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Being the big MMA enthusiast here on this site, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to find out that I jumped at the chance to test out the demo for EA Sports MMA. Well, earlier today I downloaded the sucker on my PS3 (because I’m too cheap to buy Xbox Live Gold) and I’ve had a few hours with the game. Since I’m fairly sure that I’ve had more than enough time to describe what you’re getting from the demo and possibly what to expect from the full version, I decided to do a write-up about it. So, is this a possible turd, or a possible gem? Let me fill you in.

So, from the start menu you’re given a few options, but the two that you’re going to care about here are MMA 101 and Fight Now. Fight Now is essentially what it sounds like, so let me talk about MMA 101 for a bit. In MMA 101, you’re taken into a tutorial that teaches you how to play by essentially letting you fight a normal fight, and when a new situation comes up, the game tells you what to do. It’s nice in theory, but the problem is that learning comes from repetition, and the game only tells you what to do once. So, as you’re getting mounted by Jake Shields and randomly tapping buttons, you’ll realize two things. One is that it’s not fun to be beaten on by a guy who looks like a Ken doll. The other is that button mashing works a little too well.

Yes, the problem with the grappling game is that it’s a little bit too basic. Despite what some may think, MMA is a very strategic sport, and fighters have to come into each fight with a strategy, and carefully pick where to go and what to do, especially on the ground. With that said, it’s kind of odd to just shrug off a takedown like your opponent is just an oversized paperweight. To the casual individual, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, to an MMA lover such as myself, it’s odd to see a fighter like Alistair Overeem shrug off and NCAA wrestler like Bobby Lashley with little to no effort. It’s even more jarring to do it ten times in a single round.

The other issue in the gameplay is the opponent AI. For some odd reason, a wrestler will keep to the same strategy even when it’s not working in the slightest. Let me give you an example. In the aforementioned bout between Lashley and Overeem (who I was playing as), I was taken down to the ground over forty times in a four round fight until I got fed up with it and submitted Lashley with an armbar. Thing is, I stood up from each takedown easily, and stuffed others which led me to knee Lashley in the face. You’d think that the AI would realize what strategy isn’t working, but it’s not that bright. So, I was able to win the bouts easily.

2 EA MMA players

However, the highlight of the game is the striking, by far. Though it gets annoying facing a wrestler who keeps throwing you to the ground, when two fighters begin to stand and trade it gets exhilarating. In a way, it almost seems like EA Tiburon crafted a kickboxing game and then just threw the grappling in as a small bonus to the Jiu-Jitsu nerds or something.  Another minor gripe is the ability to posture up. Now, in MMA, you can posture up from any position to rain down blows on your opponent. In this game, you can only do it from the full guard, or a mounted position, which is odd. Not that it’s a huge complaint, but there are quite a few fighters that have finished opponents from the half guard or side control.

The highlight of the game, however, is the striking. Though I didn’t think that it would work that well with the kicks and all, putting together combinations is easy to do, and leaves you with plenty of options. The only downside is that from the outside looking in, it looks like you’re homing in on your target, which is something I discussed in an old Tuesdaily List. What I realized during gameplay is that you probably won’t care that much. It may not seem realistic, but part of me wonders if EA Tiburon is going for more of an arcade feel to the game. Whatever the case may be, it is incredibly gratifying to knock someone out with a flying knee, superman punch or a head kick.

However, that’s another issue that comes up. It really doesn’t feel satisfying to win the game without getting a knockout. The submission system is pretty lackluster. When going for a submission like an arm lock or leg lock, you’re put into a stamina battle where you have to press buttons to a rhythm that wears out your opponent without wearing you out. For chokes, you have to find a “sweet spot” on a circular reticule to sink it in deeper, also battling stamina. Though the systems are inventive, they take away from the struggle, since they block the action in-game. It really takes away from a submission win when many times submissions are some of the most dramatic finishes in MMA.

However, these are just thoughts on the demo, and though it has its share of issues, it’s got a lot of fun packed in it as well. If you’re an MMA fan, I’d recommend downloading it just to see what all the fuss is about. If you’re not sold on the combat, I don’t think you’ll miss out if you don’t buy it. However, if you do enjoy it, it may set a solid pace for the full product. Only time will tell though. EA Sports MMA will be released on October 19th for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and iPhone.

Werdum chokes out Fedor! Unbelievable!

-Micah C