MMA fighting is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and the UFC is undoubtedly the most famous brand within the sport. It was only a matter of time until the UFC brand was snatched up by EA SPORTS, the biggest name in sports video games.
And while this isn’t the first MMA title released by the mega-publisher, it is the first with the UFC brand attached. With the new name comes the added responsibility of properly representing the UFC brand, and unfortunately the game misses as many punches as it lands.
EA SPORTS UFC utilizes EA’s Ignite Engine, and if nothing else, the end product is one of the most gorgeous and most realistic looking games to date. It’s impossible not to notice the insane attention to detail the development team paid to recreating a television broadcast fight. Bruce Buffer acts as the Octagon announcer before every fight, Joe Rogan sits alongside Mike Goldberg as commentators, and Dana White hosts The Ultimate Fighter (which acts as the game’s career mode). Everything is beautifully realized, from graphics to sound design, it’s impossible to fault the game for trying to perfectly recreate the experience of watching a live fight.
It’s unfortunate this doesn’t always translate well into game play.
Fighting is composed of 3 different modes – standing, clinch, and ground (think of these like passing, running, and defense in any Madden game). The standing game works incredibly well. Throwing punches is relegated to the square and triangle buttons, while the kicks are assigned to the circle and X buttons. Each strike can be altered by either holding the shoulder buttons or moving the left stick in certain directions. This allows for many styles of punching and kicking, and it feels very natural in that regard.
Clinching, not unlike grappling, is where the two fighters hold each other close and exchange blows. Little to my knowledge (note, I am not an active follower of the sport), there are multiple styles of clinches that allow each fighter to have an advantage over their opponent. Certain holds allow for one to relentlessly knee the other in the face. Unfortunately the game doesn’t handle this particularly well. If you’re being dominated in this position, it’s extremely difficult to break out and separate yourself from your opponent. I understand that UFC fans are likely scoffing at this complaint right now, and that’s fine, but as a game, it does handle it poorly, never allowing you any sort of indication that what you’re doing is the incorrect move.
Same goes for the ground game, only it’s worse. Supposedly, clicking in on the left thumbstick should allow you to push away, and understandably that won’t work most times, but there ought to be a strategy to this from a game play perspective. Perhaps that’s the game’s biggest fault: it is less of a game and more of a simulation, and to be fair, I’m not going to hold that against it. But it should be noted that this is more in line with one of the Fight Night games than one of the WWE games. Non-UFC fans might not necessarily expect that, while the UFC-faithful will.
In place of a more traditional career mode is a mode that mirrors the show The Ultimate Fighter. It’s an effort that will divide many players. Some will be far more interested in jumping into fights and fighting the big names in Madison Square Garden, while others will appreciate seeing their custom-built fighter work their way up through the popular television show. The biggest issue here is that upon first inserting the disc, the game puts you through a (poorly handled) tutorial to attempt to get you up to speed on the game’s control scheme. Upon starting The Ultimate Fighter, you’re again required to complete a very similar, albeit far more comprehensive, tutorial and I question if a tutorial at the beginning is even necessary.
The customer fighter creator tool is hugely disappointing. Most head shapes fall somewhere between ogreish and f*** ugly, and from what I could tell, it was impossible to create a custom female fighter. In addition to this, you can max out your character’s stats to max which doesn’t allow for the strategic placement of abilities. However, once using your character in the career mode, you’re set to a limit and must use a point system that increases as you win fights.
Beyond this, there is an online mode which will allow you to fight against friends and strangers from all over the world. This is to be expected and works pretty well. Multiplayer allows you to experience all of the weight classes and all of the fighters.
The impressive roster goes so far as to include female fighters. It’s an extremely welcome addition that should attract a larger female crowd (my wife was thrilled by the idea that she could play as Ronda Rousey). Perhaps my only complaint is the way in which EA has handled DLC. I’m not usually someone who takes issue with Day One DLC, but the way in which the publisher handles the Bruce Lee addition (seriously, how cool is it to play as Bruce Lee!?) is disturbing. Interested buyers can purchase, for $5.99, the ability to play as the famous fighter for all weight classes, or one could pay $2 per weight class. Frankly, it feels excessive and, while normally DLC isn’t commented on in reviews, this was something that particularly caught my eye. Again, this is not something that will affect my review score.