EA Sports UFC Review: The type of game you date, not marry
EA Sports UFC is like that attractive boy or girl that you're really into. The thing is, all that person has is looks, and there's a lot of baggage or damaged goods that come with those looks. So you date, have fun for a while, and move on -- nothing long-term. That's the best way I can describe EA Sports UFC.
There's the two things that EA Sports UFC nails -- graphics and presentation. Focusing only on the Xbox One and PlayStation has allowed EA Sports to make some of the most impressive character models in any sports video game. Animation and action is fluid, and you can see expression on the faces of the fighters. Every detail of every fighter is there -- from their ring entrances to their idiosyncrasies.
Combine those character models and the visuals with the finely crafted presentation, and what you have is a gorgeous looking game. It's eye candy, but it sure does catch your attention. The presentation does a great job of mimicking Pay-Per-View style broadcasts. There's a subtle filter to the game, making it look a little grainy and gritty. From the camera angles to the career mode, presentation is a highlight. The career mode -- in which you create a fighter and go through The Ultimate Fighter -- has sprinkled in clips of Dana White and the show, giving it an authentic feel. The commentary is top-notch as well.
After that is where the game starts to lose its luster. The most important part of an MMA game is the combat, and that's the area where EA Sports UFC fails to capture what MMA fighting is about. MMA is intense and unpredictable, where a knockout, takedown or submission could happen in the blink of an eye; that's something that doesn't translate over to EA Sports UFC.
Striking is the best part of the fighting experience. The number of strikes you can pull off keeps things fresh, but there's even problems with the best part of the combat. First of all, punches and kick lack oomph. Every MMA fighter is able to take some truly brutal punches and kicks to the face and not even be affected. You need to work for your knockouts over time through punches and kicks since you won't be able to earn one with a timely unexpected strike.
Another problem with punches and kicks is that combos are slow to execute. This can be blamed on the style of the game, as well as the translation of the arsenal of MMA moves into the controller scheme. At any one point, you could be holding two or three shoulder buttons combined with a face button or analog stick rotation. And that's not only for striking; that's for every aspect of fighting. One other thing that is horrible is the blocking. Just hold the block trigger and it's automatic.
Fighters will never initiate a clinch on their own when colliding; you have to flick the right stick. Just that one thing makes me wonder why on next-gen this happens. A quick takedown/knockdown is one of the most intense moments in an MMA fight, but the intensity is stolen away. When a fighter falls, there's not that option to rush on top of your opponent and finish them; instead, you're left swinging at air. Even when you do get on top of them landing a punch, the game puts you into a mount. And that's where the biggest problem with the fighting is -- on the mat.
There is little to enjoy about fighting off a submission or trying to force someone to submit. It's so tedious. Sweeping and passing are the same animations for everyone, time and time again. Jiu-jitsu is handled solely by the right stick with quarter-circle movements. During a struggle on the mat, you'll just keep swapping between the same mounts, getting off punches here and there.
When it does come time to submit, there's a mini-game that kills the action and intensity of everything. An octagon appears on the screen. The goal is for the defending fighter to use the right stick to push one of the bars out towards one of the corners, while the attacker matches the right stick to block it. Then the offensive player will get a prompt to advance the submission, and so on. It feels like EA thought this was a thought-out mini-game, but instead it's just a jumbled mess. Even with time invested into the game and learning how the system works, it was less messy but didn't capture what real-life MMA submissions are all about. And my god, could it last a while.
I will say this... when you're fighting another real-life opponent, this game suddenly takes on a new life. The systems work a bit better, probably because every style of fighting is balanced, regardless of how they feel against AI.
Outside of the Octagon, you have the career mode that I already spoke about -- a mode that will probably get a ton of attention in next year's iteration. I like the presentation, but the training in-between fights doesn't do much to help -- it's always the same thing. Another problem I have with training is that it tells me I earned a black belt for that training session, but it was mindless. I also feel that both the tutorial and training ill-prepared me for an actual match. I learned the most about grappling, passing and submissions through playing lots and lots of matches. There's also an online mode to fight against real-life opponents, but there's little more to offer.
There's work to do to get EA Sports UFC to the potential it has. The visuals are definitely there... top-notch, but need a better variety of animations. Career mode is what you'd expect, except you don't have a ton of control over the face and build of your fighter, choosing from pre-sets. The striking is the shining spot of the fighting, but even that lacks oomph. This is a flashy game that's better against a human opponent than AI. Changing up some of the design will help in the future. Until then, date it for a while, have fun, but remember -- it's not marriage material.