As sports games go, one can almost say that EA have snatched nearly all the major franchises, so creating an empire of titles which we gamers have to choose from. NFL, NHL, Football (because being in Europe means we call it the RIGHT way) among others make up a big package which EA seeks to keep on growing year after year, with a new iteration of each big sport game every year. Just to keep the money coming in.
With its popularity not showing any hints of decline, MMA, and UFC in particular, is really showing to be the cash grab potential investors would love to sink their teeth into. And so the EA Sports UFC titles were born, with the latest game, being UFC2, released just a few days ago. Having only played the first title for a couple of days due to the EA Access promotion, I cannot honestly compare the two games that much, but from what I have seen, the second iteration of the game is much easier to learn. At least, that is my impression, not having checked the actual controls of both games for comparison’s sake. Graphically, the second game is naturally better, being more polished both in graphical fidelity and also in the UI and HUD.
On its own, UFC2 is a brilliant game. From the start of a fight to its finish, you will feel as if you are watching the match live instead of playing in it. From the incredibly detailed entrances and heads-up display, which draws up stats even though it is a fictitious fighter created five minutes before, to the announcement by “the veteran voice of the octagon” Bruce Buffer, the excitement of a UFC Event is all there. Commentary then takes it on another level, with the voices of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan narrating the action happening in the fight resembling a proper match in the octagon.
And it is quite the action indeed. To summarize what may seem as a complex control scheme, but which is really not, the face buttons of the controller serve each as one of four limbs, namely left and right hands and left and right feet. There are a number possible moves a fighter can pull off with each button, being normal button presses, and also pressing the button while moving forward or backward. Pressing and holding the left shoulder button while pressing a face button will perform a variation of the normal move, and there is a different move for every normal button press. Moves performed with the left shoulder button pressed down is called advanced striking, and while more damaging, these are oftentimes harder to land and thus more rewarding when they do land. For any strike to land, two conditions must be satisfied. First of all, you have to be in range. Obviously. Second, your opponent must not be blocking the height of your strike. In UFC2, there are two type of blocks, being high blocks, which cover all strikes to the face or head, and body blocks, which block all strikes to the body. The blocking system is a very clever system indeed, since blocking high will reduce to almost nil the chance of being knocked out by a shot to the head but leaving your fighter very prone to body strikes and takedowns, while protecting your belly will guard against the latter dangers in exchange of opening up to head strikes.
Stamina is another factor which one has to keep in mind when fighting. A fighter has a set amount of stamina which is depleted when performing strikes, but which will be replenished fairly quickly when guarding or just moving about. The conservation of stamina is vital to remaining in the fight, since being caught by a good strike with low stamina will be more risky than receiving a couple of shots while the gauge is nearly full.
After covering the basics, there is the more complicated grappling system, which features two sweaty bodies fighting to see who will mount who. No this is not a sexual joke, but it is in fact how clinches and takedowns happen in UFC2. The right analogue stick will be pivotal in the success of a clinch interaction, since you control how your fighter will move and transition on the ground and on the feet to gain the upper hand. Fighter stamina comes in play in this as well, since the more stamina you have, the faster the transition will be and the less one has to hold the stick in the desired direction to perform such transition. Probably these clinches have to be the most frustrating part of the game, since your transition sometimes works and sometimes does not, or your opponent making the quickest transitions possible while you have to still figure out what on earth is happening on the mat. It is a fun and tactical way to fight, but there has to be more than the simple tutorial to guide on such a complex matter.
Submissions can also be entered from clinches and mounts, and like UFC1, the gate submission system makes its return. Personally, I find this system to be the best submission system devised in video games, and I have played a lot of WWE games in the past. In brief, the player receiving the submission must hold the right analog stick long enough to exit from a square pattern, while the perpetrator of the submission must follow the direction of the victim to halt his progress out of the gate. Deeper stages of a submission hold exist as well, with a flick of the left analog stick when the prompt appears to lock in the hold tighter. The receiver of the submission can flick the left stick before the offender to prevent progress on the submission, which can come extremely handy in short holds such as a triangle choke.
