EA Sports UFC 3 Shows How to Do a Sequel Right

We’ve written extensively about EA’s UFC games in the past as the franchise has delivered some of the most thrilling MMA action ever seen in gaming. EA had a lot to live up to, with Yuke’s UFC offerings bringing not only a murderer’s row roster-wise, but also featuring additions like a PRIDE mode and event creation that were leagues above of other MMA offerings at the time. EA MMA provided the best career mode of any MMA game, but suffered when it comes to in the cage action. EA’s first UFC offering was rough around the edges when it launched in 2014, but became a far more well-rounded offering after a series of patches and massive free roster updates.

Despite the work put in to make that a better game, it still felt like a rough draft. The game suffered from input lag that made the striking game difficult to properly time and the submission system remained needlessly complicated when prior systems in both EA MMA and the Yuke’s UFC offerings were just fine. The release of EA UFC 2 fixed a lot of the input lag issues, but kept the same submission system. The ground game was revamped to be far more user-friendly thanks to on-screen indicators letting you know when major transitions could be done and the game as a whole felt tighter than ever before. Head bobbing to avoid strikes was thankfully revamped and felt more like Fight Night than any prior UFC game had. Now, EA UFC 3 revamps everything about it and in doing so, changes the core game controls in major ways.

The right stick used to be your clinch activator – but now, it is used to bob and weave out of the way of incoming strikes. This makes moving and evading shots far more natural. You can see a big right head kick coming and immediately evade with a right stick duck before landing a series of punches. Doing so as Conor allows you to unleash a flurry of dominant hand jabs before either doing a big hook or even a head kick. The use of rumble for every strike landed makes them feel that much more effective – and this holds true for each shot you take as well. Rumble hasn’t been used well in many games over the past 20 years, but with fighting-centric games it can add a lot to the experience and that’s the case so far with EA UFC 3.

EA UFC 3 features dramatic improvements in the core fighting. Getting used to the revamped controls will take some time, but once you get used to the revamped button assignments, you’ll be knocking folks out. R2/RT blocks high, while L2/LT blocks low and L1/LB is your hit modifier. This is the button you want to press to land higher-power and also higher-risk shots. These blows can knock someone out in a single shot if they land flush, but a miss will drain you of your stamina. Lacking stamina will make you a sitting duck for shots and be a sure-fire way to lose in a hurry. The best strategy is to mix in jabs with higher-grade shots, while making sure to rest between flurries. Doing so allows you to get a healthy mix of damage in while also ensuring that you stay somewhat fresh for the later rounds.

Players of even EA UFC 1 and 2 will have an adjustment period — so even though moving from UFC 1 to 2 was fairly seamless, you’ll take a ton of beatings in 3 before getting the hang of everything. Once you do, though, it’s amazing how much smoother and realistic the action feels in UFC 3. Landing a major strike feels like an accomplishment, while playing defensively to avoid damage becomes the best way to avoid defeat as fighting with a balls-out approach is going to fail far more often than it will succeed thanks to the revamped head-bobbing system. Going in as a headhunter just means you’ll tire out faster and leave yourself vulnerable to whatever your rival wants to throw at you.

The EA UFC series has been beloved for its core gameplay, but its submission system has been a major issue. The convoluted gate system has been a way to get submissions — and an effective way to avoid them — but has made getting submissions needlessly difficult compared to every other MMA offering on the market. Now, you can choose between either the gate system or a button-mashing variant that has the AI do the motions for you if you hit the Cross/A button enough times. Having a turbo button controller for this would seemingly be ideal, but also be a game-breaking change for multiplayer action. Still, for single-player action, this change is a welcome one and makes it possible to actually play as a submission-oriented fighter without having to also master a ridiculous mini-game.

Even in an early beta form, EA UFC 3 looks gorgeous. The character models are full of more detail than before while bloodbaths bring a more visceral thrill to the action. Blood splatters on more parts of the fighters now, so opening up a big wound on a cheek can now spread that blood to not only the person who is sliced up, but also send it all over the gear and bodies of the rival. Animations are where the game truly shines, with each fighter having their own stance and unique animation for certain types of strikes. Conor hits a cross in a different way than Anthony Pettis and that is now fully-reflected in the game. The reworked animations mean that you can add in a bit more strategy and learn the specific timing of jabs for a certain fighter. The increase in swaying animations leads to fights feeling more natural and less like a series of moves, generally making things look more like a real-life fight that happens to be in a video game instead of a video game trying to replicate a real fight. The flow of combat is better now than ever before and while there are glitches in this early build, they should be fixed up when the game is finally released.

The loss of Mike Goldberg from the company has led to Jon Anik taking his place on play-by-play, while Joe Rogan is back on color commentary. Rogan’s voice is far less present here than in prior games, making Anik the dominant announcer, and as before, the commentary feels natural and far less pre-produced than other games. Anik is a fresh voice for the games and like in real life, he analysis fights in a more technical way than most commentators. It’s a bit surprising that his commentary style works so well for a video game, but it does and it should only get better for the full release with more fighters available and more kinds of fights available to play.

As it stands, the beta showcases a game that plays quite a bit differently than the first, which will likely make it a polarizing entry in the franchise for many. In its current form, the learning curve is higher than past entries, but also results in more rewarding gameplay. The revamped submission system also gives the game a more user-friendly approach, while the redone commentary furthers the feeling that this is a new entry in the franchise and not just a new coat of paint. EA Sports UFC 3 will be released on February 2, 2018 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Existing fans looking for an exciting new entry in the franchise should pick it up, while newcomers should enjoy it, but will need to spend time learning the ins and outs of the action to excel.