Xbox 360 Review

EA Sports MMA

A new challenger enters the ring

It's always intriguing when EA Sports picks up another event for its roster - while its developers are great at what they do and have honed each separate sport to near-perfection, initial releases can be rocky. When it comes to mixed martial arts (or MMA for short), EA also has THQ's mega UFC Undisputed series to contend with. Quite the challenge indeed - but EA Sports MMA isn't one to go down without a fight.

EA MMA may not have the presentation standards found in THQ's effort, but it definitely has the upper-hand where control and simplicity are involved. The button + right stick jabs and kicks are simple yet intuitive, while the clinches and grappling action provide exactly the right amount of depth. The career mode could have done with a little more variation, and there are some pretty shoddy frame-rate issues at times, but this is very much a UFC Undisputed beater.

There are two main options when getting started with MMA - the quick and to the point MMA 101 route, and the lengthy career mode. MMA 101 is good for those players who want to get right into the action, learning moves on the fly while delivering punches from the get-go. However, even those players who do choose to jump straight in will quite quickly opt for the career mode as their path to success, as it provides far more depth and a huge sense of progression.

Your career is carried along by the overenthusiastic MMA legend Bas Rutten who adds a certain, shall we say, 'personality' to proceedings. It's hard not to get into the game with a digital version of this guy barking into your ear and patting you on the back, and whether you're familiar with him or not, you'll certainly enjoy his wild mentality.

The game appears rather simple in execution initially. A series of tutorials walk you through the different punches, kicks, blocks, clinches and grapples, and the majority of moves are pulled off via a single button or stick press, or a steady anti-button-bashing back-and-forth between you and your opponent. Kicks and punching are all worked off the right-stick, with quick upwards flicks providing a jab to the face, while more sweeping motions put the full force of your glove into their jawbone.

Clinching and grappling is managed in an entirely different manner, via a series of buttons. Throwing your opponent to the ground, for example, takes just one button, then your subsequent options are carried out via three different buttons - one to keep your opponent in place when they're squirming, one to teach their face a lesson, and one to unlock and let them back on their feet.

All simple stuff, and yet the level of depth is extraordinary. There's such precision involved via sweeping movements of the right-stick, and it all feels remarkably tactical. The pins and ground work sound like button-bashing bonanzas, but that couldn't be more far from the truth - in fact, the idea is to press buttons rhythmically, as to keep your opponent at bay while maintaining your stamina bar. EA Sports MMA always gives off the feeling that you are in full control, and if you're getting destroyed, it's because your opponent has bested you - not that you could push buttons fast enough.

While it all feels great to play, you can sometimes find yourself stuck in a loop during ground moves, both when you are on top or being pinned. Getting out of a pin can be tricky, especially against tougher opponents, and showing the guy beneath you who's boss can sometimes be a slog too, as you attempt to keep him pinned and punch his lights out, while watching that stamina bar rise and fall sporadically. These are the areas when the game ventures out of its simplistic shell, and you can really feel the subtle yet daunting change.

Defense is also a huge part of EA MMA, although it is perhaps the one area in which the game is a little too simple. Holding the right trigger activates the block, bringing your fighter's hands to his face, while moving the right-stick will block in specific directions. However, when your opponent is bombard you with punches, it's hard to shake the impression that the CPU characters have a huge advantage where blocking shots is concerned.

Career mode is made up of increasingly difficult fights with training in between, as you go up the ranks and throw your punches in bigger venues. Like the fighting, your options are also simple yet immersive - every stats can be upped by training in that particular field, so if you need more power behind your punches, you can spend some training time throwing your fists against your gym mate, and so on. There's definitely a sense of repetition after the first few hours of play, but the majority of MMA fans won't notice it too much.

The level of customisation available really gives progression that extra edge. Everything from your fighting style to your fighter's size and look can be altered - in particular, the game is programmed to recognise hundreds of names, and announcers will call out your name as you enter the ring as long as its in the system. This customisation carries into the multiplayer too, where you'll barely ever meet another player who looks similar to your own. There's tons to do online, from quick fights to full blown 'Fight Card' nights with a group of friends, and full XP levelling up to earn belts and titles.

The action is backed up by some really lovely and gritty visuals, especially when you get further into the game. When you're surrounded by an arena of spectators watching you beat your opponent to the ground, there's a great sense of enormity about the occasion. The only downside is that a number of the cut-scenes suffer from frame-rate issues, especially the gym shots with our best friend Bas. Yet this slight issue doesn't next-to-nothing to mar the rest of the spectacle.

There's no doubting that EA Sports MMA is a contender, but is it better than UFC Undisputed? Yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen, we have a new champion! EA Sports MMA may prove a little too repetitive for some players later on, but for most MMA fans this is the ultimate fighting experience, putting the power directly in your fingertips. Undisputed? Not anymore, THQ.

85%
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