World of Mixed Martial Arts 5, or WMMA 5, is the fifth and final instalment of this series from Grey Dog Software’s Adam Ryland (Total Extreme Wrestling, Comic Book Hero, plus others). WMMA 5 puts you in charge of a company in a fictional world of cage fighting. Through careful scouting, hiring, and clever matchmaking, you’re responsible for the fate of your company and the fighters within. It’s an addictive and immersive experience, and although this is possibly a given considering how niche this game is, there really is nothing else quite like this out there.
The gameplay suffers from the same “one more turn”-itis that we see more prevalent in games like XCOM and Civilisation, but instead it’s “one more event”. Your job is to hire fighters across the various weight classes, and then build their career as much as you can. You can do this through hyping them up, giving them easy matches or even putting them on reality TV in an “Ultimate Fighter” analogue if your company is big enough. Of course, it’s a balancing act – fighters that lose will go down in popularity, and therefore their name value decreases. You can mitigate this through bringing in “cans” – an unkind term for a fighter who is brought in and expected to lose – but you cannot choose who wins the matches and the game can throw a curveball at you at any point. Take Lamont Banner – an African-American standout who I had at a record of 12 wins and 0 losses. He looked unstoppable and set to challenge for the title of his division. I put him against a “regen” – a fighter the game created organically – thinking it’d be an easy 13-0 and give him a little more of a boost. Except Mr. Regen had other ideas, knocking Banner out cold after three minutes of fighting when he landed a lucky elbow. I can fix this – I can rebuild Banner after he lost to a nobody – but it’s going to be hard. This is part of the challenge and certainly balances the risk/reward factor well.
There is an element of frustration built into this living and evolving game world, which starts at the beginning of modern MMA, back in the early 2000s. Fighters will fall out, slate each other on social media or end up unhireable due to scandal. Some will call each other out at the end of an event, giving you a good, hyped match for a future event, and the subject will respond in kind – sometimes even laughing the challenge off. But it’s also frustrating in that the big promotions will always come calling for your stars, just as you’ve finishing “making” them. I have restarted several games now in a semi-fury that my best guys got poached, when running a small company, and I’m yet to find a real way around this other than flat-out cheating with the in-built editor.
When the event rolls around, the game really shines. The WMMA fight engine has been developed over ten years now, and although it is text based unlike the EA UFC series, it reflects what would and should happen in a fight. As an example, if you’ve got a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert in the ring, he’ll try to get his opponent to the ground. But if this isn’t a sensible choice – say he’s fighting another BJJ expert or a submission fighter who outclasses him – he’ll go to some of his other skills instead. I love the way the game engine reflects what a fighter is good at, yet still doesn’t pigeonhole them or force them into bad decisions or being a one-trick pony when they’re in the cage or the ring. Fighters will show their true character in the ring – refusing to touch gloves at the start if they’re a jerk or there’s bad blood, attempt incredible flying moves off the side of the cage, or be content to simply lay down and take the loss if they’re so inclined! The engine is simply the best it’s ever been in the series, and if you can enjoy text-based fight reports, you will find a lot to like watching one of the events here. There is again a negative – you will sometimes just have terrible matches between two popular, skilled and exciting fighters, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s rare, but it’s still incredibly annoying when it happens. However, I feel that this is realistic and allows the game to reflect real life, which is one of the main goals of course.
As discussed above, the WMMA interface is text based, and it is very busy indeed. You can see from the screenshot below that the sheer amount of buttons and menus is, at a first glance, overwhelming. I’ve bought each one of these games since 2007, and I still let out an audible “Whoa” when I opened the game for the first time. However, it does provide you with all of the info you want. Want to see where your fighter is most well-known, to target where to hold your event next? There’s a menu for that. Want to see who challenged who during the previous event? Same for that too! You can see detailed rankings for your entire promotion, full financial details, fighters who are available for hire – all at a click. One improvement is also the ability to customise your menu bars now, which brings this more in line with the customisation options you find in Football Manager (2018 review here).
Each fighter in the WMMA game world (some 1600+) has their own custom render – some of higher quality than others – and a fully detailed biography. Their skill-sets are clearly described and you can tell at a glance what a fighter is good at, be they man or woman. As ever with Ryland’s games, a huge amount of work has gone into this fictional universe, and the game is perfectly designed to take advantage of it with a solid history already in place for most of the stars. This lets you build off events in the past and gives you creative direction to go in if that if you want reason behind your fights. You develop an attachment to certain fighters, and are more than happy to cut loose some of those that let you down repeatedly. The game is, however, completely modifiable and if you’re more of a real world fan, there are some extremely dedicated members on the community forum who have created numerous real-world and alternate-verse mods too. The game has no real-life licenses, but with a few clicks it’s very easy to take over Bellator, UFC or many other real-life companies.
Ultimately, if you enjoy management games, especially those involving sport, this game really should be high on your radar. It is, by a mile, the best WMMA game of the series, and possibly the best game that Grey Dog Software have ever released. If you have even a passing interest in combat sports, you really should not let this one slip by. One major criticism, however, is the studio’s devotion to use of the E-License system for DRM rather than Steam or similar. This reliable, but extremely restrictive, DRM, means you have to manually license and unlicense the game if you want to change computers. Some of the earlier games from this company are on Steam, but in this day and age, this is only going to restrict sales and frustrate users. The creator, Adam Ryland, has said he will consider releasing on Steam in the future – but I do worry that this game will slip by many as a result.