants a quality sports title that they go to EA Games, due to the EA Sports Pedigree. Judging by EA’s past in the realm of business, it doesn’t surprise me that they foolish turned down a possible partnership with the UFC, which is (despite what many detractors may scream) the number one Mixed Martial Arts organization in the world, and really does not have a solid competitor. With this issue comes the issue of having a very, very weak roster. The game has about ten fighters in it that are of any relevance to their respective divisions, and beyond that, only four of them really have an incredibly strong fanbase (Couture, Diaz, Fedor, and “Mayhem” Miller). That’s not really a roster that sells a game. Beyond that, it seems like a sole partnership with Strikeforce is silly when they should aggressively approach several organizations such as Bellator, Dream, and Sengoku (though it is rumored that they’re attempting to work a deal with World Victory Road). Though you’ll never match the star power of a UFC game, at the end of the day you’d still have plenty of options for the player. Fifty six fighters is a very paultry number in comparison to how many established and up-and-comers there are in MMA today that aren’t under the UFC umbrella.
One of the many unfortunate things to see from a developer is to see them come up with several interesting concepts, but blow their potential due to several glaring issues, and mistakes made when putting all of the elements together. From where I’m standing as of right now, it seems that EA Tiburon may have made those mistakes, though at points the issues were beyond the control of the developers, and were mistakes that the publisher made. There are many things that I believe EA Sports MMA will do correctly, such as display MMA as a sport that has a worldwide effect and reach, and give an idea of exactly what it’s like to build up a career before becoming a big star and entering a big promotion, and how brutal the fights can be beforehand.
With all of that said, my prediction for EA Sports MMA is that they’ll introduce some new concepts into the mix when it comes to creating a game about the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, but at the same time will be brought down by the mistakes that they have made. The positive here is that developers do learn from competing games, and whether I’m wrong or right, games about the sport will continue to improve as time goes on. However, what I will say is that EA’s biggest mistake was putting EA Tiburon on this title, and not EA Canada, the team that brought us Fight Night Round 4.
Wishing they made a K-1 Kickboxing game instead
Don’t quite agree with what Micah C. has to say? You can ask him questions on his Ustream channel from 12:00 til 2:00 AM Central Time tonight!
-Not going to be able to stream tonight. I need to spend time recording for the next Cynic’s Corner.