Review: EA Sports UFC Takes Some Hits But Clinches A Knockout
When THQ fell, EA was the obvious name to nab its UFC franchise. For a few years UFC had simply outmatched EA’s MMA but now the two have been merged together to form EA Sports UFC. This could go one of two ways; either EA takes UFC and elevates it to new levels with its Ignite Engine or muddles it with what was wrong with MMA and we end up with something worse.
- Worth The Time?If you're a fan of former UFC games or just looking for some good blood sport then you'll want to have a seat.
- Things LovedThe visuals are simply fantastic with a great amount of detail such that you see sweat and blood. The sound effects compliment the visuals with every dull thud and wet slap adding a visceral quality to your fight. Smart, varied AI and plenty of ways to fight make for great gameplay. Online is well put together. Good character creation.
- Things HatedControls have a few issues that can hamper gameplay, No female fighter creation. Some animations are distractingly robotic while submissions lack oomph. Bruce Lee's shorts are way too tight. That edit of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons killed me.
- RecommendationFans may not like some of the issues that have crept in under EA but this UFC will certainly appeal to newcomers and veterans alike with some great, balanced fighting and truly stunning visuals.
- Name: EA Sports UFC
- Genre: Fighting
- Players: 1-2
- Multiplayer: Local, online
- Platforms: PS4, Xbox One
- Developer: EA Canada
- Publisher: EA Sports
- Price: $60 (R705.00)
- Reviewed On: PS4
As soon as you start the game up EA Sports UFC tosses you into a fight whereupon you are subjected to the densest tutorial you may ever find and thereafter will almost certainly lose your very first fight. It’s okay, they probably expected you to. The trick is to focus less on the fight at hand and more on just how darn pretty this game looks with the Ignite Engine under each fighter’s skin.
For the record, I ogled sweaty men in shorts and felt no remorse.
The character models are fully detailed with the skin visibly rippling under the strain of a punch and the blood – oh my, the glorious blood. At one point I sat back and watched my fighter’s face get pummelled solely for the blood spatter.
It’s glorious and if you love a bit of blood sport then it’s great to watch but it comes at a cost. Like all of EA Sports’ engines, Ignite has its fair share of problems.
My experience with fighting games is minimal but what experience there is stems mostly from the likes of Mortal Kombat, Tekken or Street Fighter. In other words, arcade titles. As such I went o fast button presses, frantic mashing and effectively harassing my controller until it filed a lawsuit against me. This showed me an issue common to EA Sports titles – input handling can get pretty awry. The game only seems capable of queueing up two attacks or moves at once. That’s fine in FIFA but not so much when you want to assault your opponent with a fast-paced flurry. Screw up your timing just slightly and your fighter kind of just flails about. This was while playing on what should ‘normal’ difficulty. The controls aren’t as functional as you’d like either. Fairly often the grappling and transition manoeuvres which require turning the right analogue stick simply don’t work. The stick registers nothing.
Once the game wraps up its odd tutorial and dumps you into the main menu you’re probably going to want to play Watch Dogs hit up the career mode. At this point you can go one of two ways. You can choose to play with an established fighter in whichever weight division tickles your fancy or you can opt to create a fighter all your own. For the first time the series features female fighters and that’s great but it makes the fact that you can’t create a female fighter pretty noticeable, not to mention downright strange. That said, the customisation options for your male character are quite extensive.
There’s the usual array of hairstyles, eye colour etc but you can also define your fighter’s body shape and size very specifically. I ended up going for a lanky 6ft chap with uneven ab definition, blue dreads and a green beard. He was magnificent. You can also specify your fighter’s gear both in the octagon and upon entrance but there’s also a leveling system which allows your fighter to grow into whichever strengths work for you.
While the opening tutorial fight is dense and overwhelming for newcomers, the training you receive right at the outset of your career is sound, well-paced and breaks the elements of a fight down showing you how to use different moves rather than just showing them to you. The calls and encouragement from your trainer actually help a lot.
The career mode feels rich and satisfying but lacks variety or serious depth. It gets repetitive far too quickly once you settle into the rhythm of fight, train, fight, train. Fortunately each fight feels different but we’ll get onto that in a little bit.
