The future of sports games is in the RPG

By Kirk McKeand, Monday, 30 April 2018 09:03 GMT

I have been playing UFC 3, a game in which you punch people in the face, and one thing has been going round my head as I KO my way through Career Mode: I wish there was more talking.

UFC 3 is a great game. It captures all the violence and technicality of MMA with a fighting system that makes sense, without resorting to minigames to separate out the disciplines of BJJ, wrestling, and stand-up martial arts.

Each face button is a limb and the triggers are height modifiers. Combos are performed by simply stringing inputs together, and it works just like any practical martial art – jab, cross, leg kick is your bread and butter.

On the ground, transitions are on the stick, and you defend against them the same way, only holding block as a modifier. It is very close to being the perfect simulation of the sport. I just wish it expanded on was the stuff that happens outside of the Octagon.

Conor McGregor is the star of the show here, staring down at you from the loading screens and the game’s cover. The controversial Irish fighter rose to popularity because of his trash-talking attitude prior to fights.

UFC 3 seems to understand the importance of pre-fight hype. As well as training between Career Mode bouts, you can hype up your next battle by meeting and greeting fans, playing games on Twitch, posting to social media, attending press conferences, and more. It all happens off-screen, of course.

Whenever you choose one of these options, you see a tweet from your fighter appear on the screen, and you periodically get responses from fans and people who hate you pop up as you work your way through the training camps.

In the early days of your career, there are lots of naysayers, and it feels good to prove them wrong with a decisive KO against a stronger opponent. There are also multiple choice answers for when a rival tweets you with some smack talk – your response can either gain or lose you fans.

It’s a great addition to the game, but it’s not long before things start to repeat. It’s a shame because these personal stories add some gravitas to your fights. I just wish BioWare had been brought in to help make it.

EA understands the importance of a studio’s strengths – that’s why Criterion is brought on to create race and flight sequences in the publisher’s other games. So why not leverage the great writers at BioWare to put together a more robust, personal story for future sports games?

It feels like this is the way they are heading anyway. FIFA even has a proper story mode now, in which you take on the role of a single player and grow their career, occasionally triggering a cutscene. If the future of sports games is what happens outside of the sport, why not embrace it fully?

UFC 3 has other elements you would associate with an RPG, letting you unlock news moves and apply perks to buff you in different areas, so even the nuts and bolts borrows from the RPG.

I’m not expecting to be driving to the gym in an open-world, throwing bollards at buses full of UFC fighters, or anything like that, but let us choose responses at press conferences, let us bump into a rival during training, and let us haggle over contracts. If the future of sports games is in story, let us shape it along with our fighter’s cheekbones.

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