2017 was the year of the cinematic story mode in sports games. It was the year that Madden, NBA Live, and to a lesser extent, MLB The Show, joined NBA 2K with story modes of their own. UFC 3, however, will not be jumping into the fray.
Instead, EA Canada is doubling down on a traditional career mode—this despite the fact that creative director Brian Hayes worked on Fight Night, which featured one of the original sports game story modes.
In explaining his reasoning, Hayes said that it was mostly a matter of building up UFC's foundation. "Looking at feedback on UFC 2, we knew that career mode was what the vast majority of our players play. We knew that career mode was the mode that players say is their favorite mode. But on UFC 2 it was actually one of the modes that didn't rank highest in satisfaction scores," he said.
"So while we could have done a cinematic story mode, that would have taken investment away from improving career mode. We wanted to make sure that we got career mode right before we created something new."
The effort shows in a revamped career mode in which you build a fighter from scratch in the minors and take them up to the pro levels. It includes a system in which you invest a weekly pool of points into promotion, training, and fight preparation as you steadily rise up the ranks. On the surface, it's relatively simple, but it includes amusing touches like your attitude in social media reflecting how aggressive your character is during weigh-ins.
Interestingly, UFC's focus on career mode is the inverse of the trend in Madden and FIFA, where the sheer popularity of Ultimate Team has prompted complaints that the developers don't focus on traditional single-player nearly enough. You could say that these fans are getting everything they want in UFC 3.
On the flipside, FIFA's "The Journey" story mode has proven enormously popular, drawing in new fans who would otherwise ignore sports games entirely. The same can be said for Madden and even NBA Live. But despite seeing this success firsthand, Hayes is opting to wait on introducing something similar for UFC, despite it being a natural addition to the series.
"For the future of the franchise, we may look into expanding into the more cinematic narrative experience," Hayes says. "But Madden and FIFA were already mature sports titles with very robust Be a Pro and Manager modes. So for them to expand into that story mode thing makes sense for them."
When the time comes, though, Hayes will undoubtedly have some interesting ideas in his back pocket. After all, he worked on the game where you could literally be sent to prison. UFC would seem to offer all kinds of opportunities for crazy drama.
But we'll have to wait and see if that's the case for UFC 4. In the meantime, UFC 3 will be out on PS4 and Xbox One on February 2.