EA Sports UFC 3 review - the art of fighting has never looked so good

★★★★★ EA SPORTS UFC 3 The art of fighting has never looked so good

Cage fighting summons up images of the most brutal hand-to-hand combat. Two fighters, an octagon cage, punches, kicks, submission holds, and the trademark "ground and pound" when an opponent drops to the floor and his rival goes in to finish him off. Not very tasteful, is it?

But the blood-on-the-canvas world of Ultimate Fighting Championship is a sporting dichotomy straddling savage barbarity and unrivalled skill. The action is undeniably brutal but the athleticism and precise technique on display places the protagonists at the top tier of the sporting elite.

It’s a violently compelling spectacle that pulls no punches

Boxers can’t match the stamina, kick-boxers can’t compete with the upper body firepower, wrestlers can only work on the floor – but UFC fighters, professional multi-disciplined mixed martial artists, can do it all. Which is why people like Conor McGregor become household names, making the kind of money that make footballers green with envy.

Place this ultimate combat sport in a videogames world and you would think that it’s a no-brainer first round KO. But while games have played host to epic beat-em-ups since the days of The Way of the Exploding Fist, UFC titles have sometimes struggled with the complexity of it all.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the hardest of all sports to recreate due to the complexity and variety of combat. You’ll punch, kick, block and counter, but also grapple and wrestle, looking for submission holds or aiming to ground and pound – straddling a downed opponent before unleashing a succession of blows. Try boiling all that down into a two-thumbstick gamepad and you can see the challenge to create a cohesive combat experience.

But cohesive combat is precisely what has been achieved, this UFC outing has a great deal more fluidity and flow to the action than the last iteration two years ago. Much is down to now using the right thumbstick exclusively to bob and weave, meaning you can strike and move simultaneously, keeping the fighters constantly moving.Punches and kicks are still mapped to the four circular buttons but the triggers and left and right bumpers can modify the output from a jab to a crushing left hook. Some moves, like the jumping knee, require a trigger, bumper and a button to be pressed simultaneously. At times it can be a bit like playing Twister with your fingers – but with devastating effect.

The visuals have been spruced up, so now each kick or punch leaves a new and improved visible wound on your opponent – resulting in bruised ribs, broken noses, gashed heads and purple shins. Even the winner can look like he just headbutted an oncoming train: it’s graphic stuff. But the visible impact of a well-timed weave-and-counter left hook is a visceral thrill and glorious to behold. Knocking a fighter to the floor before leaping on top before you proceed to mash his face through the canvas still feels odd – but it’s also guiltily compelling, as it’s just so over the top it’s addictive fun to play.Wrestling and submission holds are still the weakest link in the chain of combat moves – but rather than poor execution, it’s largely down to the ignorance of the player knowing if a full guard is more effective than a side collar, for example. Either way, once the fight gets to the ground-game part of the match there’s a lot more chance that a polished AI will make mincemeat of a human opponent.

UFC 3 offers the kind of mileage you would expect from a major EA Sports title. The career mode lets you embark on a progressive journey with the aim of becoming the greatest of all time. Elsewhere, Ultimate Team follows the FIFA model for squad building alongside online quick fights, ranked championships, live events, submission and striking exhibitions, Create A Fighter and a hidden gem that is the Knockout Mode, where Snoop Dogg commentates on the action – worth the asking price alone.

Overall, UFC 3 is the complete fighting package. It’s a violently compelling spectacle that pulls no punches and takes no prisoners – just like the sport it so faithfully recreates.