Tighter than a Kimura lock
Mixed martial arts has long been one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, spearheaded by the UFC’s founding just over two decades ago. Combatants hail from around the globe, and the sport often packs up its eight-sided cage and travels to international locations such as Brazil and England to accommodate its ever-expanding popularity. So, it only made sense that when THQ went bankrupt a couple of years ago, EA Sports would swoop in and grab the rights. While the games from the THQ days were decent and diehard fans of the sport who simply couldn’t get enough ground and pound were served well, no one could’ve imagined what EA Canada’s Fight Night team would do when they put a chokehold on the property.
EA Sports UFC changes everything we know about MMA games, and you’ll never be able to look at those other titles the same again. Sure, we’ve all heard how great the characters look—and, yes, they do look phenomenal. The real-time deformation and discoloration of fighters is impressive, but I expect that to a degree with new-gen hardware. What really blew me away here were the control schemes.
I’ve played all of those other UFC titles. Often, they’d devolve into slugfests with little to no ground game due to complex, unintuitive controls. While EA Sports UFC’s controls aren’t of the pick-up-and-play variety, the game does a much better job of teaching you how to balance your attack, from standing up to working in the clinch to finally putting your opponent on the ground.
The game begins with a mandatory tutorial, then offers specific control challenges like “training” in career mode to earn extra points to level up your character. All this means that you’ll come to grasp the schemes far more effectively than ever before. By the time you work through the career mode once, you’ll be a master who’s more than ready to jump online.
You’ll also learn very quickly that if, like in those old games, you try to just stand and bang most of the time, you’ll end up knocked out on the canvas more often than not. The emphasis on the ground game is critical here, but with everything assigned to two simple motions modified by the specific button you press, the barrier for entry is far lower than it once was when it comes to the control scheme.
I went from not knowing how to apply a submission—never mind locking one in—to being a submissions specialist in EA Sports UFC, making 75 percent of my opponents tap over a 38-4 career. I won The Ultimate Fighter tournament to get my UFC contract, had two stints as the UFC Light Heavyweight champ, and I mastered a variety of locks: inverted triangles, armbars, Kimuras, and more. The game offers fewer satisfying feelings than knowing your opponent tapped out. Mind you, it’s much harder on a human opponent, but it’s not impossible—again only amping up that feeling of accomplishment.
My only issue with the career mode is that the training segments, while comprehensive, also became repetitive later on in your career. Some variety here could’ve really helped that section of the game keep its legs, but at least there’s an option to skip the training, which is especially nice once you max out your character near retirement.
I didn’t just grapple with AI-controlled opponents during my time with EA Sports UFC, though—I also took my skills online. While I never won fights online before in older UFC games, I was 3-2 here in an obviously limited stint, making one opponent tap and knocking the other two out (including one sick finish as Jon Jones with a Superman punch off the cage wall). And, yeah, I lost two matches, but they were really close: One went to a decision, and the other? I admit, I got my butt knocked out as B.J. Penn.
Not everything here is as flawless as Rondy Rousey’s 9-0 career start, however. In terms of technical shortcomings, the game has some framerate drops, both offline and online. It seemed to pop up most frequently with sudden camera shifts, like when starting the submission minigame. It’s not enough to ruin matches, but it’s enough to be noticeable and a bit bothersome at times.
I also feel like there could’ve been some improvement on the presentation side of things. While the real-time videos of Dana White, Mike Dolce, and a bevy of real-world fighters rooting me on and offering advice were nice, I was horribly disappointed by the lack of pomp and circumstance when I won a belt, made significant strides with my career, and finally was inducted into the hall of fame.
And speaking of looks, character customization could’ve been a bit deeper. To start with, the game offers fewer options than in THQ’s glory days in regards to the characters themselves. What’s more, when I unlocked new gear and sponsors, since there were no rewards associated with them besides making my character look more like an authentic UFC fighter walking to the Octagon instead of a bum off the street, there was no reason to even bother messing with them. Let “Bam Bam” Carsillo look like a hobo. I don’t care; I’ll still kick your butt. Actually, I wonder if I can make my next created fighter’s nickname be “The Bum.”
When my time with EA Sports UFC was done, despite the presence of a little lag and a few customization shortcomings, I really couldn’t get enough of the game. In terms of how everything plays out once you step foot in the Octagon, there’s never been a more accurate or enjoyable representation of the UFC brand. The controls are intuitive and easy to learn, and no MMA game has looked more realistic. Fighting fans and MMA fans alike will want to jump into this one.
|Developer: EA Canada • Publisher: EA Sports • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 06.17.14
The best representation of the action that happens inside the Octagon yet. While it’s not simple, the control scheme is still easy enough to learn that it takes the experience to an entirely new level as you break your opponents down standing up, in the clinch, or on the mat. With outstanding next-gen visuals, EA Sports UFC is good enough to carry around a championship belt.
||A dynamic fighting system that makes it feel like you’re actually in the Octagon.
||Training system could use some variety; some lag during matches.
||How sad I was after having to hang up “Bam Bam” Carsillo’s gloves.
|EA Sports UFC is available on Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by EA Sports for the benefit of this review.