EA Sports: MMA Preview

Hammer and tongs.

The uphill battle EA Sports faces against THQ's UFC Undisputed series is beyond obvious. Even if neither company confronts nor eagerly acknowledges the other, you can hear the air crackling between them, a calm but aggressive energy that's ready to ignite into an all-out brawl. Then again, UFC is solidly the #1 brand of MMA in the United States and has the money, the stars, and the teeth to back it up. It already has two popular, critically-acclaimed installments with a rabid fanbase who's ready to backhand anyone who says otherwise. And Dana White has declared himself "at war".

[image1]But EA Sports MMA (aka EA MMA) is no slouch, nor is it an idiot (am I projecting too much?). Analyzing and dissecting its rival's weaknesses, it has devised a fighting strategy based on several bullet points: fluidity, simplicity, and international diversity. They see holes in UFC Undisputed's game plan, and EA MMA hopes to take advantage of that.

The UFC Undisputed franchise interprets mixed martial arts as a heavy and deliberate sport with distinct positions and transitions, each with a comprehensive moveset of techniques and commands. EA MMA has a swifter, more arcade-ready approach, with fighters who can all sidestep, dash, and evade with the agility of a professional boxer. Mastering the system still requires precision and fast hand reflexes, while at the same time, fights looks more like real MMA matches where fighters cautiously move in and out and around the ring before making a deadly strike.

Still, as expected from any game that tries to tackle the complexities of mixed martial arts, explaining the controls remains a laborious task if you were to list out all of the commands. The button holds for low modifiers, body modifiers, and blocking are just a small piece of the entire moveset. But the rest of the control scheme can be surprisingly described with ease: the analog sticks control standing strikes similar to Fight Night, one face button finds the best submission positions, and another face button finds the best ground striking positions. Continually use any one of those three control schemes, and you'll have a legitimate winning strategy.

[image2]Following a graphical style that's more slick than gritty, EA MMA puts a spin on the genre's established tropes. Transitioning and defending against transitions in the clinch and ground grapple can be done at the touch of a button. A fighter's health is reflected by his damage and movement speed, and a stamina bar can be turned off, to keep the screen HUD-less. But if you so choose, you can turn on four health bars for various parts of your fighter's body. Finishing a submission turns into a mini-game where you and your opponent use the analog sticks to nail down the sweetspot in the hold.

EA MMA also makes its mark by including the world of mixed martial arts, as opposed to restricting itself to one ruleset or one country. Japanese MMA allows head stomps and takes place in roped square rings, which makes the ground game even deadlier. Other options - the number of rounds, the round times, and the ring shape - mix up the action as well. But the real benefit, of course, is having a roster that includes Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, Jake Shields, Tim Sylvia, and Gegard Mousasi (just to name a few).

There's enough room in the mixed martial arts genre for two heavyweight titles to duke it out. If the other monopolized sports genres are any indication, then a little competition is always a good thing. And since the competition isn't on very friendly terms, you know it's going to be fun to watch. (Bwa ha ha!) EA MMA enters the ring October 19, 2010 for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.