Link to part 1. Here's part 2! Enjoy your New Year's parties, everyone. This part will have my thoughts on career mode, directions for the 2012 edition and overall/general thoughts.
Fighter Creation: Photo game face isn't perfect, but it puts MMA's fighter creation miles ahead right from the start. There's also a decent selectable list of names that Shamrock and Mauro have recorded audio for (mostly taken from MMA fighters you know and love, whether in the game or not), and a longer list of nicknames you're forced to pick from if you have a name not included in the pre-recorded ones. The rest is pretty standard, taken from FNR4 and with a few options you don't get in Undisputed (like ring walk out) but that don't make a ton of difference. There's a decent number of stance options for your fighters including some blatantly obvious stand-ins like "generic Hawaiian prodigy." I wonder who that refers too. I was a bit disappointed in the choice of attire, your only options are shorts and pre/post-fight t-shirt. Given that current DREAM rules (not sure about WVR) allow for gi wearing and the like, a little more flexibility would've been cool. Your fighter gets only one base art (as opposed to the two you choose in Undisputed), but this limits you less than you'd think. Though it sets your starting stats and caps certain attributes (along with weight class), you can pretty easily build your fighter the way you want, and the real customization comes in the selection of "special moves." Probably the most lasting impact of your base art is that it affects how your character punches, in a seriously nice touch. Specifically, both muay thai and kickboxing fighters have sharp jabs and crosses that come out and straight back, but muay thai stylists throw hooks with a vertical fist, in that weirdly slappy style that Remy Bonjasky uses that's powerful but a little slow. Kickboxers use a horizontal fisted hook with slightly more reach and slightly less power. My judo stylist, on the other hand, punched in a style more familiar to the Japanese leagues, with just a fraction of a windup/drop of the hands before any punch. It sounds like a disadvantage (and it is, a tiny bit), but the more power and hand speed he gained, the more he looked like Gomi, winging his punches with ferocious intent. The fight nerd in me was just gleeful over these subtle differences in technique. I haven't had a chance to try every style, so I can't tell you the specifics of each one. EDIT: It was pointed out in the comments that this difference in punching technique is actually due to stance, not style. Having subsequently tested this myself, this is indeed the case. There's a little less variety than I'd hoped, most punching styles look similar. Some have a little more windup, some throw the vertical hook and some throw the horizontal. Picking Cung Le's stance gives you side kicks instead of front kicks. I guess it's a good thing, since you can change your stance at any time through fighter edit, while your style is set in stone.
Special moves are where you begin to personalize your style. I'll not go through the whole gamut of options, but there's just enough variety to suit your fighter's style in useful ways no matter what your strengths. You'll get these moves by training at different international camps in career mode.
Structure: The way career mode is set up makes some sense, but needs work. You'll move through 3 different leagues, getting a choice between 2 with differing rulesets each time you reach champion status in one of the lower leagues. You'll fight all generic fighters in the lower leagues and the bottom rungs of Strikeforce or "Mystic," making the licensed fighters a pretty substantial jump in difficulty. Strikeforce logic is in full force with the matchmaking as well as the rankings. You'll commonly come into the top leagues with a stellar record and fight guys who are 2-5, or 1-4 for your first two or three fights. Shouldn't these guys be cut and hanging out in the lower leagues? To be fair, they are...they're just in the top ones too. Additionally, you'll commonly fight for the #1 contender spot against opponents coming off a loss and/or with terrible records, and as a champion be given challengers on a losing streak or similar ridiculous events. Fighters you've just beaten being given immediate rematches happens pretty often too. The rankings don't matter, but should you choose to look at them, don't be surprised if a 9-0 fighter without a belt in a mid-tier league is ranked #1 worldwide, while your 23-4 Strikeforce champion hangs out at #3 or 4. I guess rankings are based on win percentage or something? It's a good thing they're only cosmetic because they make zero sense. I'm not sure whether I hope these flaws are due to a cynical commentary on Strikeforce's real-world matchmaking, or bad programming...either way, hopefully it's gone in the sequel.
