Mixed martial arts, in particular the UFC, is something that’s ever-evolving, and it seems this year, UFC 3 attempts to capture that essence. While 2017’s UFC 2 came close to being a perfect knockout punch of a game, UFC 3 seems to load up and swing for the fences, landing some blows but staggering in its last-ditch attempts of being the best combat sports game out there.

UFC 3’s largest change by far is its new striking system that abandons many of characteristics of UFC 2 and improves on button layout and combat fluidity — alterations old players of the franchise will quickly come to welcome and new players will appreciate. The right analog stick, for instance, now controls your fighter’s head movement, allowing you to weave and duck to dodge incoming strikes and piece together combinations of your own. It’s also a lot easier throwing kicks and punches while on the move, meaning you can pop jabs through your opponent’s guard by moving off the centre line (when you’re standing directly in front of them, that is). My favourite addition to new striking system, however, is the new strike cancelling, which allows you to negate any strike by hitting the high block during the strike initiation. This means you can throw some deceptive feints or completely block a strike if you think you’re out of range or see an incoming takedown.

The effects of timing your strikes and throwing feints to create openings really comes into play with another new feature in UFC 3’s striking: stopping power. Stopping power is a factor that affects strikes when they are landed on an opponent who may be in the middle of throwing his or her own strike, thus interrupting their jab, reducing its damage dramatically, or rocking the person in the process. The new feature also impact your opponent’s momentum in movement, meaning you can halt someone’s forward advance with a stiff jab or stop an incoming takedown with a well-timed uppercut. UFC 3 also does a greater job of dealing with frame advantage on varying strikes.

Essentially, this means low-damage strikes hold less risk to leave you open and to be countered in comparison to higher-damage moves like a flying knee, which leaves you very vulnerable if you fail to land. This is a real noticeable change, especially if you’re used to UFC 2’s system, which didn’t punish the spam of crazy moves like spinning back kicks. The revamp of the striking system really takes UFC 3 realism to the next level, as timing and range become much larger factors to consider.

Unfortunately, UFC 3’s ground game and submissions don’t get the same thoughtful treatment as its striking. Largely, the same issues in the last game linger here, with the ground game entirely dictated by two buttons on your controller. As a result, it feel more like a quick-time event than actual gameplay.

My frustration with UFC 3’s ground game continues with its lack of feedback and communication, as the game does a poor job of telling you what you’re exactly doing right and wrong on the ground. One moment I’m on top, postured up, landing mean ground and pound; the next, I’m on the bottom with zero stamina, trying to fend off an armbar.

On the flip side, UFC 3’s career mode makes leaps and bounds from the last installment in the franchise — this time largely scrapping the annoying mini-games that filled your time between fights, and replacing them with a time management system that makes it much more enjoyable to level your character up. In between fights, you’ll decide what gym to train at (each gym focuses on different areas of the fight game), and then balance your time there improving base stats, upping your fitness in sparring and training with other rostered UFC fighters to learn new perks and moves, or promoting your upcoming bout. You have a limit of 100 resource points and four weeks of training here, though, and each gym requires a buy-in fee as well as week-to-week fees, so you’ll have to make hard choices on when and how to train. Be careful, as each decision carries a potential risk, like overtraining, wear and tear, and lingering injuries that can affect you in your fight.

Like the training, UFC 3’s A.I. within the Career mode also has its ups and downs. Some A.I. in career mode pose a fair challenge, but others, especially those in a title shot, are nigh unbeatable. Stand-up fighters rock you with the quickest of strikes and never stop marching towards you. Wrestlers don’t budge in stamina at all, and once they get you in a submission, which is inevitable, your fate is sealed. Attempting to finish your career undefeated indeed should be a challenge, not impossible like it feels in UFC 3.

UFC 3’s Career Mode also adds a lot more to make your fighter feel like his or her story is unraveling in front of your eyes, giving you goals in the forms of a somewhat story with rivals and callouts on social media. It’s a shame, though, that this aspect wasn’t expanded on more. I liked seeing my fighter at a press conference, staring down the opponent, but really wished it was interactive so I could decide how my fighter handled himself.

Apart from the Career Mode, players also have the option of standard custom fights, Stand and Bang mode, and the fan-favourite Knockout Mode, which is now commentated by Snoop Dogg for reasons beyond my comprehension. Additionally, there is also your stock standard online mode here, as well as an EA Sports-patented Ultimate Team mode, which seems to be nothing more than a pay-to-win collectible card game that feels more like a totally separate title, riddled with micro-transactions and random loot boxes. Of course, you can use in-game currency instead of (or in addition to) real money to purchase the mess of collectibles in this mode, but some packs cost a ludicrous amount. What you want isn’t always there either, as packs reset every day. It’s an irritating mode that, in the end, doesn’t seem worth injecting a large amount of time into.

UFC 3 visually is the best game in the series yet. Stadiums look better, and the updated lighting does a fantastic job of highlighting all the muscle, blood, and sweat that fills the octagon. Fighters faces also seem to have improved from last year’s games, looking eerily accurate to their real-life counterpart. I only wish I could say the same for some of the bodies of the fighters. This inaccuracy is most noticeable with the more muscular fighters like Yoel Romero, who, in real life, is a genetic freak of nature, but looks like a relatively fit stay-at-home dad in the game.

What mars the authenticity even more is the pretty terrible commentating that constantly had me grimacing with its randomness. I’m a huge fan of MMA and the UFC in particular, so a lot of the issues I have here may be missed by many, but when Joe Rogan tells me Cody Gardbrandt, a guy known for his excellent boxing, is a submission expert, I can’t help but be confused.

However, EA Sports has done a great job with authenticity this time around with movements and combinations of fighters. Stephen “Wonder Boy” Thompson sways back and forth like a cobra with his odd karate style. Dominick Cruz’s awkward footwork has him stepping side to side with his arms at waist level, baiting to counterstrike. Demetrious Johnson’s blitzing rushes and his iconic mighty bar even make an appearance here.

The roster of fighters, for the most part, has all the big names, but if you’re a fan of MMA you’ll notice the lack of a few familiar faces like enigmatic Mike Perry, the Viking Emil “Valhalla” Meek, and the number-three ranked Welterweight in the world Colby Covington, who undeniably should be in the game. Why they’re not here is a head-scratcher, but a UFC game without a fully fleshed-out roster is disappointing to say the least.

UFC 3 is a great Mixed Martial Arts game in a marketplace that consists of only one realistic combat title of its kind. It does a fantastic job of conveying the realities and factors of the stand-up game inside the octagon, but performs inconsistently in nearly all other aspects.

UFC 3: Review Summary

7

Good but noticeably flawed.

A game that receives a score of 7 is nice, fun, and rewarding. That being said, the game is a bit bumpy with distinguishable flaws in multiple areas (like mechanics, visual design, plot, pacing, etc.). Despite these negative qualities, however, the gaming experience is a good one overall. The reviewer recommends this game.

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Brad Weston

Brad Weston has always gravitated towards pop culture and all things cool. He's got a knack for comic books, video games, and 'Always Sunny' quotes, and his ever-expanding record collection is yet to be bested. He maintains the prospect of one day becoming the Red Power Ranger or Josuke from 'JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.' Catch his game reviews on the site!

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