EA Sports MMA review – the manliest hugs on the planet

Kick! Punch! It’s all in the grind. VGD lays a score on EA Tiburon’s strapping grappler. PS3 and Xbox 360 versions tested.

By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, October 20, 2010

There are two control sets available: Total Strike Control, whose analog stick strikes will be familiar to players of Fight Night Round 4, and Classic, which pins strikes to the face buttons and saves the stick for ground transitions and grapples. I found the former allowed for a more precisely defined stand-up bout, but both are workable. Distinguishing stick inputs is difficult even towards the middle of a fighter’s operational life (a full career should last you a solid 10 hours), particularly when it comes to uppercuts, but this is actually a blessing in disguise, as it discourages spamming and helps you conserve your stamina.

Besides head, leg or torso health, stamina is your highest priority as a fighter. Rattle an opponent’s guard with indiscriminate blows, and before long you’ll be a gasping, uncoordinated mess. Your fists will move like they’ve been tethered to the floor with elastic bands, legs oozing and wobbling under you like butter on a sunbed, chin sagging suicidally into the path of each counter-blow. If you’re on the ground, you’ll find yourself unable to stop the other guy easing his way into a match-winning position, unable to do more than slap weakly as he seizes your leg and practices making balloon animals with it.

Oh blast, I've dropped my keys.

EA Sports MMA is more punishing in this regard than Fight Night Round 4, mainly because there’s a latent, shifting rock-paper-scissors relationship between styles which ensures that as you gain ascendancy in one department, you’re leaving yourself open in another. At one point I landed a stunning hook on the CPU at the tail end of a blisteringly scientific combo, only for the other man to lunge drunkenly into a takedown that squashed out my stamina reserves, costing me the match.

It’s a surprisingly thoughtful game, for all the thumping bass and slow motion cascades of expelled dribble, one that ranks timing and careful observation well above brute input overload. Fights can be incredibly short-lived, especially in heavier divisions; you’ll spend most of the time preparing for them, solidifying plans of action against trainers who mimic the next opponent, gradually unlocking new regimes or special moves at exotic gyms. And, admittedly, sitting through a whole Windows install’s worth of loading animations.

Online, you can slug your way up the leaderboards to a belt (which you’ll then be called on to defend) or create 10-player tournaments (“Fight Cards”) for your friends, stepping into the shoes of either your career character or a prefab. Opponents are scarce at present, for obvious reasons, but whenever I managed to get into a match, the net code seemed solid. Full replays, highlight reels and even custom fighters themselves can be saved and shared.

Get clocked mid-kick, and you'll be terrifyingly off-balance.

But the bigger attractions by far are EA Sports Live Broadcast matches. These are streamed over console networks and web portals, complete with commentary from dev team members and real-life ring-masters. To qualify, you’ll need to stir some buzz by cobbling together and publishing a montage of choice smackdowns and knock-outs on the official site. The addition doesn’t really alter the fact that all you’re doing is earning ranks, but playing a match back, hearing the pros read your tactics, is a bit of a treat. I assume so, anyway. I’m not there yet. Here, watch Kotaku “take on” Yahoo! Games.

EA Sports MMA is a deep, well-rounded, well-structured sim, chewy enough to keep a veteran of the genre occupied but not so chewy that laymen will bounce off. I can confidently say that I have never given more nor more solemn attention to the male form than I have in the past two weeks. And if that isn’t a point in the game’s favour, I don’t know what is.

8 out of 10

Read our score guide here.

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