After talking about the gameplay, we should also go a little over the game modes in UFC2. Ultimate team makes a return as well from the first game, where a player creates a team of fighters to dominate inside the octagon and thus become the top team in the UFC. There are different weight classes which your fighter can take, but not all of them, which is a little strange given how many fighters there are in each weight division. Similarly to FIFA Ultimate Team, the mode depends heavily on packs, which one can buy from the ingame store with either gold coins, earned through fights or by redeeming the earnings, given when players challenge one of your fighters in offline mode. These packs contain a variety of items such as consumable fitness items, perks, moves and attributes, which can be either weight class specific or universal, and can be applied to your fighters to improve their overall ranking and better your chances to win in the octagon. One must also specify that there are different item tiers, meaning some items are more powerful than others, and these tiers are neatly shown in the bottom of the screen when opening packs, highlighting how many cards of each tier you have found in said pack.
In Ultimate Team, there is a variety of stuff one can do. Apart from creating fighters and customizing them, there is the Ultimate Championships, where you go up the leaderboards by winning fights against other player-controlled fighters, and by successfully winning a streak of fights you may become champion yourself, only to defend your title until you lose and the cycle starts again. There are also daily objectives which refresh every 24 hours which net you coins to spend in the store, so completing these is a neat little bonus which can help you get your fighter armed and ready for the next fight. There is also a mode called Single Player Championships, where you fight player-created fighters but which are controlled by the AI. It works similarly to Ultimate Championship, though without the daily challenges.
Although all these game modes are very entertaining, it has to be Knockout Mode to win my favourite. No grapples, no clinches, just you and an opponent and all the strikes in the world to win it. Basically, you just set you and your opponent a health bar, which goes down by one for each significant strike you receive, and when the last chunk of health goes down, you get knocked out in spectacular fashion, all while Joe Rogan is losing his shit in commentary. It makes for some of my most amazing moments playing the game, since from a wild bash fest, it can make for an incredibly intense final minute, when a fighter is holding on to his last hit point while his opponent is comfortable waiting for the next opening.
Speaking of commentary, the recording work done by EA on the title is sublime. There is almost a line of speech regarding any situation, even for things which happen very rarely in UFC Fights themselves such as blocking and holding on to a leg kick. Having the voices of the official commentators themselves helps a lot, but having almost identical reactions of the ones ingame to the real things takes the game up a notch, and gives it a feel of realism unheard of in other games. The announcements by Bruce Buffer then make it all the more real and satisfactory, to hear “the voice” proclaim you as the winner AND NEW! The soundtrack of the game is also top notch, sporting tunes which make players all the more eager to begin a fight. The themes also make very good walkout songs, and rightly so since they comprise the selection from which you must make your fighter come out to.
One should also mention the amazing roster put in the game by EA. All the fighters one should wish to use are present in the game, including fighters absent from the Octagon for a while like George St. Pierre or even CM Punk, a fighter who still has to debut after his signing in late 2014. One can also unlock Joe Rogan as a playable fighter by inputting the following code: for Xbox One – Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Menu. The same applies for PS4, but replacing the B A Menu part with O X Options. This has to be inputted in the first screen of the game, meaning the one which displays only “Press Menu button”, and not the main menu itself.
Rocking some amazing game modes and mechanics and some of the best commentary in sports games, apart from a selection of tracks to draw envy even from Guitar Hero and Rock Band, UFC2 is my contender for sports game of the year, and it is still March. The work done by EA is off the charts, and our hopes are that this does not become a yearly iteration such as the FIFA series, but a series which spans a game every two or three years with major roster updates, mechanic revitalisations and maybe the inclusion of a couple more features. Even though judging by UFC2, there hardly has to be any work except for roster changes, which may be done through regular patch work. So much for finishing the fight, EA may have finished the series with this one!