Training takes place for 8 weeks before each fight; you're not given any choice in who you fight next. You play minigames that do a pretty good job of teaching you the controls (like I said in the intro), with goals like improving to mount, landing specific combos on the pads or your opponent, etc. The training games are good, but EA made the smart choice to give you the option to simulate training for any exercise you've completed with an "A" grade with no penalty. Once you get up to 30 or so fights, it allows you to focus on where your skills need to be shored up, and then lets you get right back to the action. Learning special moves is handled intelligently, in that you can try and re-try the challenge to learn one each training camp without any penalty, and while still having the full 8 weeks of training to use at the end. Take note, Undisputed. Having to waste training time learning special moves is just plain stupid. Traveling to trainers costs money, $1 k for the 3 lower-tier ones and $5 k for the specialists, but it's never really an issue. In fact, you'll end up with literally millions of unused money and no way to spend it. Career mode lasts for 40 fights and ends with a unification bout between Strikeforce and Mystic title holders (assuming you're one of them), which can be just right or far too long, depending on what league you chose to fight in and how good you are at the game. My first career mode attempt, the kickboxer modeled on myself, fought in the Strikeforce lightweight division against stiff competition, and it was an exciting struggle to stay at the top while attaining a 33-7 record. My judo stylist on the other hand, a mix of Saku and Aoki, was a Mystic middleweight. As I said before, I think I unwittingly picked the most shallow division in the entire game, and was bored by fight 25 in my easy 40-0 run of dominance (you get some pretty funny 4th wall-breaking messages from Bas and his staff once you get that long of a streak going). It would've made all the difference in the world to be able to switch leagues mid-career, or at least to retire early once I was bored.
BE reader chris81203 has helpfully written his impressions of online play, since I ignored this feature in my EA MMA experience (and therefore my review):
Match ups were pretty good as far as connections are concerned. They use a belt system to match players against each other. Sometimes this backfires as someone with a lot of fights (losses) can easily be the same belt level as someone good. That being I said I prefer it to UFC’s system where everyone is just thrown together.
Gameplay wise, the two different control schemes can seriously impact the fight. The classic controls allow for throwing incredible power hook combos that I couldn’t really replicate with the TSC [total strike control]. This is also true for parries where the classic controls seem to allow you to parry more effectively (at least more effectively than I could). On the other hand TSC seemed to have an advantage on the ground which helps the balance a bit.
One thing I didn’t like is that all of the ranked matches are essentially “quick matches”. By that I mean, you get automatically matched up against your opponent and don’t get to select your ruleset. I’d prefer to have control over which ruleset I wanted to play, but it wasn’t a huge issue.
Overall, a good gaming experience with room for improvement. Earning championship bouts in the different weight classes was a fun addition as well.
Suggested Improvements for 2012
- More flexible/non priority striking system: Having strikes cancel each other out, or grapples cancel out strikes makes for a less realistic and enjoyable striking system. With the excellent system FNR4 has, hopefully this wouldn't be difficult to implement.
- Better blocking animations: The block/parry/slip system is pretty great (though the AI is sometimes a cheating bastard in how adept it is with parries), but it'd be nice to have more distinct blocking animations. It works well that blocking reduces the damage you take, but that covering up will eventually allow your opponent to do more and more damage until your defense may as well be nonexistent. It's a better implementation of FNR4's block meter system. The problem is that "blocking" a punch and taking it full-on look too similar to tell just by looking whether it's being "blocked" or not. It can be pretty confusing to unload on your opponent and land 5 strikes clean, only to have him fire back immediately because he "blocked" them and you couldn't tell. More explicitly different blocking animations (with the same underlying system) would work better.
- More options from clinch and up/down positions: Adding some more special moves from the clinch (takedowns in particular) would better differentiate between wrestlers and judo players in the clinch; at the moment they play similarly from that position. Similarly, giving more striking options to make punching more effective from the clinch would make dirty boxing a more valid strategy. I'd most like to see more options from the up/down position; soccer kicks and head stomps are, as of now, only for finishing off a nearly KO'd opponent. EA did this for the T rating, but given that Fight Night is going to an M rating, hopefully we'll get some Saku stomp special moves or similar from up/down.
- Fights between weight classes: Give us freakshow matches, please? Plenty of fighters in the game fight across weight classes in real life, though this would limit EA's ability to pad its roster by listing fighters in multiple weight classes. You can't have a game featuring Japanese leagues that doesn't allow for this, though.
- Switching between orgs/choice in retirement for career mode: As I mentioned in the career section, an uninformed choice in what org to fight in left me bored through the last 15 fights of my fighter's career. More control would solve this problem easily.
- Import downloaded fighters to career mode: This would make the roster limitations much less glaring. And hell yes I want to fight against Sho Nuff in career mode, who says I shouldn't be able to?
- More training options/trainers for career mode: The variety of trainers you can travel to (7) is pretty good, but it's always nice to have more, particularly because the money you earn from fights is completely meaningless by your 2nd championship fight. Sambo and karate (kyokushin, probably) are notable styles that could be included.
I've tried most other MMA games out there, and EA MMA is my favorite by far. They got the grappling right, which is what early games struggled with (UFC games all the way up to Sudden Impact, and PRIDE FC), and have a decent striking system (Undisputed has better physics, but a lesser feel and lesser realism, MMA also puts combinations together better), with a great start to build from in customization options and the career mode. The old classic PRIDE FC still holds the title there with it's ridiculous fighter creation options, but MMA could easily take over with some improvement. Greatest MMA game? So far, yes. Perfect? Not quite.