Bellator: MMA Onslaught is in the unenviable position of having to provide a somewhat deep MMA experience at a downloadable price. Unfortunately this combination results in a game with an interesting combat model but not enough events in which to see it. While the tie in with the MMA league upon which it is based may lend some legs to the game, the game itself is too limited to provide more than a couple of hours worth of play.
The Bellator MMA league is based on the idea of title shots coming to fighters that earn them by coming up through single match elimination tournaments. There’s no notion of ranking to muddy the waters. If you win, you move on. If you don’t, you don’t. In the real thing, the tournaments features eight fighters across five weight classes. The game mimics this structure, featuring eight fighters with an even split between light and featherweight fighters. Unfortunatey, that’s not eight fighters per class, but eight fighters period.
Sure, you can create your own fighter, up to four of them, and the character creation aspect is pretty good. You can pick a weight class, pick a specialization, choosing from MMA, wrestling or kickboxing-esque styles, and then customize your fighter with whatever facial attributes you like. Once your fighter is ready for the ring, you can take part in various challenges based on things like normal attacks, ground attacks and defenses, clinch attacks and defenses and things like KOing stunned opponents and other technical aspects.
Completing challenges grants you experience, even more if you break a time record, experience that helps you level up and earn skill points used for purchasing better moves and improved attributes. Some challenges are relatively straightforward, things like block ten strikes, or perform ten clinch attacks. Some are not. While I understood the concept of knocking out a stunned opponent, I’ll be damned if I could ever figure out when my opponent was stunned. Still other challenges were way out of my league, mostly due to my fighting incompetence. The challenges are a nice way to level up your character before stepping into the ring, but the long loading times, both before and after the challenge makes completing challenges in one long run a bit of a slog.
Unfortunately, fighting in the various matches isn’t much better. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Bellator’s fighting style. You can’t wade in, punches flying and expect to just whittle down your opponent’s health bar. Well, you can, but all of those punches and kicks come at the expense of your stamina and once your stamina gets in the red, you’re open for an instant KO. Clinch and ground takedowns are accomplished with a flick of the right stick, as are transitions once you’re on the ground. Pulling off takedowns is fairly easy, however once you’re on the ground, the game felt less responsive with the transitions. Submissions against the AI felt like an instant win as I was never able to mash my buttons fast enough to withstand the attempt, nor could I ever successfully pull off a submission.
Now, it’s possible that I’m just a terrible MMA fighter. I’ll cop to that. It’s also possible that my fighter wasn’t leveled up enough to pull off these awesome moves. The biggest problem is that there are so few ways to level up your fighter that getting your character to a point where they can be competitive is not worth it. There’s a random, pick a fighter mode, in which you pick your fighter, pick your opponent, pick a venue and fight a match. There’s also a career mode, if you can call it that, where you pick a fighter and then fight through the same eight characters available in the pick a fighter mode. As these are based on the real life tournament structure, if you lose, you’re out, something I can certainly deal with. Having to do all eight fights in one sitting is less understandable, but I guess if you’re really good you can knock the matches out fairly quickly. My opponents certainly could.
Unfortunately, that’s it. While the leaderboards are populated with fighters, repeated attempts to get into an online match, ranked or private, were met with nothing but the chirping of virtual crickets. I know that Bellator has plans to plug the leaderboard top members into the Bellator broadcasts in some way, but if this dearth of online activity continues, they can prepare to keep showing the same set of names for every fight. Luckily all of your fighter’s stats carry over between the different game modes, but with so little diversity in the offerings, I’m not sure that it matters. Maybe people will want to keep fighting the same eight guys in order to get their fighter all the way up to level 64, but I know that I don’t. If I were to level up my fighter completely, I certainly wouldn’t want to start over with a new fighter, even with the differences in style.
Deciding how to market your games, and deciding on the scope of your game is a tricky business. Overreach and you may end up stretching yourself too thin to the detriment of the overall experience. Scale back too much and you leave your players wondering if the purchase was worth it. Bellator: MMA Onslaught definitely leans more towards the latter. Sure, the fighting system is well implemented, but with such a limited set of ways to experience it and build upon it, the game is like a kid with a great toy, and no one to play with.