It’s rare that EA Sports should be out done by another publisher when it comes to sports licenses, but this particular effort in the mixed martial arts arena is the newcomer to the scene. As such, it’s trading punches with two years’ of the Undisputed franchise, which has the UFC license. Does it manage to outdo THQ’s series? Pound for pound, it really is a 50/50 shout, as they’re different games and have strengths and weaknesses that stand out quite clearly after a little playing.

EA Sports MMA Screen 300x168 EA Sports: MMA – Xbox 360 ReviewThe most notable thing about EA Sports MMA is that its additions are simply better than Undisputed. The real knockout punch comes in the form of EA Sports Live Broadcast. This allows you to get broadcasted the world over. This is genuinely innovative, and something that, once perfected, could become a real deal breaker when it comes to choosing between the MMA titles out there. If you’re selected for a live broadcast, through your hype video, you go onto fight in a live prizefight. What’s more your match is called live by commentators from the development studio, EA Tiburon. This is an excellent addition, and while it could do with a little more spectacle, it’s sure to be built on over the life of the franchise.

Past that, it’s much of a muchness between the two. EA Sports MMA uses a style of fighting inspired by the Fight Night series. Modifiers on the shoulder buttons combined with movements on the right stick allow for plenty of punches, kicks and combos. The only real issue we have with it is that it’s a little slower than perhaps it should be. We’d like to see a control method that didn’t require quite so much thumb twiddling.

There’s a distinctive ebb and flow to matches, which mimics real fights, and means that there’s always a chance to turn things around. Where Undisputed seems geared towards working your opponent into a position to knock them out, MMA is about using your strengths to control your opponent and nullify their strengths. The control issue is one which often irritates however. There’s nothing more irritating than seeing a perfectly balanced match up – for there are often lengthy, beautifully taught fights – ruined by an erroneous movement on the stick. It happens too often, and some parts of the game do demand a speed that we’re not entirely sure that Total Strike Control can deal with.

That’s mainly because of how intense the game gets. It all works on paper, and is a great system for the most part. However, those intense moments cry out for button mashing episodes but you really have to keep it calm to fight effectively. This will be entirely counterintuitive to many, but to us it smacks of a development team who desperately want their game to be played thoughtfully.

In essence, the control system is slightly bi-polar in that it concentrates on sticks when you’re standing up, and shifts toward buttons as the action goes to ground. This is obviously necessary, given the amount of moves you have at your disposal, but it often takes you out of the zone, and feels a little back to front at times. As we mentioned, MMA is a thoughtful game. It’s control system is fine once you get the hang of it, but we can’t help feeling it could do with a little more intuition.

Without the big names from the world of UFC, MMA concentrates on making you a star. An upshot of this is that you can fight in more types of competition, with varying rules. This can ramp up the violence tremendously, and make winning a fight simpler or more complex, as is your bent. Submissions equate to minigames of some variety or another, and are usually down to the recipient to counter rather than the submitter to complete. Again, this can feel like a weak addition to the game, as technically almost all submissions are escapable, even if you’re in a hopeless situation.

In creating your star, you have a number of goals. Unlockable moves and various other bits and pieces form the biggest motivation to play through the career mode, which will become repetitive thanks to a lengthy skill boosting session before every fight. Thankfully, these can be simulated, but the idea of a career mode in fighting games really does need some reworking. It’ll keep you happy and interested for a majority of the time you spend with it.

There’s something about EA Sports MMA that somehow makes it a more valuable purchase than Undisputed. MMA feels like it’s growing, whereas THQ’s effort is simply going through the motions. That’s not to say that MMA isn’t without its niggles, but unless you really need the UFC superstars to have fun, MMA is a fresher take on the sport, and just pips Undisputed to the post for us.

Score: 7/10 – Good

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