August 25, 2014, Author: Andy Buick
The crowd cheers, music plays, and you can feel the excitement and expectation in the air. The fighters are about to head out, for a brutal piece of entertainment, taking in punches, kicks, grappling, throws and some very painful looking submissions. Then… “Gameplay recording paused because you entered a blocked scene.” Get used to seeing that message, and the corresponding one telling you recording is enabled again when playing UFC, you’re going to see it a lot.
That’s perhaps a harsh introduction to EA’s first attempt to capture the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but it’s fair to say I found that small aspect fairly irritating. Beyond that though, things look brighter.
The graphics in UFC are extremely impressive. As you progress through a fight, both opponents get gradually more beaten up with cuts and bruises appearing. Blood flies, and if you catch your opponent right, you see their skin ripple from the effects of the blow. To say it looks fantastic is perhaps the wrong word given that things get pretty ugly, but I was quickly drawn into the experience.
There are the usual modes you would expect from an EA Sports title as well. You can jump straight into a bout using a real UFC fighter, or you can make your own and take them through career mode. So it was that Bob “Big Daddy” Ferrari came into being; a huge fighter from Rome, Italy taking part in the heavy weight competition.
Career mode is the main event for UFC, and tasks you initially with qualifying as a UFC fighter. Before each fight, you do three lots of training, which act as a learning aid. This is repeated throughout your career, and is both cleverly done and vital to your success as the combat system is extremely deep and, of course, as you move through the UFC ranks, the fights get tougher.
Depending on how you perform in training, and also in each fight, you’ll be awarded varying amounts of evolution points that you can spend on improving your fighter in a long list of different areas such as speed, power, and grappling. There’s also an experience system that levels the fighter up, and this in turn feeds into an ability tree where you can set up different profiles (both abilities and extra profiles unlock as you progress) which all go into making your fighter both unique and easily alterable for different fights.
Fighting itself consists of several elements due to the different styles brought to an MMA bout. Some of the time you’ll be aiming a range punches and kicks (from simple jabs, to wild off the fence flying kicks), some of the time you’ll be in a standing clinch, and then other times you’ll be on the floor trying to get on top of your opponent and maybe getting them into a hold to make them submit.
The fighting system is by and large well implemented, although I found my enjoyment to be quite wide ranging. When I was toe to toe with an opponent, there was a great sense of satisfaction in landing a solid punch or kick, particularly if it led to them being knocked down, or even knocked out. The standing clinch is also a good way to land a few blows if you can gain the upper hand. I found the grappling to be somewhat frustrating though, with Street Fighter style quarter circles and buttons being used to try and gain control. This never felt hugely intuitive to me, and more importantly it was just nowhere near as much fun as the standup fighting. If that was bad, the submission system is a dark art. Despite several hours or playtime, I have yet to succeed in getting a submission.
There is a tutorial to help you understand how the different mechanics work, and I would strongly urge anyone to go through this before getting too stuck in. There’s also a challenge mode which acts similarly. Basically this is just a separate mode which takes you through increasingly difficult training sessions taken from the career mode.
There are a few different multiplayer modes as well, much as I expect with EA games. So there’s a quick mode that allows an unranked match against anyone. Games can be set up against friends, and there’s a tournament mode to work through as well. It’s best to be well prepared for this though. As with any fighting game, I found that going online without really having a full grasp of the mechanics was a terrible idea as I got my backside handed to me often, and more than once in a matter of seconds. There’s no hand holding here, learn the ropes or don’t go online…
An interesting additional online feature is Fighternet. This allows you to upload and share highlight reels for others to watch and rate. Unfortunately while it is a great idea, the highlight reels themselves are so brief they don’t really give you much of a flavour of any given bout beyond a couple of moves and how it all came to an end. I would rather see this feed into the share features that come with the current gen consoles so that as a player I could make my own highlight reel and share that. Of course, this doesn’t preclude any given match from being shared online live anyway, except of course for those elements that are blocked…
When going through the career mode, there are frequent interruptions by way of real fighters and other members of the wider UFC community giving tips, pep talks, commiserating or berating when you lose and so on. Whilst it’s cool to see the real fighters (including clips of them fighting), this got fairly tiresome for me after a while, especially given that before and after each clip, you get the PS4 message beep along with the messages I mentioned at the start of this review. I got a little fed up with that, although I must admit I’ve not looked into whether the alerts can be turned off or not.
Is it all hugs and (Glasgow) kisses?
Overall, this is a generous package, as EA Sports games tend to be. If you’re a big fan of the UFC then it’s pretty easy to recommend as you’ll know the various fighters, and the intricacies of the sport will probably click with you quite early on, even if the grappling is finicky. For the rest of us though, while it has some very strong elements to it, it’s perhaps not so easy to say go out and buy it. The pacing is very different to the average fighting game, and unless the finer arts of realistic clinches and grapples really appeal (this is no WWE either, no flying suplexes to be found here), UFC can be somewhat frustrating, and dare I say it, even slightly dull.
If you aren’t sure, I am happy to say you should definitely give it a try, as there’s undoubtedly enjoyment to be had here, and perhaps it will click more with you than it did with me.