If you're a layman to ultra-violence, think of the Ultimate Fighting Championship as The X Factor, and every other organisation as one of those Andrew Lloyd Webber knockoffs.
Strikeforce, Dream and friends aren't really worse than the UFC - in some respects they're better - but they don't have the glamour, the history or the audience of the big show. They're in an uphill struggle for recognition, even though it's largely the same product. Imagine how EA Sports feels.
But it's worked hard to differentiate itself from the competition. Apart from signing up every decent fighter not tied to the UFC, it's included 'Japanese rules' matches, where fights take place in a boxing ring and soccer kicks to a grounded fighter's face are completely legal.
Career mode is packed with legendary non-UFC types and the training games are decent, even if the amateur fights are a bit sloppy. And EA has embraced the visible button prompts and energy bars - fighters have separate stats for Stamina, Head, Legs and Torso, which become visible when they're dangerously low. This all works well.
Punches in bunches
More contentiously, it's also flipped the UFC's control system around. This works brilliantly for the striking system - EA's Fight Night series already uses the right stick for punches, and the weighty connections, clever parrying, and intuitive feel have transferred across well.
With flying knees and spinning backfists, simply kickboxing an opponent is fun in its own right, which is fine if you can come to a gentleman's agreement not to go for takedowns. The problem is, using the stick for punching leaves you grappling with the buttons, and here, EA MMA feels too simple.
There are five options on the ground: strike, go for a submission, stand back up, get to a 'better' position, or block any of the above. It's elaborate rock, paper, scissors, but because every fruitless move saps stamina, it can turn into a glacial war of attrition.
Also frustrating is that takedowns are fractionally easier than in the UFC game, so strikers will have a tough time staying up. It doesn't destroy the fun, but it does cancel out some of the goodwill generated by the satisfying face-thump physics.
What you're left with is a game that's about as good as Undisputed - better on the feet, but worse on the ground. And when you're going up against the X Factor of smashed orbital sockets, that's not quite enough.
Great in places, horribly sparse in others
- Satisfyingly meaty striking
- Impressive roster and trainers
- Japanese Rules is fun
- Simple yet chess-paced grappling
- Near-silent commentators