With the UFC still donning the moniker of the world’s fastest growing sport, it was only going to be a matter of time before EA added another franchise to their already stellar selection of sports titles. Can they replicate their successes once more with a UFC game based around their Ignite engine?
As a fan of UFC since channel 5 aired their pay per views late on a night and free of charge, I like many others, have been hankering for a true UFC experience. This rendition promises a slew of available moves, an improved ground and submission game alongside a fully-fledged career mode.
Jumping straight in, you’ll be prompted with a basic tutorial that’s designed to get you started on the game; it’ll inform you on how to flail wildly and that’s about it. With such a diverse moves list demanding control of your opponent in many areas of the octagon, you’ll be at a frustrating and instant disadvantage the moment you’re not standing toe to toe. Due to the bewildering lack of a practice mode against a dummy AI, you’re learning the hard way too. The game is not only difficult to master, but also seems reluctant to let you learn how to progress. There are a few incredibly helpful online tutorial videos hidden in the touchpad’s online menus, but why these weren’t moved onto the main menu instead is beyond me. A challenge mode is also available, but doesn’t explain the benefits of transitioning into certain mounts, guards or clinches. I’m all for having to figure things out for yourself, but it’s not fun when you’re on the cusp of losing because you didn’t know to also hold L1 whilst rotating the right thumbstick to get out of a full mount.
Fortunately, the days of the infinite standing elbows and the impossibly confusing ground game are behind us, fighters are blessed with an armada of standing strikes; all can be performed by the initially bewildering modifier buttons. With each face button dedicated to a limb, you can alter the type of strike by holding another button, for example, holding forward whilst pressing triangle will perform a straight or a hook in lieu of the standard jab, whilst pulling away from your opponent will change it to an uppercut. Holding L2 will always target the body; the L1 and R1 buttons are the more stamina draining but equally powerful flamboyant moves.
As you might imagine, swinging at thin air will not get you very far; not only will it open you up to a counter, it’ll take a chunk out of your stamina bar too. The key to success, much like real UFC fights, is to not get exhausted during a bout. Not only will your strikes deal less damage and connect slower, but you yourself will also be more susceptible to taking heavy damage; becoming one step closer to that fabled flash knockout. The ground game, submissions and any form of transitions or posturing also use stamina, making the ground wars less of a button mashing affair and more a thinking man’s ordeal. It’s all well and good rushing to full mount only to discover you’re lacking any stamina to complete a submission, before getting swept and finding yourself at the mercy of your opponents crushing elbows.
Everything boils down to knowing your foes weaknesses and strengths, a kickboxer will be more at risk to a takedown than a decorated wrestler for instance; it’s here where UFC really shines. Executing a gameplan successfully is highly rewarding and achieving the victory whilst playing to your strengths is a glorious feeling. The submission system has been altered for the better this time too. Successfully tightening a choke or lock requires mastery of the mini-game involved. An octagon overlay will appear, with the defender having to fill one of the four gauges to escape, the attacker can impede their progress by holding the right thumbstick in the corresponding direction whilst looking for a left thumbstick prompt to advance the submission state. Despite being initially overcomplicated and confusing, once you’ve had a few attempts, (it really needs a practice mode) it can feel like an aptly anxious struggle.
Whilst you may chug about a little slowly in relation to your real life counterparts, the defensive game is pretty well implemented. Blocking works surprisingly well, holding R2 becomes a weak but still useful guard. Yet if you wish to make the most out of it, timing an opponent’s high or low strike with one of the face buttons will make them whiff and leave themselves open to a more powerful counter. Dashes can be executed by flicking the left thumbstick; if timed well, can leave your foe vulnerable and floundering.
Sublime fighting mechanics aside, how does EA’s UFC fare outside of the octagon? In truth, not quite so well; feeling very much like a first stab at the franchise, it gets a lot right, but misses out on what could have been a more enveloping career mode. The addition of the required Ultimate Fighter tournament before being let loose in the UFC is a welcome touch yet it has two major drawbacks. The first being that you can’t skip it, despite how many fighters you’ve inducted into underwhelming Hall of Fame, which consists of a short video featuring Dana White and a generic email essentially stating ‘that’s enough, start again’. The second, implausibly odd reason being that The Ultimate Fighter bouts are by far the most difficult fights you’ll have in the career due to you having unalterably dire stats.
From each successful training session in the career, your created fighter will earn approximately 200 upgrade points to spend on whatever you feel is necessary, probably stamina though if you’re being honest. Compare this to the UFC fights when you often gain in excess of 1000 points for a victory and you can see how your character becomes exponentially more powerful, even against the greatest in the division. Points can be spent on moves or attributes, but don’t fret as you’ll have points left over before your career ends; attaining max stats all around is easily achievable unlike previous UFC games.
Aside from the constant barrage of videos peppering your screen after each KO, submission or fight of the night, showcasing highlight reels of classic UFC moments, there isn’t that much involvement outside of the fights. There are no rivalries, you can’t choose a training camp, there’s no threat of not making weight, there’s no advice from your corner in-between rounds and the ‘guest’ appearances at the gym make little to no differences aside from a nasty potential boxing spar with Nate Diaz.
Some other generic problems that seem to plague EA titles of late being the horrendous menu load times that can make altering sponsors, stats and appearances a drain. During the career mode, there’s a useless ticker across the top of the screen either notifying you that you have no new notifications or displaying now out of date items of interest. There’s an almost sarcastic use of a game manual option in the menus too which instead displays a link to a website, of which you can’t even select to open in the PS4’s browser. Why bother putting it there then?
If there’s one thing EA Sports titles do well time and time again however, it’s the presentation aspect. They’ve really nailed the broadcast feel of the fights, what with Bruce Buffer’s fantastically over excitable introductions alongside Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg screaming at each and every knockout.
Graphically it’s excellent; EA’s Ignite engine provides a showcase of what should be achieved on PS4 and Xbox One. Beads of sweat drip, blood flows and spatters onto the mat, muscles are seen tensing and the character animations are equally impressive too. In terms of audio, it lets itself down a little however. Despite the impressively looking equaliser, there’s no way to alter the sound levels to your preferences. You can’t turn the music entirely off either unless you deselect all the tracks in the main menu; for some reason, the punches and kicks lack a little meat too.
However, once the overly complicated controls are mastered and start to make sense, it’s utter brilliance. Get over the woeful tutorial hump; don’t expect much outside of the octagon and there is no greater game for combat sport aficionados. Every punch is deliberate, every kick is measured, every takedown punishing and every win immeasurable.