If I may be so bold to suggest such a thing, UFC Undisputed 3 is the best sports game of the year thus far. Quite frankly, I’d even go to suggest that it’s also the best fighting game yet. Easily the top of the mixed martial arts totem pole when it comes to gaming, UFC Undisputed 3 sported an incredible combat system with an addictive career mode on top of several new features, PRIDE mode included. Unfortunately, THQ sold the license to EA Games, and closed down the studio that worked on the game. It was quite the reward for a critically acclaimed game, no?
However, an issue arises with this sale aside from the loss of jobs for many Yukes and THQ employees. How good is the next UFC Undisputed going to be? Before I get into the meat of things, it may be best to establish some history when it comes to MMA video games and the last five years.
In 2009, THQ and Yukes released UFC Undisputed 2009, which was universally known as the first MMA game to actually be “good.” Though the game was very simplistic, it offered the most true-to-life electronic adaptation of the sports ever seen. The game managed to sell over one million units in a month’s span. The sequel, Undisputed 2010, improved upon the formula with increased customization and social options, but did not sell quite as well. Many believed such decreased sales were due to the game going head to head with Red Dead Redemption. The studio behind the series would take extra time on the third title, and that brings us to where we are today.
When it comes to EA Games and combat sports video games, you have two spots for the game series to go. The first option I’ll discuss is one with great promise; EA Canada. EA Canada has managed to knock the ball out of the park with their past two titles in Fight Night Round 4 and Fight Night Champion, which are easily the two greatest boxing games ever created. The team at EA Canada is a company that is full of hard workers who consistently look for ways to improve on their own work, and always bring in A-Plus results. On top of that, they are a team that researches quite a bit, making s
ure that they can get every little detail as accurate as possible. When it comes to work ethic, they are the ideal developers.
The other option is EA Tiburon, which is the peril part of the equation. To be completely frank, Tiburon is a team that is content to rest on their laurels. Aside from the hit and miss Madden series, the team also released EA Sports MMA, which may be the definition of mediocrity in terms of design. Though the core mechanics weren’t necessarily bad, the game’s attention to detail from fighter to fighter was atrocious. Many fighters fought the exact same way, and the in-game AI was downright inaccurate for certain fighters. In the end, it was a game with interesting concepts, but mediocre delivery.
I’m certain that mixed martial arts, to many, is just another sport in the shuffle, but I don’t find myself agreeing. Granted, I speak as a fan of the sport, but I’d like to beg the indulgence of the readers for a moment. MMA as a sport is in a very young stage, and benefits greatly from modern methods of electronic distribution to spread its fanbase. At the same time, that potential fanbase can either be stifled or expanded depending on the slightest controversy or bit of great media. Thus, the term you’ll often hear from promoters, fighters, or MMA journalists is “good for the sport,” summing up this thought process. When it comes right down to it, an MMA video game needs to be “good for the sport.”
As it stands, the UFC knew from the beginning that they had an untapped potential audience when it came to gamers. That’s why they put so much effort into getting a strong development house for the Undisputed series originally, and even bringing a UFC application to the Xbox 360. Gamers as a subculture have a fascination with martial arts and combat, and in the modern day there is no better place to satiate that fascination than the UFC. At the same time, if the games that are put out are not up to snuff, then said potential fanbase will be turned off by the product.
As both a gamer and an MMA fan, I am praying that EA Sports realizes that a partnership with the UFC can be a potential gold mine, provided the correct time and energy is put into making it all work. At the same time, it could prove disastrous. Let us hope that the series continues to be solid, albeit the development house switching.
Not holding my breath.