How exactly would you get ready to rumble? Put on your ‘mucky’ clothes? Ruffle up your hair do? Whatever you do though the one thing that rumbling certainly needs is preparation, and lots of. Because who knows what you’ll be doing once the man asks to ‘get ready’. There might be tumbling, grumbling, bumbling and most certainly a bit of tickling. Though in what order they may occur and what kind of severity no one really can ever know. So to train and be ready is the only thing you can do. Block off the weeks on the calendar, open up a pillow and ask your mum to start tickling your feet. Exposure is the answer and it is only when we fully expose ourselves to an idea than we can truly begin to get our heads around it. When you dive in full pelt with all the proper documents signed and in place it offers not only a certain amount of security, but also the knowledge that in this new place you will have the time to fully appreciate all of the delicate new things going on.
The problem is that all that preparation is sometimes just downright tedious. Like coming home to find all the stuff you thought you had washed up properly is still dirty and needs to be washed again. Practicing something sometimes is just not fun at all. But practice you must and when it is all out of the way, the glory of washing up once – and never coming back to it – is one of untold domestic revelry.
Now when it comes to sports games, Electronic Arts have had more practice than most. Indeed they are way ahead of those that now tend to behave like a grouchy old has-been trying to relive past glories through the fledglings of the new generation. EA has stuck to what is has known. Putting all of its practice to good use and making sure it attracts us to put the same effort into a game that they have. Now though EA are trying something different, they are for the first time hitting the Octogon with EA Sports MMA.
MMA or Mixed Martial Arts is in relative terms quite a new and emerging televised sport. Sure, men hitting each other is all part of our old age tradition of the drunk and the angry, but only until recently has someone had the genius idea to film the whole thing and dress it up so it looks pretty on TV. Most of you might know this as UFC or the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has already been crafted into a succession of titles from THQ. The difference between UFC and MMA is only slight, other than one has fair more exposure than the other. UFC being the WWE to MMA’s WCW.
It is not surprising that THQ hit on the pedigree format and seemed to gain popularity with UFC. A strong heritage in making games on the WWE franchise has bought with them acute knowledge of spectacle and design that people look for in a fight. However, UFC is a might bit more serious than wrestling as anyone who has seen that episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S will know.
So MMA is really nothing but direct competition to the status quo and indeed the heightened popularity of THQ’s previous UFC titles. EA are looking for another fight and they are going about it in all the right ways.
The first thing you’ll notice about MMA is that EA are not really stretching themselves that hard. Sure it looks pretty and everything from the character models to the presentation is how you would expect from a title from this team. However, there are really only two things to do from the menu screen; Fight Now (either online of off) or set up a new career. The strange thing is that neither of these options either is that deep in features either. It is the bare bones of a game. It feels like FIFA did fifteen years ago. Like a shop that has opened its doors far too early to customers who are expecting more.
What makes the shop floor feel even more isolated and untouched is that the fighting mechanics are lifted straight from Fight Night Round 4. Where the punches are thrown using the analogue stick and with a hold down of a trigger button, those punches turn to kicks. This is not to say that it is a system that doesn’t work, because it does and to great effect.
Punches and kicks really feel like they connect, and when you have an opponent at your mercy MMA feels as tactile and engrossing as a brawler should do. In turn punches are felt when bounced off your cheese box and your first responses are to run and hide in some corner of the ring. At times MMA is a great instinctive fighter where you look for your opening and time your punches to get the best effect, so far so Fight Night plus kicking.
With MMA though there is more to throwing the odd kick or two. There is also the important ‘ground game’ to work on. This is where most of MMA fights are won and lost. Get your opponent on the ground and they are ripe for a submission or a beating. Once things do hit the ground things start working at face value, with buttons becoming moves to shift position, resist or initiate submissions. It is a decision that works fine but does make the majority of fights end with a steady press of a button rather than perfectly timed swing of the fist.
On the whole though, fighting does remain the central success of MMA. The spectacle of the show is captured to the hilt. Bodies start off smooth and stark and meld into sweaty lumps of blood soaked grease. The commentary is also spot on, charting submission counts and take down attempts during the fight so you can accurately gauge how well you are doing based on how energetic the Americans get.
The issue though is that unless you choose the ‘Fight Now’ option you’ll not be doing much of the spectacular fighting at all. The career mode being the only thing you can really do in MMA is more focused with training than anything else. Before any fight you go through 8 weeks of the stuff which – including the hellishly long load times – can take up to half an hour to complete. To compound the situation like a tough bit of meat, the training takes no interesting form other than steady quick time events and repeating floor patterns or maneuvers. You can travel the world to learn different skills, sure, but these are mainly just the same skills presented in different accents.
It wouldn’t be too bad either if the skills you start learning and eventually pick up become useful when the spectacle finally turns up two months later. During my time with the game I never had one fight in career mode that lasted past the first round, and with each round lasting no more than 3 minutes, each victory felt hollow and undeserved. I wasn’t throwing any of the combos I had learnt, I wasn’t concentrating on the weak part of my opponent’s game, and I certainly wasn’t trying to get his stamina down before trying any big moves.
It starts to become clear that EA are dipping their elbow in the water. The training is all filler; the moves even though delivered precisely and in a tactile way are just too stilted to really feel fluid and graceful. This though is what real MMA is like. Some fighters train for months on end and sometimes a fight can be over in ten seconds. EA have certainly done a great job to capture that, but unlike in real life, MMA never lets the real star shine through and there are few times to develop as a true fighter.
What EA have really achieved is to charge full price for what could be a demo. It seems that they are prepared to take the financial and critical hit now to really start developing the game in future. I have no concerns that in a couple of year’s time MMA will be one of the best fighters out there, because you can see it dripping out of the pores of the title already, it’s just a shame that you have to deal with the game as it is for the foreseeable future. Until the team really get sweaty and get the best out of it, EA Sports MMA will still stink a little.
MLG Rating: 6/10
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Xbox 360) Release Date: 19/10/2010
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of MMA for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of five days on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.