EA SPORTS MMA - 360 - Preview
When UFC 2009 Undisputed
released last year, it marked the first time that a Mixed Martial Arts fighting
game was able to achieve nearly unanimous critical praise as well as huge
commercial success. It was a perfect case of being in the right place at the
right time. They made an amazing product that released at a point when the UFC
was reaching unprecedented popularity in North America. It wasn't perfect
though, and I think everyone who played it not only enjoyed it, but got giddy
thinking about how amazing future games in this genre could be. That's where EA
Sports MMA comes in. They're looking to capitalize not only on the huge
world-wide popularity of mixed martial arts, but also to take over the genre and
fill in the gaps in gameplay wherever they were found in Undisputed.
This is evident in all of the major areas EA Sports has told us they are focusing on with this title. This game is all about the individuality of the fighter. UFC 2009 was a great game, but sooner or later every player had to come to terms with the fact that every character fell into one of a few different categories, and otherwise had little to distinguish himself as a fighter. A kickboxer fought the same as every other kickboxer, and a wrestler fought like every other wrestler. In reality, every fighter moves and fights in his own way, even if they fight using the same martial arts style. In EA Sports MMA they're looking to reflect that.
In the demo we were shown, which was a sample bout between Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers (who were getting ready to fight in real life the following night,) it is evident even in this early stage in development that fighters are already endowed with personality. Fedor moves like Fedor with his trademark low-hands defensive style, and bouncy ready stance. Whereas Rogers moved entirely different, much more akin to how a man of his imposing size, martial arts background, and striking talent would move.
To that end, EA has said that they wanted to make every fighter unique, and that it's possible that the fighter roster won’t be huge. But despite the potentially abbreviated fighter roster, there is lavishing care on all of the fighters that they do plan to include. One of the most impressive things shown off by EA Sports was the facial rendering technology. The incredible detail evident in the faces of the two fighters they showed was amazing. And I don't mean, kinda-good, I mean crazy good. Like, better-than-actual-faces, good. When showing off the technology and art, the developers were actually pointing out specific scars in Fedor Emilianenko's face and explaining which fights they came from.
This graphical care extends itself into the amazing animations taking place in this game. Animation was one of the biggest weak spots of UFC 2009, and it looks like MMA may be able to correct those mistakes and truly nail it. The biggest thing here is that during clinches and grapples, the collision is much smoother. The fighters don't just move in a certain way regardless of where the other person is, their movements are affected by the placement of the other fighter’s arms and body. What this means is that if a fighters arm is going up, and the opponents arm is in the way, their arms won’t just pass through each other, but will change course and realistically brush up against each other, affecting the movement of both in real-time. It really makes a big difference in terms of realism, and immersion. Nothing takes you out of the experience quite like seeing your arm pass straight through the opponent's body, so this is a very welcome inclusion.
The realism isn't just about graphics and animation though. EA wants to bring the focus back to the fighter, and show what it's really like to compete in mixed martial arts. The fighting is more detailed than ever before, including location specific damage. EA has implemented a system that tracks damage to different parts of a fighter’s body. For example, if a kickboxer has been nailing his opponent with leg kicks the entire fight, sooner or later those kicks are going to start hurting more and more. Eventually they may even cause the opponent to wince, and fall back which can create openings for further advances in offense. It's not about some obtuse notion of offense and defense anymore. In this case, falling back and using defensive countermeasures like leg kicks, can create openings to attack.
They've taken that facet even further, with grapples and reversals. In previous games, a reversal or a successful grapple resulted in one player "winning" that contest and thus ending up in an advantageous position. In EA Sports MMA, there are degrees of defense, not just total victory or abject failure. If an opponent tries to take you down, you can either be taken down fully, defend successfully, or you can find yourself somewhere in between, like getting into a guard position rather than side control or mount positions.
EA Sports certainly has their work cut out for them if they plan to break into a market that is currently dominated by a single game. Will fans be so hungry for more MMA gaming action that they'll pony-up for another game? Will they shun MMA and stay loyal to UFC? Or will the EA Sports label be a signal to fans that the true mixed martial arts fighting experience has arrived? We won’t know until the game is released sometime in 2010, but we can say that after being in development for two years already, EA Sports MMA is definitely heading in the right direction.