EA Sports UFC 3 Review: The Best Striking Game Ever, the Rest is Sort of Okay

When it comes to a game like EA UFC 3 it feels like the tale of a few different games. In a way, this is the logical follow-up to EA UFC 2. In fact, you can feel how similar it is to EA UFC 2 from the menus, to the Create-a-Fighter to the game modes and the grappling. Not much has really changed since the last iteration outside of the roster and the striking.

The thing is, the striking is perhaps the biggest single leap that we’ve seen in a series like this in forever. The striking in EA UFC 3 isn’t just different, it’s completely different. The system wasn’t just tweaked or improved upon, it was thrown out and replaced by something completely brand new that plays alarmingly well. The striking in EA UFC 3 is the crown jewel of the series, it being the ultimate attempt at simulating real striking while trying not to make sacrifices. You can feel the attention to detail and, if you are really into stand-up fighting, you can do just about exactly what you could want to do in realistic fashion.

The only real problem with EA UFC 3 is that your mileage on the game depends on how much this overhauled striking system excites you, as does an updated roster. Because if those things don’t excite you, I’m not sure that there is much else here to get excited about. This is an iterative update to a game series that will remain sort of niche and only appeal to a rather small audience, much like WWE games do in their iterative releases. While a series like Madden is going to sell over five million copies a year, UFC games with their bi-yearly releases have been lucky to break two million in the previous two iterations. In that regard, the audience is alarmingly similar to WWE games, which means the amount of time, effort and money sunk into the games will probably be the same.

If you’ve played WWE games before you know what that means: the changes are going to be incredibly minimal until there is a jump to a new generation. What’s peculiar about EA Sports UFC 3 is that they did this massive overhaul on the striking system for the third game in the series, instead of just tightening things up, adding new moves and maybe expanding some modes. The grappling remains virtually the same, so if you are a massive BJJ or wrestling fan you’ll probably not have much to look forward to here outside of the takedown timing feeling very different due to the striking changes.

Of course, if you’re here exclusively for the striking, much like I am, then this game is almost a dream come true. The striking is incredibly detailed and is a lot more realistic than in previous games. Where those games took a more “arcade” and accessible approach to striking — where blocking and slipping were the only ways to determine a bout between two skilled players — using actual tactics and techniques here is the way to go. Got someone rocked and they’re turtled up? In previous games it was either wail on them or go for the midsection to open up the head strike. In this game you could do that, or you could throw an overhand to break through their block and down them.

This doesn’t just feel fresh, it feels amazing. The combination system is deep and intuitive. Want to double jab then throw a body kick? Do it, it’ll flow like water. Want to jab, straight, lead head kick? Same deal. You’re rewarded for throwing real-life combinations. Past games have simply allowed you to stack up any and all techniques, which led to some hilariously unrealistic and very “video game” moments. This isn’t a game where you’ll walk someone down by just alternating front kicks to the face, because, truly, that doesn’t make sense. Nor is this a game that’ll allow you to just walk forward and throw, pushing your opponent against the fence without recourse. The way the movement works now is that moving will no longer force certain moves. Direction plus an attack doesn’t make for a different attack now. So if you’re backed up against the cage and want to break right and throw a jab in the process, you can do that, instead of throwing a hook that is easily blocked or parried, leaving you open for even more damage.

There are, of course, drawbacks to this system. Learning what moves are where feels more like playing an old arcade fighting game than what we’ve traditionally known as MMA games. Want to throw a teep? In the last game it was L2, forward and kick. In this game it’s L2, L1, square and triangle. Some of the moves require downright wizardry to pull off, like holding three of the triggers and hitting a face button to do a two-touch back kick.

Where a flying knee was simply holding a modifier and pressing forward and kick, now it’s L2 + R1 and kick. It takes a while to get used to, never mind that blocking is now R2 for high and R2 + L2 for low. Granted, you are rewarded a lot more for perfectly timing a block now. If your opponent is throwing a body kick and you perfectly time the block you’ll catch their leg and be given the option of one of the kick buttons to sweep them to the ground or punch button to essentially immediately stun them. A perfectly timed check will do infinitely more damage to the person throwing the kick than their kick would have done, which is both cool and frustrating at the same time because, look, not everyone is trained at the Longo Serra camp and knows the ancient secret of the KNEE DESTRUCTION.

There’s even a new mode to show off this sleek new striking system, called Stand and Bang, which is a dream-come-true, albeit only an offline “couch” mode. If you want to kickbox or box online you’ll need to adhere to a gentlemen’s agreement to not grapple or go for a takedown, which is sort of frustrating considering the mode is right there, ripe for the picking. There’s also a BJJ mode if you are so inclined and now an offline tournament mode.

All of these are offline only, sadly. The online remains pretty much exactly the same outside of swapping some menus around. That’s great, but it almost seems silly that a game like this doesn’t allow for more customization. What if you wanted to have a title that you used with friends? You can have a five round fight, but not for an actual title. What if you wanted to pick your corner person? You can’t. These seem like small, petty grievances, but they’re also features that wouldn’t take much to implement and add to the replayability of the game.

The Create-a-Fighter is, as Mike Goldberg would say, virtually identical. The only issue is that they’ve, for some odd reason, taken away some options? Look, if I want my middleweight to be really tubby then let me. If I want my heavyweight to be skin-and-bones then let me. Locking body types to certain weight classes is a strange oversight that could probably be easily corrected but won’t be on their radar. It cuts off whatever creativity players could have at the kneecaps and there really isn’t a good reason for it. The same can be said for not having certain preset fighter styles anymore. It’s limited to quite a few less, which isn’t a huge deal, but can be obnoxious. They make up for this by allowing you to select a stance, assign all four taunts and pick different celebrations.

The highlight modes for many are going to be the Career Mode and the Ultimate Team Mode. Career Mode is refined, perhaps better than it ever has been before in a game like this, minus a few really obnoxious ticks. The way that you manage your time and training is more like an actual management sim now than forcing you to do endless drills that you have to play through which don’t actually make you a better player, even if they up your stats. You’ll have a few things to actually drill to gain new perks and moves, but it doesn’t feel as obnoxious as hitting a bag x-amount of times. You’ll spar to bring your overall health up and yes, you can overtrain, which is cool, but all of this you’ll be doing while trying your best to also promote your fights. Taking a short notice fight means trying to push yourself to “peak condition” while also doing UFC-suggested promotional stuff like tweeting, doing a game stream for your fans, going to autograph signings, television interviews and more. It’s actually fun this time out, with the only caveat being that the striking and health advantages of the real UFC fighters can be overcome through skill, but the submissions and takedowns are virtually impossible to defend against. While my character was starching everyone standing up, a fighter like Rashad Evans would take me down — no joke — something like 15 times a fight, while a fighter like Jacare was rage-quit-worthy if you went to the ground. There’s no defense against someone like him. At all.


The Ultimate Mode is, well the Ultimate Mode. You’ll do stuff to get cards to add moves, stats, etc. to your fighter. Oh yeah, and you can buy them with real currency! Joy. You’ll either be super into it or not. I’m not and I’m not afraid to admit that.

Overall, this is a really fun game and if you’re reading LiverKick, you’re going to be interested in this game because of the potential for having really great striking battles. While it might be a bit threadbare on modes and this game lives or dies on how much you’ll be able to play with friends or will enjoy playing online against some kid shouting racial slurs because you’re outsmarting him. I mean, it’s a video game and it’s 2018, right? If you’ve got friends that’ll play against you this game will last you a long, long time.