When EA finally snared the UFC license, there was a feeling that their first effort was really just laying the groundwork for the series. Where previous license-holders, THQ, had turned their UFC games into a detailed simulation of the sport, EA had gone with a more showy approach with lots of video contributions from high profile UFC stars and a lot of attention to detail in the game’s presentation, if not the fighting engine.
In some ways, it was a good move. UFC Undisputed 3 was insanely detailed. It was a high-level simulation of a very complex sport. EA Sports UFC kept things a bit more simple. In the end it looked right and played pretty good but hardcore fans were a little let down.
EA Sports UFC2 has now arrived and from the start you can tell some stuff has changed. Instead of being greeted by UFC President Dana White, the game now puts you into the final round of the UFC189 main event. The famous fight between champion Robbie Lawler and Rory McDonald was truly a fight for the ages and the game puts you in Lawler’s er… well they don’t wear shoes but you know what I mean. After dispatching Rory, you then get into the game’s main menu.
With this being an EA game, the main menu features pages of panels to select. I’ve not been a fan of an EA menu for about a decade now and this is no exception. There are options all over the place and they aren’t grouped in any logical order but there is a lot of content to access.
The best place to start is in Career Mode. As with the previous game, this starts you off in the Ultimate Fighter tournament (the UFC’s reality TV/tournament show). You create your fighter and fight your way through to a UFC contract. From there it’s about working your way up from a prelims fighter, to a main card one and ultimately to championship contender status. Before each fight, you have the opportunity to train in either stand up, clinch or ground fighting. This helps you get used to the very complex control system as well as refreshing you on it (which you’ll need as this stuff doesn’t come easily).
Training can be boosted or disrupted randomly by unforeseen events and you can also get injured which reduces various stats in your fight. It’s a little bit of a chore coming back to three lots of training between fights but you can sim your way through it if you want to save time, you’ll get less gains from it though.
When you finally get to the Octagon, the presentation is exactly what you’d expect. You’ll see the fighters come out to music, you’ll see the referee check them over and you’ll see Bruce Buffer announce them in his trademark style. It all looks pretty damn realistic and after a quick touch of the gloves, the combat starts to flow.
Beyond all the flash and fluff of the presentation, the combat is great. The stand up game is predictably the most fun part. Judging distance is crucial and you’ve got just enough defensive moves to add a bit of strategy. Particularly tight stand up fights become like chess matches. Stepping out of the range of a wild spinning wheel kick and then countering with a tight boxing combination is immensely satisfying.
It all becomes about managing damage taken versus damage given but with a close eye on your stamina. Going balls out for fifteen minutes isn’t going to work out well for you in real life (unless you’re Frankie Edgar) and it doesn’t work well here. Instead you need to be methodical.
Then you have the clinch and ground games. These become QTE battles with each position linking to another. It’s all about how to improve position. So, for example, you may end up in a clinch, grapple your way into the over/under grapple position, that makes certain throws possible, you fling your opponent to the mat, end up in their guard (their legs around you), fight your way to half guard, then the mount and then you’ll have submissions available.
The only real issue is that the submission game is poor. You don’t even need to know how to get out of them to get out of them. Fling the right stick around and you’ll get out. I’ve never seen anyone submitted online and believe me, I’ve tried.
Stand up fighting is so good here though that EA have even added ‘Knockout Mode’ which removes the grappling portion of the gameplay altogether and only allows each fighter to take five shots. It’s a fun, arcadey experience for when you just fancy a little bit of Chris Leben style silliness.
There are, of course, plenty of modes. From a ranked online division to ‘Live Events’ where you predict and play events from upcoming fight cards. Get the results right and you earn points for this year’s biggest new inclusion, Ultimate Team Mode.
Ultimate Team is a concept that’s been in the FIFA games for a while now. It’s basically the money-grab mode. In FIFA it makes sense, earn points (or buy them) to assemble your ultimate team of players via card packs (that work a bit like stickers in real life). Here, it’s a bit different. You create five fighters and then the packs give you moves, stat upgrades and training boosts. It’s just not quite as satisfying as FIFA’s version is but it’s sure to be addicting for some.
One of the problems with it is that, like any EA Sports game, UFC2 is absolute packed with stats. There’s a stat for everything from left hand power to your ability to defend in the clinch. Ultimate Team has a way of boosting one stat at the detriment of another and so it’s a little tough to know how best to approach these things.
However, I’m sticking to Career Mode and a few online bouts and am thoroughly enjoying this year’s outing. When it comes to the fighting, the game delivers. I’m not so sure about the need for all these modes and stats and everything else and there’s potential for over-monetisation (there’s a £79.99 ‘UFC points’ piece of DLC on PSN) but if they can tweak the subs game a little, this could be the best fighting game on the system. As it stands though, it’s an absolutely fantastic stand up fighter with a little more room for improvement.