Electronic Arts has stepped into the octagon for a second time. It's first effort, EA MMA, was reasonably well-received, but it lacked the pull of the UFC megabrand, along with its roster of well-known fighters. This time around, EA has full access to the UFC juggernaut, an eventuality that was probably inevitable despite some bad blood between the two business in the past. With THQ on the outs, the UFC brand had few options to partner with. Deals were made, plans were hatched, and the final outcome is EA Sports UFC.
Having access to a full roster of stars gives EA a solid foundation on which to build an exciting franchise, but to represent a sport as complex as mixed martial arts, names aren't enough. Controls, presentation, content, and multiplayer elements all need to be slick.
Visually, EA Sports UFC impresses. Designed for new-gen consoles, the Unity engine stretches its legs here. Fighters look remarkably similar to their real-world counterparts, bruises and swelling show, and some of the moves look downright painful. Characters move in the same way as their real-life counterparts too, with even trademark moves such as Jon Jones' wicked elbow strikes can be dished out.
Moves that are devastating in real fights are equally brutal in the game. Leg kicking an opponent repeatedly will slow them down, and at any moment a perfectly-timed shot could end the match. In career mode, live action footage of various UFC stars along with commentary by the UFC's Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan achieves the desired pay-per-view event feel.
The player begins in The Ultimate Fighter tournament as a competitor trying to make his or her way to the UFC itself. It’s an interesting premise, but it's poorly executed. The appeal of The Ultimate Fighter reality TV series is not only the fights, but also the personalities of its contestants who are inevitably full of testosterone and prance about like peacocks. As such, it feels like an opportunity to create some really memorable personalities in the lead-up to the UFC events has been missed.
As soon as the game has loaded – and there is loading aplenty – the player is dropped into a training mode. Skipping this process will earn the player a scolding from UFC head Dana White himself, who wisely suggests that you'd be an idiot to skip training – a nice touch. It becomes immediately apparent that he's right, too.
Basic punches and kicks can be fired off via the face buttons of the controller with ease, but as the fight progresses and the player is caught in a clinch or is taken to the ground, the control scheme begins to become an Achilles’ heel. The process for submitting an opponent or avoiding a submission is a curious affair that is essentially a follow-the-onscreen-prompts minigame.
It ruins the player’s immersion, and seems to be the polar opposite of the direction Fight Night was heading in – there’s too much emphasis on on-screen information rather than the fighters themselves providing the visual cues. The trouble is, of course, that the ground game of MMA is an incredibly complex thing to emulate. In doing so, EA has aimed for the hardcore gamer, designing a control system that is detailed and requires dedication to master. Button mashing will get you nowhere fast.
It is a pity then that the game lacks content and charisma, and this doesn't encourage players to invest the time. Career aside, quick match and multiplayer options are available, but some features require an Origin account to access. However, there's little latency to speak of in multiplayer. Online matches occasionally turned into awkward sweaty hgroping sessions as both players try to work their way out of the clinch, but again, the real opponents are the controls.
EA Sports UFC feels like a game to enjoy with a few mates on the weekend, and it’s adequate entertainment when throwing down in local co-op mode. Elsewhere however, it’s too unfocussed, and an inferior offering compared fighting franchises.
That’s because it feels like a simulator – something unlikely to gel with its target audience. People want to pretend to be George St Pierre, without having to train like him. The fun is in the pretending. The clinical, technical approach here leaves enjoyment behind.
A competent but hardly compelling first entry in the franchise, it would appear EA has coasted for a few rounds and foolishly let this one go to the judges.