EA Sports is generally the major player in sports video games, at times even able to leverage exclusive deals with some of the biggest leagues (Madden NFL). However, in the world of mixed martial arts, EA has been beaten to the punch by THQ for the lucrative UFC license. Without a mainstream brand behind it, EA Sports MMA is going to have to prove itself on the strength of its mechanics. After some hands-on time with the game, the main distinctions between UFC and MMA are the control scheme and the online features in the works.
The control scheme in EA Sports MMA is very similar to other EA franchises such as Fight Night, NHL and Skate that use the right analogue stick for the core moves. For instance, striking is almost entirely controlled by simulating different actions with the right stick, as opposed to UFC's use of the face buttons. In fact, the controls in MMA are pretty much the polar opposite of UFC. Another example being the transitions, which are mapped to the face buttons - players tap X to advance their position, circle to counter the advance, and square to preform a submission. Once an advance has been initiated the opposing player's controller will vibrate, which is meant to cue a quick counter. It's a system based around precise timing, rather than mashing buttons or stick maneuvers.
Much like the UFC control scheme, MMA's setup has its advantages and disadvantages. Personally, I preferred the analog stick striking because it made difficult moves, such as head kicks and superman punches, much harder to spam. On the other hand, preforming quick jab combos seemed to have a much steeper learning curve. Overall, the controls felt responsive and fairly intuitive.
In terms of multiplayer, the developers (EA Tiburon) have some interesting plans to entice players to hop online. At the core of these plans is the live broadcasting system for special in-game fights. Apparently this will allow players to record hype videos from their fights and submit them for a chance to compete against other popular contenders online. These fights will include commentators, spectators, and will be broadcast live over EA's servers with prizes going to the victor. It's an intriguing idea, which could easily catch on with hardcore fans if the prizes are compelling.
EA Sports MMA is definitely a worthy challenger to UFC's title atop the world of mixed martial arts games. The responsive control scheme is much more akin to Fight Night then UFC, which brings with it its own strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the online features EA Tiburon have in the works sound very interesting. Look out for more on EA Sports MMA as its fall 2010 release approaches.