EA Sports UFC Review (PS4/Xbox One)
EA’s UFC has been one of the company’s most hyped titles, mainly due to its visuals. After months of press releases, trailers and screenshots, does the game deliver the realistic experience promised? In short, no. Not entirely, at least.
At its core, MMA is arguably the purest form of competition. The sheer amounts of disciplines that factor into the sport give it such a sense of depth that not many other sports can match. This alone makes MMA a tricky sport to translate into a video game. Every fight starts on the feet, and this is possibly the strongest elements of EA UFC’s gameplay. The range in strikes gives the players more than enough options to create combos and put a bit a flare into their fight style. Each strike carries a genuine sense of impact; faces wobble, cut and bruise, and it’s noticeably realistic. This allows the striking to become an instantly rewarding mechanic that engages players, as well as spectators, straight away.
There’s a sense of ease to stringing together basic combos. Knees and fists can be strung together in effective methods without requiring too much thought. There’s a number of advanced stand up techniques, mostly built upon the blocking and evasion mechanics, which require some time to learn. The basic stand up is well rounded, but that quickly becomes a problem given how simple it is compared to other key elements of the fight, such as clinching, grappling, and wrestling.
Stand up only makes up part of the sport; any fighter who doesn’t learn the ground game wont last very long. This is where EA UFC runs into some major issues. The clinch is solid, with controls that are easy to learn and a viable part of the game. The same can also be said of the takedowns, which carry a sense of weight to them. The ground game, however, is an utter mess of confusion, frustration and bemusement. Transitioning from position to position, be it from the top or bottom, feels like a horrid dance of jerking analogue sticks around in hope more than expectation. Even after taking time to learn the controls, the ground game never feels accomplished and becomes something the player fears rather than utilizes.
It’s frustrating that such a key part of the sport is so undercooked and so rough around the edges. What should be a smooth experience, with plenty of depth, is instead a flurry of stick wiggles and button presses while the on-screen fighter wiggles in a strange limp motion. It’s rare the ground game feels smooth or useful. It instead feels like a hindrance that is unfairly thrown upon the player as the AI imposes its willful mount with ease.
While it may seem like a small issue to those not familiar with MMA, these ground game issues are in fact a big deal given how large of a part the ground game plays in any given fight. It’s unfortunate that the effort put into the stand up is deflected by shoddy mechanics used for the ground game, mainly the transitions. There’s also an issue that pops up with how submissions are handled. Attempting a submission prompts an odd mini game in which the victim presses in a direction while the submitter tries to match his victim’s stick wiggles. The mini-game feels out of place, even more so given the pace and presentation of each fight. The mechanic simply doesn’t match what is going on, almost cheapening the experience.
The visuals of EA UFC are what have been the main focus, at least in terms of marketing. To EA’s credit, the character models are mostly stunning. The attention to detail is staggering, from the scars on Jon Jon’s face, to the readable text on Rousey’s ankle tattoo.The finer details have all been taken care of. There are one or two character models that feel a little less well crafted, mainly Chael Sonnen and Alexander Gustaffason, both of which carry a distinct video game look.
The general set dressing isn’t quite up to the standards on the character models. Arenas feel oddly vacant, lacking the soul and buzz of a real UFC event. It seems odd that EA would go to so much effort to create fantastic character models only to put them into rather vapid arenas. Thankfully the soul of the fights is injected with how much damage is shown on the respective fighters. When a punch is thrown, the impact is visible. Bodies will ripple, cuts and bruises will appear, and it gives each each fight a much needed sense of life, as well as adding weight to each punch, knee, kick and takedown.
One of the main criticisms of EA UFC is the lack of content on offer. While ninety-seven fighters may sound impressive, there aren’t many modes to use them in. While past UFC titles by other developers made full use of the UFC’s purchases of the PRIDE (the premier MMA promotion pre-UFC days) and history, EA has focused mainly on the current times. Aside from the standard fight mode and online modes, there’s a career mode built around The Ultimate Fighter TV show.
Players create a fighter and fight their way through the UFC in pursuit of capturing gold. In between fights, players complete various drills in order to obtain evolution points. These points can be spent on new moves or by boosting the player’s attributes. As players enter the bigger fights in their career, more sponsors and gyms will become available.
The career mode has a rather curious mechanic which dictates how long the player’s career lasts. After each fight, the player will be presented with an overview of how much damage they took and what impact it has on their career. Much like real life, taking numerous heavy hits in each fight will cut short the fighter’s career. Players wishing to have a long and illustrious careers are forced to take note of how much damage they are taking. This mechanic forces players into changing their approach to fights in order to maintain their fighter’s career. It gives the mode a genuine sense of depth as it pushes the player to learn the game and formulate genuine game plans rather than relying on throwing bombs each fight.
The online multiplayer is adequate enough but lacks anything to truly write home about. There are often times when players will come into contact with players from across the pond, creating a laggy connection. The lag doesn’t make the game unplayable, but it does make it frustrating. It’s hard to string combos together when a 2-3 second delay keeps occurring. As stated, this only seems to happen with overseas connections and is not an issue that runs throughout.
If there’s one hugely annoying issue with the multiplayer, it’s the inclusion of Bruce Lee as DLC. Boasting insane speed and power, Bruce Lee is possibly the best fighter in the game, and he’s locked as paid DLC or as a pre-order bonus. Having the option to play as Bruce Lee is a huge advantage over those without him. His sheer speed makes him near impossible to out-strike, creating a feeling of pay-to-win. It feels like a low blow by EA as they try to make a quick buck.
EA’s first attempt at a UFC game is admirable, but flawed. While the stand up is satisfying and the visuals impressive, the ground game is a huge detractor. Given how vital the ground game is, the core gameplay is effected by the rough nature of the ground game mechanics. It’s a hugely frustrating part of the game that truly sucks the pace, fluidity and enjoyment out of each bout .A lack of feinting strikes, option to touch gloves, no leg kick KOs and everyone being able to pull of flashy (physical impossible moves for some) moves also makes for some annoyances.
The lack of modes and content is also an issue, one that feels like the product of a rushed release more than anything. Given the calibre of past UFC titles, EA’s attempt may look the part, but it doesn’t feel like the complete package. While the game is enjoyable for the most part, the issues truly hinder the overall game from reaching the heights it could have reached.