When you consider this is EA Sports first stab at a UFC licenced MMA game, the results are positive. A solid foundation has been laid for what is likely to become a yearly franchise. The visuals are stunning, the fights are flat out fun and in nearly every way EA Sports nailed that authentic UFC experience. Will the game sell? Only time will tell but when I compare EA Sports UFC game to THQ’s previous efforts, what you have here is an enjoyable MMA game fans of previous UFC games and new comers will surely enjoy. It is not perfect by any stretch and there is still plenty of room for growth; however, after spending a significant amount of time in EA Sports octagon over the past week I am left with mostly good impressions. And that is something I didn’t expect going in.
When I first fired up the game, the biggest question I had was how could EA Sports possibly improve or reinvent what THQ managed to do with the UFC franchise of games. I was a fan of THQ’s UFC Undisputed games. I loved how Dana White backed THQ and wanted to stick it to EA for not purchasing the publishing rights when they had the opportunity to do so several years back. Besides all that, by the time Undisputed 3 hit retail, THQ had that virtual MMA experience down pat. I mean really, there was just no way EA Sports could possibly top what THQ managed to accomplish, right?
Much to my surprise, EA Sports UFC is superior in many ways. For starters, the graphics are borderline jaw dropping. The level of detail and graphical fidelity is incredible. The fighters are the stars of the show and that is evident by the great care and attention paid to their likeness, right down to every last detail including the exact replicas of their tattoo’s and their location on their bodies. All their signature moves, pre-fight mannerisms and fighting styles are accurately reflected in the game. It looks incredibly authentic and is quite easily the best professional athletes have looked on a console to date.
As impressive as the fighters look, the rest of the EA Sports UFC experience is gorgeous. I especially liked how the game includes real life footage from fighters, coaches and Dana White himself offering you words of encouragement as you progress along the career mode. The game plays great homage to the sport and that is evident every step of the way. The octagon itself, the fans and even the colours from the sponsor ads on the ring pop on the screen. It is fantastic looking, what more can I say.
Technically speaking I did notice a few issues. For starters the game runs at 30 frames per second. This was a problem as I did notice the odd hiccup or slow down. It wasn’t prevalent enough to ruin the entire experience but was certainly noticeable. This was most noticeable during training sessions. While I didn’t notice any clipping issues, I did see the odd phantom kick where fighters would not connect yet the opponent would react as if he had been struck with a blow. On more than a few occasions my opponent would drop like a ton of bricks from a blow to the head. The only problem, my punch or kick never connected. Again, this is not a deal breaker but more of a small annoyance.
Another area where EA Sports UFC game has THQ’s Undisputed beat is in the commentating and audio department. Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg set the perfect stage for the commentary. The level of emotion and intensity they bring to the game is impressive and even more impressive is rarely do they ever repeat themselves. I was equally impressed with how the commentating matched with what was going on during the fight. It was spot-on or about as spot-on as I’ve seen commentary in a sports game. Likewise, the music is stellar. The amount of songs in the library is huge ranging from recognizable recording artists to some of those hardcore metal tunes you typically hear in all pay per view UFC events. As for the rest of UFC’s sound effects such as the punching, kicking, grunting and all the other sounds you would typically hear in an MMA fight, the game delivers.
All these fancy graphics and fantastic sounds mean jack squat if the game plays like a steaming bag of crud. Well thankfully it doesn’t and actually manages to play quite well all issues aside. Those familiar with previous UFC games should have no problems picking up the games controls. Everyone else, expect a learning curve and a rather steep one at that.
Punching and kicking controls are mapped to the face buttons which makes striking straight forward. However, things get a little trickier when it comes to the ground game, takedowns, submissions, transitions and grappling. The more complicated MMA moves are accomplished with the trigger and shoulder buttons in combination with the right stick. These moves certainly take some time to perfect but thankfully the game features a comprehensive tutorial, challenges and training sequences which allows you to practice all of the core fighting mechanics over and over. If this isn’t enough for you easports.com features a UFC tips and tricks hub so you are never really left to your own devices to figure things out which is a huge sigh of relief. Regardless, the control scheme is deep and isn’t something you will pick up overnight.
The fights themselves are a blast. Unleashing one blow after another will only deplete your stamina bar so there is a great deal of strategy involved with every fight. You need to plan your attacks and be able to effectively defend yourself. If you don’t concern yourself with the defensive game you will get KO’d in no time flat. As bad as I wanted to wail away on my opponent the game inevitably punished me for doing so.
The only problem I found with the defensive game was dodging blows. For instance to dodge a head strike you need to pull on the left trigger and flick the left thumbstick. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. The dodging controls are not as a responsive as they could be at all. Being able to quickly dodge a punch should be a seamless control mechanic but unfortunately in UFC it wasn’t.
Another issue I had with the gameplay is the submission system. Simply put, I am not a fan of the “submission mini-game” as I found that it took me away from the fight and aggravated me more often than not. More specifically, when a submission move is applied, an octagon gate is overlaid on the screen. You then have to use your right stick and flick the left stick in order to escape a submission or to further apply one. It seems simple at first but in-game and especially against a human opponent it is difficult to pull off. The submission system has always been an issue for me in previous UFC games and it remains an issue in EA Sports UFC game.
While the fights are enjoyable and winning a match is incredibly satisfying at times I felt the pace of the matches were a tad slow and some of the blows didn’t seem as fluid as they could be. Perhaps the 30fps may have something to do with it but I just found at times the pace didn’t seem all that natural. It just seemed heavy and clunky at times.
I spent the bulk of my time in the Career mode which is truly a delight but nothing incredibly innovative or original. Just like in previous UFC games, you start off by creating a fighter with several customizable options. After you create your fighter, you kick off your career on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) stage. After you win TUF you begin your career in the UFC where you increase your skills and attributes, gain fans, sponsors and new moves. It’s a lot of fun and addicting; just don’t expect anything over the top new here.
In addition to the career mode, UFC features an online mode. The online mode allows two players to go head to head in a quick match using any of the fighters featured in the game. Pretty standard stuff but where it does get interesting is in the Championship area where you fight in seasons with any licensed fighter. It is almost the UFC’s equivalent of a Madden or NHL Seasons game mode. “Rivalries” is another online mode for friendly competition against players from your friends list and uses many of the same game mechanics from Championships. The fights I played online all ran smooth without a hitch. Granted, I got my arse handed to me on more than a few occasions but at the end of the day I enjoyed the online games I played and have complaints. I am however curious to see what online exploits evolve over time.
There is no question EA Sports had an immense challenge ahead of them. THQ had pretty much nailed that virtual UFC experience with UFC Undisputed 3. Being able to top it would be a tall order. In some respects, EA Sports did just that by delivering an enjoyable MMA game featuring stunning next generation visuals and a fabulous audio experience. It is a complex sport so it comes as no surprise the control scheme is somewhat daunting requiring practice and that little thing called patience. UFC is not as refined as an experience it could be and compared to other sports franchises it lacks in the depth department; however, there is no question EA Sports UFC game is fun to play and overall is a satisfying fighter.