Sometimes the nuances of increased realism can be difficult to spot in a sports sim.
What initially feels clunky and irritating will sometimes reveal itself to be deep and realistic with time. That seems to be what's happening with UFC's 3 closed beta, which dropped earlier this week. The beta's changes have drawn mixed reviews from some; but as time as passed, more than a few players have emerged to praise its increased depth.
"I cant deny that I hated it at first but I've really come to love the striking," one commenter remarked on Reddit. "The controls are still [messed up] but after lots of practice you're able to fight a much smarter and my nuanced game and the key element that one wrong move could cost you the match is immense. Career is going to be crazy with these new dynamics."
"I think some people who aren't having as much fun with it, prolly are button mashing or not mixing the combos up. Timing and combos are key in this game," another wrote.
Indeed, while its still early days, its apparent that EA is going for a deeper, more nuanced experience with UFC 3. Striking in particular is taking center stage in this version.
The controls have changed dramatically, with R2 now being used to block the head, and R2 and L2 being used to block the body. Punches are mapped to the triangle and square buttons, while kicks are mapped X and O. More advanced moves require a string of complicated inputs, like something out of Tekken.
"I'm enjoying it. I have some issues with stamina drain at times, and I think the sub system is too heavily favoring the aggressor, but I love the convo animations and the focus towards less spam," one observer told me. "Still feel like utilizing triggers and bumpers at the same times for certain strikes is tough at times."
He highlighted the need to be constantly aware of your defense, as you can easily be staggered if you're not careful.
These nuances make it harder for newcomers to grapple with UFC 3. At first blush, it feels slow and robotic, its combat a confusing mish-mash of different systems. When you're on the ground, you have to hit QTE-like prompts as you roll around, all while keeping a careful eye on your stamina. Timing is hard to pick up.
But it's clear why EA is going in this direction. As with their other sports sims, especially FIFA, EA wants to keep fans playing year round. That can only be accomplished with tactically deep combat that rewards skill over button mashing.
Deeper gameplay feeds into the longevity of UFC 3's modes, which will hopefully be deeper and more interesting than the rather staid UFC 2. While it's not present in the beta, UFC 3 will feature a "G.O.A.T Career Mode" similar to that of NBA Live where you make make promotional choices, hype bouts, and eventually earn your way into the big show.
UFC 3 and NBA Live are handled by different studios within EA, but the quality of NBA Live's career mode was encouraging, and EA Canada will no doubt be borrowing a bunch of tips and tricks from Tiburon.
There will also be the omnipresent Ultimate Team, where the bulk of the multiplayer community will gravitate. Like FIFA, Madden, NHL, and NBA Live, UFC 3 will feature randomized card packs. Unlike these games, these packs will include items designed to strengthen the fighters you draw, adding an extra layer to the customization.
You can argue whether this is the right or wrong approach. Our sister site Push Square certainly has opinions on the matter. But unlike Star Wars Battlefront 2, there will be non-monetized alternatives for those who don't want to grind or spend money, including regular multiplayer. That alone makes UFC 3 more tolerable than EA's more recent projects.
As a biennial series dedicated to the hardcore cult following of MMA, EA Sports UFC has flown further under the radar than many of EA's other sports sims. Reviews for the original UFC were mixed at best; and while UFC 2 was a definite step up thanks to its improved visuals, gameplay and physics, it wasn't quite as large a leap as fans might have hoped.
UFC 3 will be EA's latest attempt to try and put it all together and create a true memorable MMA sim. It still feels a little too complicated for its own good, but its attempts to really capture the nuances of the sport are admirable, and stand to pay off with a loyal cult following if EA manages to get it right.
Hopefully it will all come together in one complete package once UFC 3 releases February 2.