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‘EA Sports UFC 3’ review: More fluid striking a welcome improvement

Career mode is the best offering from a UFC video game yet, but the grappling system needs more time in the gym.

"EA Sports UFC 3" improves the series' standup combat over its first two releases. Photo Credit: EA Sports

It’s time to call EA Sports’ UFC franchise a contender, at last.

“EA Sports UFC 3,” which was released Feb. 2, makes big leaps over its 2016 predecessor in two key areas. While the series still has a way to go before it joins elite sports franchises such as EA’s “FIFA” and “Madden” or Sony’s “MLB The Show,” fans of the sport should enjoy what the newest entry has to offer.

The most important advancement brings new fluidity to stand-up battles. Fighters can now strike while moving forward, backward or laterally. The concept comes a few games late, but now that it’s here striking battles will more closely resemble a real MMA bout.

Controls for blocking strikes benefits from a slight button reconfiguration. Right trigger protects the head, while holding both triggers blocks the body or checks leg kicks. It’s a snap to switch from high to low blocks, injecting more skill into the defensive aspect of kickboxing exchanges. Just be aware that, at launch, the damage absorbed by having a kick checked is completely out of whack and needs to be patched soon.

Unfortunately, grappling systems are largely untouched from two years ago. An obtuse transitions system won’t be any easier to comprehend for most, so the bulk of players will continue to play the game as a kickboxing simulation. Until the development team at EA Canada can figure out a way to make its grappling system both fun and accessible, their “UFC” games won’t be able to rise to the championship level.

For those inclined to do away with any pretense of a full MMA contest, the new Stand & Bang mode is essentially the returning Knockout Mode (which boasts Snoop Dogg on commentary) without hit points. In other words, it’s more realistic kickboxing action. Those who love the game’s grappling — anyone? Bueller? — can play a Metamoris-style, grappling-only war on the mat. All are limited to local co-op, however.

At least the team finally broke through a ceiling by making major improvements to the “UFC 3” single-player campaign. Dubbed G.O.A.T. Career Mode, the mission is to guide a fighter from his debut and turn him into a record-breaking all-time legend of MMA.

The goal-oriented nature of the mode, which tasks players to set at least six in-cage UFC records and surpass two promotional benchmarks, brings definition to a mode that’s often felt like a grind until the point UFC president Dana White decrees the end of the line. The journey is more palatable, too, thanks to less time spent between fights playing boring minigames. Improving stats and promoting fights is as easy as navigating menus. Would career mode benefit from more personality? Definitely. Still, “UFC 3” offers the best career mode in MMA game history, for whatever that’s worth.

Ultimate Team is back with more offline gameplay options, but it remains unclear why anyone would choose to play as a stat deficient version of a mid-tier fighter instead of a fully realized Conor McGregor or Max Holloway. The mode satisfies EA’s need to include microtransactions in all their competitive games, and not much else.

While “UFC 3” remains an imperfect vessel for experiencing life in the octagon from the safety of the couch, it’s the first entry in the five-year partnership between sports gaming’s top publisher and MMA’s foremost promotion that deserves the attention of even non-UFC fans.

Available now

“EA Sports UFC 3,” published by EA Sports and developed by EA Canada, is out now for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, $59.99

3 stars

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