Thunderbolt logo

EA Sports UFC

EA Sports UFC certainly nails the look and atmosphere of a big UFC fight. As the camera circles the infamous octagon, Bruce Buffer takes his place in the centre and bellows his familiar introductions with all the verve and intensity you would expect from the big man. Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg’s commentary is suitably excitable, too, reacting to brutal uppercuts and flying knees with manic enthusiasm along with the ohhs and ahhs of a deafening crowd.

2622541-028775

Each punch, kick, elbow and knee collides with a wincing ferocity on these hyper-realistic depictions of flesh and bone. Muscles flex beneath the surface and skin ripples like a stone skipping across water as it absorbs another punishing blow. Phenomenal fighter likenesses become bruised and disfigured as cuts open up above eyes and on noses, blood spewing both onto the mat and the combatants. And then it’s all over, a big left hand turning legs to jelly as one fighter collapses, the other an ecstatic victor. The crowd goes wild.

This is next-gen bloodshed as desired.

“Strikes hit hard and only get harder, with a vast repertoire of meaty attacks inflicting bodily harm”Yet past its impressive visual fidelity and sound design, EA Sports UFC isn’t quite the MMA game many were hoping for. This is EA’s first stab at mixed martial arts’ biggest promotion after the unfortunate demise of THQ ended their successful Undisputed series. While EA have priors with the sport with the excellent EA Sports MMA, EA Sports UFC unfortunately shares none of that game’s ambition or design, faltering with a needlessly opaque control scheme and a host of other issues, both inside and outside of the octagon.

It might not seem that way at first; with each bout starting with fighters on feet, the stand-up welcomes you to a world of violent physics-based combat and thrilling unpredictability. Strikes hit hard and only get harder, with a vast repertoire of meaty attacks inflicting bodily harm. It’s exciting stuff, mixing in blocks, parries, sways and dodges to counter the offensive onslaught and strike a balance that favours skill over senseless wailing.

eas-ufc-miesha-tate-1

With no static life bars to speak of, fighters have stamina that depletes with activity and regenerates upon inactivity, while a diagram of your opponent’s body reveals how much damage you’ve inflicted to specific body parts. As an area sustains punishment it will turn red, signalling an increased vulnerability.

This allows you to focus in, pushing off the cage to deliver a superman punch to a weakened skull, or pound bruised ribs with unrelenting knees till they collapse to the mat in a cumbersome heap. Knockouts are often greeted with yells of excitement on my behalf, and more than a little laughter, particularly those unpredictable four-punch KOs within seconds of a fight starting. The whole thing is fast-paced and more arcadey than it is realistic, but there’s no denying the genuine appeal of a fierce stand and bang slugfest.

However, reaching that point comes with a little more baggage than you would hope for. This is due in no small part to an overwhelming control scheme that uses every button on the controller, often in tandem with others.

11343783176_887e638c84_c

Each face button performs a different kind of strike, with combined directions on the left stick producing more, and three of the four shoulder pads acting as further modifiers, too. So say you want to land a significant strike to your opponent’s body. That would require the pressing of a face button, a direction on the left stick, one of the shoulder pads to signify a shot to the midsection and another to modify it into a significant strike. Plus, you probably want to keep another finger hovering over the block button just in case, contorting your hands into skewered claws to perform the requisite finger gymnastics required for a single move.

“What would otherwise be an integral part of the sport is rendered largely inconsequential here”It’s needlessly complex with a tutorial that fails to explain the logic behind any of its choices. Why are there two separate buttons for significant strikes when they both perform the same function? How come leg kicks can be performed when going for head strikes and body strikes; why not have a separate modifier to specifically target the legs? The tutorial rushes through every system in one fell swoop, giving you little time to ingest it all before you’re thrown into a fight.

And these issues are only exacerbated once you enter the domain of EA Sports UFC’s ground game. Here half-circles on the right stick allow you to transition to varying positions on the ground, while holding a shoulder pad and direction lets you block your opponent’s own transitions. It’s a clumsy system with a distinct lack of feedback embedded into all of it. The timing window for blocking ground passes seems incredibly tight, it’s nigh on impossible to counter them with any sort of consistency. I was never sure if this was a fault of mine or if my fighter just wasn’t good enough relative to whom they were fighting, but the game never gives any indication either way.

1395875476-media

Getting into a dominant position on the ground also never feels dominant. It’s far too easy for the other fighter to completely reverse all the hard work you put into gaining the upper hand, whether it be taking someone’s back or getting into the full mount. All it takes is a click on the left stick and a miss during the miniscule counter window to get you both back on your feet without much fuss. This leads to the ground game feeling relatively useless. You’re never on the ground long enough to inflict any sort of meaningful damage, or at the very least keep your opponent grounded to wear them down and pick up some points from the judges. What would otherwise be an integral part of the sport is rendered largely inconsequential here.

