At this point it is reasonable to suggest that mixed martial arts is a more popular combat sport than boxing, and while boxing enthusiasts and other lovers of the sweet science are missing the Fight Night series, the team behind those titles has taken over the helm of EA Sports UFC. The last three UFC games were produced by THQ, who sold the rights to the series as the company became defunct. EA Sports UFC is the first combat sports title to use the developers’ Ignite game engine; the result is a game that looks incredibly realistic. From top to bottom the roster of over 90 fighters, including UFC legend Royce Gracie and martial arts legend Bruce Lee, looks striking. Every fighter looks and moves how you would expect.
There is no arguing that graphics are something that the team behind EA Sports UFC does right. The game looks incredible on the PS4 and Xbox One making it obvious why EA Sports chose not to develop this game for the previous generation consoles. Not only do the fighters look and move well, but so do the referees, ring girls, and even the ring announcer. More often than not, the game sounds like a UFC event, with the aforementioned ring announcer, the in-fight commentary, and the roar of the crowd all adding to the ambience. The punches, kicks, and takedowns that take place in the ring sound realistic. Those who find it difficult to watch the brutality of a UFC fight will have those same feelings as you see and hear a character’s lightly gloved fist smash into the face of his opponent and watch as the skin ripples from the effects.
There are times during which it is hard to tell if this is truly an EA Sports title, mostly because it feels very similar to the previous THQ games. The differences seem to be limited to changes made to the methods required in the submission mini-game. In fact, EA Sports UFC’s new submission mechanic – which challenges the defender to escape an impending submission by pushing out “gates” in the shape of an octagon, is an improvement over the processes that THQ used. While the defender attempts to push out the gates, the aggressor can match the defender’s efforts and prevent the escape, all the while flicking the stick in various directions in order to tighten the hold. The result is something that plays out with the strategy of a chess match; making the feeling of gaining a victory via submission more gratifying than it has been in THQ’s UFC games.
The outstanding graphics, sound, and fun gameplay mechanics will make it easy for some to overlook the issues and questionable design choices in EA Sports UFC. If the previously mentioned submission controls sound difficult it is because they are. Fortunately, EA Sports UFC provides a tutorial to get players accustomed to the controls. Moments after I finished the tutorial I created a player to start the requisite ‘My Career’ mode. After I had selected my body type, skin type, hair and other attributes, the career mode locked me into another tutorial, this one having little difference from the first. Add the fact that there is a mode in the game called Challenges, which allows you to learn and test yourself doing in-game moves, essentially, EA Sports UFC, has THREE TUTORIAL MODES.
The aforementioned “My Career” is the standard ‘create a player’ and fight your way to the top mode. At this point, I think we should expect EA Sports, a company that has been designing sports titles for over 20 years to do something more creative with the single player modes. Instead of a story or in-game interaction with the other UFC fighters, we are treated to a series of FMVs (Full Motion Videos) from a coach, UFC president Dana White, and host of UFC fighters. The videos become increasingly boring, and it is incredibly off-putting to have Forrest Griffin introduce himself to you for the 5th time when he just congratulated you on your win streak two fights ago.
Also in between fights are the handful of training sessions which slip into monotony after your first few fights. Periodically a noted UFC fighter will send you an FMV saying he is coming to train with you. But you will do the exact same training sessions, but this time you will do them with or against this recognizable UFC fighter. There could have been more here, but these sessions feel exactly the same as the others: You just get to watch the fighter’s highlight reel before you train with him.
I hate to keep harping on the negatives, but once you have obtained your division’s title (in my case the middleweight) do not be surprised if you end up having multiple rematches with fighters you beat up previously. After defending my middleweight title against the same two fighters on repeat for 5 straight title defenses, I wanted to quit the game in frustration. It would have been beneficial to know why I was fighting Anderson Silva again after I finished him twice previously in dominating fashion. Once again, there could have been more here.
There could also have been more in terms of the Women’s Bantamweight division. I was excited to see UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and fan favorites like Miesha Tate in EA Sports UFC, but unfortunately, all we receive is the ability to play with the less than a dozen UFC Women’s fighters in exhibition matches. It would have been nice if there a career mode for the women in addition to the men’s career mode. While I do not want to make this review a think piece on diversity in gaming, I should note that unlike Assassins Creed, EA Sports UFC cannot make an excuse about game development when they were able to include multiple ring girls, but no Women’s Career Mode. Especially when you consider the fact that women’s mixed martial artists have headlined and been co-featured on real fight cards.
The combination of positives and less than encouraging developmental decisions makes EA Sports UFC a mixed bag, and one that has been beat up on repeatedly in training sessions. If you enjoy the athleticism of the sport or would like to get a kick out of punching someone’s face in, you will definitely enjoy this first release in EA Sports’ new franchise. But if you are looking for a big improvement over THQ’s take on the same sport or leap forward in sports gaming in general, you will be disappointed.