In the world of Mixed Martial Arts, second place means taking a nasty beating. With a successful genre franchise already on the market in the shape of THQ's UFC Undisputed series, EA was taking a risk by introducing a sparring partner with its MMA game - but reviews seem to indicate that the risk may well have paid off. Whilst not many commentators are giving the match to EA just just, the judges have certainly been given pause to count the points.
Currently, EA Sports MMA sits at a comfortable 80 per cent Metacritic rating, with UFC 2010 just edging ahead with 84 per cent. It's a close-run thing, especially considering that this is EA's début bout. Below, we take a closer look at what some of the reviewers have been saying about the game, and how they feel it shapes up against its rival.
Over at Eurogamer, resident fight specialist Matt Edwards offers one of the lower marks on the board, awarding a 7/10 for EA's first foray into the genre. Whilst the game is polished, he says, and offers a more intuitive control scheme than UFC's, move variety is less varied.
"In a toe-to-toe stand-off, MMA's striking repertoire isn't as extensive as Undisputed's, and in terms of stringing together precise combinations, let's just say that the inclusion of a button-based Classic configuration was a wise decision. But its style of combat is easier to comprehend without losing the inherent gratification of pummeling an opponent into the canvas. This less complicated design also stretches to the clinch and ground game mechanics. "
Edwards also sees MMA as the less demanding game, better suited to beginners, but at the cost of some tactical depth.
"Taken as a whole, MMA's fighting system has a lot in common with Undisputed, which is understandable. But while Undisputed emphasises depth and complexity, MMA's gameplay is more forgiving. That's not to say an experienced player won't dominate an octagon newbie, but MMA has the less demanding learning curve."
Talking about the game's publicly hype-able live grudge matches, Edwards says they go some distance to addressing the technical deficit which MMA shows to UFC.
"This is a great idea which, if done correctly, could help to give MMA an edge over the more technically accomplished Undisputed. Because right now, that's exactly what's holding MMA back. Although it gets a lot right with a well-structured fighting system - which has a solid mix of subsystems to master - it doesn't have the same level of hardcore appeal as the current champion."
In Giant Bomb's 4/5 review, Jeff Gerstmann praises MMA's less fiddly control scheme, telling readers that, although it takes some getting used to, it offers surprising depth.
"The fighting system is deceptively simple, employing a universal control scheme that behaves similarly whether you're standing up, on the ground, on top of a guy, or in the standing clinch. It's based around using specific buttons to either improve or get out of your current position. When your opponent tries to posture up, it's on you to deny that with another button press. Submissions are also done via one button, though this quickly engages one of two different minigames, depending on whether it's a limb-based submission or a choke. Strikes are handled with the right analogue stick, as in EA's Fight Night series, with triggers used as modifiers for body punches or kicks."
Commenting on the MMA's relatively limited fighter roster, which comes a distinct second to UFC's, Gerstmann points out the flexibility of the character creator, which allows players to flesh out that roster themselves.
"Personally, I found the most satisfaction by using the game's fighter creation options, which uses the same 'Game Face' option found in Fight Night Round 4, allowing you to use two photos of yourself (or anyone else who happens to stumble in front of your camera) to generate your face. There's also a fighter share option that lets you download other created fighters, provided you enter the code that is packed-in with all new copies of the game. Predictably, the top downloads are currently filled with created versions of real-life UFC fighters like Brock Lesnar, Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, Frank Mir, and so on."
In conclusion, Giant Bomb offers a view which echoed in many other quarters: that MMA has surprised and impressed with its first outing, but has some catching to do before it's given the title belt.
"If you're willing to put in the time to learn how to actually play it properly, EA Sports MMA becomes a very rewarding experience," says Gerstmann. "When you lose a fight online, you usually know exactly what you need to work on, either in the career mode to get your fighter's stats up or just, you know, as an actual player. With its innovative online features and realistic fight system, EA Tiburon's first attempt at MMA lays down a solid foundation that's worth checking out."
Caleb Newby's GamePro review is one of the most positive on the web, awarding 4.5/5 in a review full of plaudits for the game's online features and animation fluidity, but which questions the lightness of the roster and the glaring omission of UFC-specific fighters.
"Initially I felt as though EA hacked out a significant portion of depth with an overly simple button press system and short changed the depth of MMA grappling," Newby says of the controls. "But after playing around with it further I discovered that while EA's version is simple it still captures the tactical grappling battle. The loss of a little freedom is countered with ease to use, so it will no doubt be up to your own personal preference."
It's the unavoidable hole where UFC's licensed fighters should be that seems to be the biggest problem for GamePro, however.
"As you begin you start off as a rookie signed to a small time promotion with the ultimate goal of working your way to the big leagues, represented by real life organization Strikeforce and a fictional Japanese promotion. Pretending your fighter has made it to the pinnacle of the fight game by attaining a Strikeforce belt is a bit like pretending you've accomplished all you can in football by winning the arena league championship, however. Sure it's a nice accomplishment, but you know something bigger is out there (read: UFC). It felt a bit hollow when I captured Strikeforce's Light-Heavyweight championship and didn't fight a single real life top 10 light-heavyweight along the way."
Those omissions, which can never be filled unless THQ gives up its exclusivity on the UFC licence, are a chief niggle for GameInformer's Ben Reeves, who settles on 8.5/10 in his review.
"There are some great fighters in this game - such as Fedor Emelianenko, Satoru Kitaoka, and Randy Couture - but without the UFC license and many of its most potent combatants, there is a large hole in the game's roster," says Reeves.
Again, however, it's the technical depth and accessibility of the game's controls which win him over.
"Its analog-based combat allows fighters to jab, hook, and uppercut by throwing the stick through different rotations. This makes the action a little more about feeling out your opponent's weaknesses and responding to his attacks than it does about memorizing a stock set of pre-scripted attacks. The game also allows you to employ a certain level of strategy. For example, if your opponent is running all over the mat so that you can't get a lock on him, you can focus your attacks on one of his legs until it becomes dead weight that he has to carry around the ring."
In fact, GameInformer's conclusion does a neat job of summarising much of the critical response to MMA: that the flaws are a minor annoyance in an otherwise solid fighting game, and a promising start for a new franchise.
"EA Sports MMA is still a powerful brawler, and another year or two in the gym should turn it into a true monster."