Its only useful purpose seems to be for submissions, dragging someone to the ground to lock in a painful armbar, kimura or some other limb-twisting cringe-inducer. Presenting both fighters with four quadrants, the defender has to push the right stick in any of the four directions to try and fill up one of the quadrants, while the attacker must match that direction to block their progress. Lock it in long enough and the attacker will need to occasionally move the left stick in a specified direction, resetting all of the defender’s progress and transitioning to the next phase of the submission. Get through every phase and they’ll have no option but to tap out.

It makes submissions look rather mechanical but works well from a gameplay perspective. My only issue with submissions is one that’s ingrained into all of EA Sports UFC: there’s never a tangible sense of sustained damage over the duration of a long fight. Both fighters’ stamina will deplete over time, meaning you can’t throw as many consecutive strikes before tiring, yet submissions in the first minute of a fight are exactly the same as in its tenth minute, even if you’ve spent the entire fight completely pummelling your opponent. It makes the ground game completely disconnected from everything else. A fighter should be more susceptible to submissions, takedowns and ground transitions if you’ve already been dominating them for the entire fight, but it makes no difference.

1394745538-media

Career mode is similarly disappointing, following the same mundane pattern as most. You’ll spend far too much time navigating dull menus with monotonous training mini-games thrown in between each fight. It’s standard fare, letting you create your own fighter – which is sadly limited to males despite the inclusion of the female division elsewhere – taking them from The Ultimate Fighter reality show through to becoming a champion and all-time great. It’s also filled with video packages and a plethora of mostly awkward video messages from other UFC fighters, complete with the sort of stylistic video compression that makes it look like they’re from an early 2000s action movie.

“You’ll spend far too much time navigating dull menus with monotonous training mini-games thrown in between each fight”As you win fights you’ll earn points to spend on improving your attributes and unlocking new moves, but you’ll also gain XP that can unlock new abilities. This is the most interesting part of EA Sports UFC’s career mode, letting you equip your fighter with up to five abilities at any one time that will have an effect on various factors within the octagon. They’re essentially like perks in Call of Duty, allowing you to customise your fighter so his kicks and knees are more powerful, for example, or so that blocking is still effective even when you’re in a stunned state, among many others. You have four loadouts to mix and match your five abilities, so you may use one against a kickboxer and another against a Muay Tai expert, tailoring a specific game plan for the fighting discipline and strengths of each opponent you face.

This is especially useful when tasked with a fighter who wields a particular trait, such as knockout power or submission specialist – something to be weary of coming into a fight. Though in the case of the latter it also renders the AI completely obnoxious.

12974193364_1481d7e6ab_c

For instance, in a fight with submission specialist Ronaldo Souza, it was clear from the get-go that he wanted to take me down to the mat to try and force a tap-out. Yet there was never any point in the entire three-round bout where he acted like a real fighter. Souza had zero intention of standing toe-to-toe; as soon as we were on our feet he would just spam takedowns ad nauseam, so much so that at the end of the fight he had completed seven out of thirty-eight attempted takedowns – a ludicrous amount. And it was much the same on the ground, too, as he attempted submission after submission. I survived them all but lost the fight by decision because I had spent the majority of the bout blocking his constant onslaught of takedowns and submissions. I don’t expect the AI to adopt the strategy of a troll.

Though I guess I should be glad he was a real fighter. I only fought four in my entire middleweight career, after that they all retired, leaving me with a roster of poor created fighters with names like Vietnam Phang (as cool as that sounds). There’s definite room for an improved career mode in the next game, then, hopefully injecting the sterile mode with some personality and a tangible sense that your fighter actually means something, rather than being a blank vessel for UFC fighters to nonsensically speak to in video messages.

Fighting online is where EA Sports UFC is at its best, either against friends or strangers. Everyone seems to know that the ground game is poorly executed so fights tend to stay on feet where the action is at its most violently exciting; a FIFA-esque seasons mode providing a championship goal to strive for. As an MMA fan this merits some value on its own, and there’s certainly some fun to be had with this first venture into a next-gen octagon. But as a debut effort there’s also much work ahead, an almost baffling statement considering EA’s escapades with the fantastic EA Sports MMA. If you look at that game it’s difficult to see how this has taken such a giant leap backwards. With any hope the next iteration in this series will gravitate towards previous successes.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

Gentle persuasion

Like chit chat? Join the forum.