Let's acknowledge the obvious here: EA Sports MMA does not feature the big stars from Ultimate Fighting Championship, and that is the biggest disappointment in the game.
Now, if that's not a problem for you, MMA should be more than enough fun. The gameplay is solid, and that will go a long way, especially if you'd rather create your own player.
EA had an arduous task in figuring out how to make a mixed martial arts game without all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds THQ's UFC franchise. But it would appear that EA decided to find a few legends of the sport — Randy Couture, Pat Miletich, Rickson Gracie and Bas Rutten — and use them as trainers. And, as a consolation, they essentially built the game around Strikeforce, which is not quite UFC, but it's much better than the toughman contest at the fair.
Even better is that the game plays very well. The graphics are solid, and the characters move as you would expect. It is realistic. If you hammer away at a guy's face, it's going to become cut and swollen. If you stagger him with a punch, it's going to take him a while to regain his senses.
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It's a lot like EA's Fight Night franchise, one of the best boxing series on the market. The level of detail and control in that game has always been impressive. MMA is sort of like an extension of that. The concept for maneuvering inside the ring, cage or hexagon (depending on the league) is very much the same. You strike your opponent the same. The cuts and the feel of that boxing franchise are very much a part of MMA. And that's not a bad thing. The big difference, of course, is that you can use your other limbs to destroy an opponent.
The game uses what EA calls "Total Strike Control," which allows you to use the analog sticks and buttons to strike with elbows, knees and kicks. There is a learning curve, but you'll get the basics down fairly quickly. Learning all of the combinations will take more time.
The online mode is decent, and it's definitely something that will make you pick up the game again. But the career mode is easily MMA's best feature, especially since you probably want to create a fighter to challenge others online.
The create-a-fighter mode is detailed, providing choices down to the shorts and T-shirt your fighter wears to the ring. You can customize your introduction music and the way you react to a win. And you get to decide your fighting discipline — will you be a brawler, a wrestler or a submission-focused competitor?
You immediately go to the gym and walk through the basics. EA did a good job integrating training for the game with training for a match. After practicing a bit, you can hop in the ring for your first fight.
You get to train to improve yourself with the aforementioned legends, and that's kind of cool. The more you win, the more money you get for training, and the more you train, the more well-rounded your fighter will become. There are six leagues in four countries, and you work your way up to the top. A cell phone navigates you through the various options on the menu. It provides you with your messages, training options, rankings and more. It's not the best feature, but it's serviceable.
In some ways, that's the best way to describe MMA. The game has its hits and misses. It has nice details, but there certainly are some shortcomings. For example, I'm not sure why women are not included, considering the sport is popular with them. And most career modes these days go well beyond putting tattoos and clothes on your character. I expect more depth. If I'm winning thousands of dollars, I want to buy my fighter stuff. Well, you can't buy your fighter anything besides more training. Why earn money if you can't buy anything?
Overall, MMA is a fun game that captures the ins and outs of a brutal sport. It is a solid alternative to the other mixed martial arts video game, but I'm not so sure it's the best.