To a British audience, MMA is a rather alien concept. Personally, before I encountered UFC Personal Trainer due to a friend’s recommendation, I didn’t know the form existed, but now I do, I love it. A full-contact sport, fighters can come from any martial art’s discipline and aim to win by either KO or Submission in an Octagonal cage. So when the chance came to test the latest entry in the fighting series, I leapt for it, and I’m not disappointed.
In order to fully enjoy the following review, you must take in to account that this is not WWE, nor is this even simply “wrestling”. This isn’t a game simply based on an entertainment form, it’s a game based on a truly gritty, real sport, and that’s what makes it so great.
My copy of the game was on PS3 and the first thing I noticed was the extensive installation time. Don’t get me wrong, It was nothing compared to the 20 minute install of some games, but none-the-less, it’s a drag to put in the disc before having to wait ages when you’re excited for a new game. Once you finally get into the main menu, you find a breadth of modes to bludgeon people in. There’s the typical Exhibition mode, where you choose two UFC or PRIDE fighters from seven weight classes to brawl it out in the octagon. New to the series is the inclusion of the PRIDE rule set, which is essentially the Japanese equivalent with small differences such as the points judging and the shape of the ring.
Other modes include a tournament ladder, a title mode and title defence mode, but the real meat is in the Career mode where you can control the career of a fighter from humble beginning to champion status. You can either create your own fighter; in my opinion the better option, or use an existing UFC fighter as a base. Whilst the real fighters are much unknown to myself, I can see that the developer has worked hard to deliver fan-service to those who know their Chris Lytle’s from their Mark Hunt’s, with each pre-made fighter having strengths and weaknesses akin to their real performance.
For those who go down the route I did, the Character creation tool is a joy to work with. With a wide range of body-types, moves, hairstyles, facial features and outfits, there is essentially unlimited scope to create your perfect fighter. The biographic choices you make during the process will be shouted at the start of each match, as will certain details relating to your play-style and move-set. I was pleasantly surprised at how many hometowns were available, and despite the heavily-American nature of the list they included several British cities including Nottingham and Manchester. I especially like the gear customisation options, with the ability to create not only your own sponsored shorts from a selection of pre-made bases, but also shirts and caps which will be worn by your trainers during the aftermath of a fight. Also, the nickname system allows character familiarity with the announcers and audience without over-complicating the voice acting or limiting names, though I think that more nicknames should have been available from the get-go. I think the addition of performance options also adds that bit more depth to the character, although it’s rare that you see their full potential.
After character creation, there are a variety of tests and trials to help decide on things such as starting strength and difficulty, before launching you into the actual career; slowly. There is a rather long, linear tutorial process, which at times feels like we’re getting led by the hand through the excessive menus with their long loading times, but eventually things open up. The career functions along a path where you organise a fight with an opponent and then get a certain number of actions to help you prepare for the fight, such as gym training, camp training and battle-plans. Gym training raises your attributes and skills through combat-related mini-games, and although I appreciate the inclusion of RPG-lite elements some of the training exercises feel too tricky. I think this may be due to a skew in the rewards and difficulty, but hopefully that’s just a personal issue and it isn’t game breaking. The camp training allows your character to learn new special moves, such as the Superman Punch. The standing strike actions are fantastic uses of this element, but the grapple and ground moves sometimes feel redundant as they depend on getting into a certain position, which is hard enough to control on its own without having to try and pull off complicated moves at the same time. Battle plans modify certain basic attributes by a certain amount for the match, and depending on both your training and fight performance you get to keep a certain number of points permanently; for better and worse. It’s an interesting concept, having to weigh up the potential rewards and losses, and seems to work a lot better than the other training segments.
Once your fighter is prepared, it’s time to actually fight. The thing the game does best is setting the scene, the frame for your epic encounter. You aren’t just fighting an opponent, you’re part of an actual event and there are other fights happening around yours, whether you are the main event or not. The sense of occasion is celebrated, and although you can skip the other fights they still feel important. The opening of every fight is marked by the announcement of the fighters, and this really makes it feel like you belong in this universe. The great thing about fights is the sheer weight involved. Every punch sounds and feels brutal due to the reactions and bloody splatters of the characters. The models also look fantastic, with better graphics than I’ve ever seen in a fighting game before. The little details, like the recurring wounds and sweaty streaks which appear during the match make everything feel real. The comments thrown around during the match always seem to be original and relevant. Controls are reactive and fun and the introduction of simpler grappling mechanics really help newbies to the series, yet it also feels like a deep experience and a win always makes you feel badass.
The multiplayer aspects of the game are also incredibly solid, both online and offline with little to no move lag in either. Nothing feels better than pummelling your best mate to a bloody mess whilst sat next to him, and the learning curve allows anyone to jump in and have a go.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with this game, but there are many issues that are just not acceptable. The loading times are ridiculous by modern standards. I’ve spent half my time playing waiting for matches to begin or to transition between menus. It’s definitely the longest loading I’ve experienced on PS3, sometimes in the most ridiculous of places. Also, I’m yet to experience a smart highlight reel, as I waited for about 4 minutes for it to generate one before giving up. These things are usually considered rather unimportant, but come on EA, Modern games demand quick loading! Also, when I turn on entrances in the menu, I expect to see them every time with the option to skip, not once every 6 or so fights! I’m not sure if this is a bug or a design choice, but it’s just wrong. There are also some fundamental logical flaws, though they may be to do with the UFC ranking system rather than the actual game. Was ranked 4th, fought the 3rd ranked fighter and lost. Went down to 7th? Also, there are some minor clipping issues during fights but in a game with such a variety of fighter and move combinations it’s inevitable.
All in all, this game should be praised. Never before have I been so drawn in by a fighting experience so much so that I actively want to learn the fighters and watch the real-life events. I haven’t even gone into the fantastic sounds design or the massive selection of fighters, but trust me, they are great. The inherent brutality may disturb some, and the lack of “don’t try this as home” warnings is a little worrying, but frankly I don’t care. It’s a joy to smash faces in with Superman Punches whilst the crowd screams “Beast! Beast! Beast!” before to sliding on the ground and thumping your chest like King Kong. This is addictive gameplay, using and abusing the “one more fight” excuse to its full ability. As someone who would generally avoid sport-based games like the plague, I am converted.
PRO’s – Brutal fights, deep mechanics, great sound-design and all-around fantastic experience.
CON’s – Loading issues and occasional clipping may annoy.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.