As you play you’ll be able to level your fighter up and will start to unlock Game Plans, these are specialisation abilities which are great for spicing up your arsenal of moves but may not suit fans who simply want a simulator experience. You’re essentially slapping an upgrade augmentation onto your fighter but Game Plans are not essential and are fortunately not overpowered either. You can also create custom “loadouts” for your fighters in terms of what they’re wearing and what abilities they’ll specialise in depending on whether you want to be dominant in the ground game, offensive or defensive.
You might be wondering what the point is of loadouts. I mean, if you’ve perfected your fighter with primarily defensive tactics and relying on counter-attacks then why bother with anything else? This is where each fight being different really comes into play and adds an element of strategy and knowing your opponent to UFC.
The game has a large roster of fighters and each weight class handles differently, as you’d expect. I favoured the lighter fighters for speed. However, the real clincher here (heh) is that each fighter has different traits and strengths. If a fighter excels on the ground then they will spend a great deal of time trying to grapple and throw you down. Thus, if your fighter also happens to excel on the floor of the octagon then you might have a chance. The smarter option is to switch your loadout for an offensive or defensive one. Fight defensively and they can’t get you down. Fight offensively with quick flurries after dodging an attempt at a grab. It makes the game far more dynamic and results EA Sports UFC in believable AI which is true to the actual fighters.
The sound effects in this game are great with a real visceral quality to the slaps and thuds of muscle to bone, knuckle to cheekbone, back to canvas etc. Even the way the crowd rises and falls adds a sense of spectacle to a fight. It’s a pity the ref is almost non-existent. The soundtrack itself would be right at home in a gym save perhaps for the worst edit of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons that I have ever heard.
When you’re in the octagon, UFC is mostly an absolutely great game. Despite their issues the controls are streamlined over previous UFC titles while still offering you plenty of options as the player. That said, they are a little tricky to get the hang of initially. Fighters are incredibly detailed; you can see sweat glistening, skin rippling. It’s just an orgy of blood and flesh. Uhm… forget I said that. One of the major gripes to be had though is that fighters have no facial expressions. If you’re Keanu Reeves or Kristen Stewart or a pet rock then this may seem perfectly normal to you but not to the rest of us.
Fights have great spectacle about them but somehow lack that truly visceral quality. Despite the fantastic sound effects and visuals, this comes down to the animations which don’t always convey the power of a fighter properly and can sometimes come off as robotic. This is especially true of grappling, takedowns and the ground game. It’s like a perfectly rehearsed version of Swan Lake albeit bloodier and with less Natalie Portman. Submissions too lack oomph. They’re little more than a tug of war played with one of the analogue sticks. It doesn’t feel frantic or desperate but purely mechanical. Submissions are also a little broken, favouring the attacker and resulting in a couple of cheap wins/losses.
That said, the octagon really is the best place to be in UFC. It sounds pretty elementary but despite the issues mentioned above, fighting really is a joy in UFC. Combat is well-balanced too. There is no fighting style or approach that is overpowered or better. It’s really just whatever you make of it.
If you get bored of building your way up in Career mode then you can always hit up the Challenge mode which is as advertised. It’s a whole collection of challenges to test your skills by putting you in tough situations.
Better still is the game once you go online. Aside from the standard fighting against friends there’s a league of sorts. There are 10 fights in a season and you start down at brown belt. To move up you need to accumulate enough points but fail to accumulate a certain amount and you could be relegated down to a lower class. As you move up through the classes the stakes will get higher. It’s a system that works great in FIFA, for obvious reasons, and translates surprisingly well to UFC. Sadly, the community can easily ruin the online experience. There are a few exploits such as spamming strikes but for the most part the online experience is lag-free and stable. Not to mention pretty great.
Did I mention it has Bruce Lee in it sporting some tiny, tight yellow shorts? It’s weird but hey, the way he fights is, as he taught us, like water.
EA Sports UFC has a lot to prove to fans of the old UFC. Their MMA franchise was never all too great and unfortunately some of that has crept in here. However, EA Sports UFC is still a good title that manages to bring some great enhancements and additions to the octagon.