EA’s UFC characters amazingly smooth and lifelike

Jon Mercer
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EA Sports UFC
PS4, Xbox One

In the wake of THQ’s closure and the scattering of its franchises, one of the moves I was most excited for was the acquisition of the Ultimate Fighting Championship licence by Electronic Arts.

Taking it to the mat in “EA Sports UFC.” — Submitted image

UFC under the legendary EA Sports banner! That’s a potent mix! Gives me the goosebumps, especially since development was handled by EA Canada, the team behind the famed “Fight Night” titles. And while it’s not quite the first-round flash-knockout that I was anticipating from the mountains of promo material released in the months leading up to its release, it’s a tenacious little mutt that refuses to let go of that armbar.

The biggest bomb in “EA Sports UFC’s” (henceforth to be referred to as UFC) opening salvo is the brilliant impact of its visuals. This is a “holy hell, this game looks great!” on the same level as “Fight Night Round 3” for the Xbox 360 back in 2006.

The models are incredibly lifelike and animate gorgeously. Watching Wanderlei Silva’s murderous stare locked onto his opponent as he rolls his wrists is so perfect that it is uncanny. Even better is watching a fighter crumple into a heap after being KO’d by a sudden, thunderous blow. It’s not quite as fluid as the “Fight Night” pedigree would suggest, but for a first time out, I’m really impressed with how smooth everything moves here.

Character textures are, for lack of a better word, stunning. The fighters take on a sweaty sheen during a bout, without looking like they are candy coated; and the game manages to make the collection of tattoos and unkempt hair that is the UFC roster look nothing short of amazing. I’ve never wanted a mullet-hawk so bad.

Depth of movement

UFC also plays as good as it looks. Like most modern fighting games, the face buttons are mapped to a fighter’s left and right fists and feet. But UFC does a phenomenal job of using directional pushes and pulls in combination with the shoulder buttons and triggers to allow a depth of modification.

This means that players can switch between blinding jabs to body blows, to bone-rattling kicks and haymakers with incredible ease. Parrying and blocking take a little getting used to, with the stick used in creative ways to bat away incoming blows, cutting out breathing room to dart away for a quick stamina refresher, or moving in for a crushing counter.

But where striking feels the most natural, I couldn’t help but feel a noticeable disconnect when working with the other two ends of the MMA triangle, grappling and submissions. Moving into a clinch or attempting a takedown come off as stilted thanks to a deficit of canned animations for throws.

When compared to the wonderfully open-ended standing game, grappling in UFC is stunted. Submissions fare a little better, based around a somewhat confusing mini-game that has opponents jockeying for control by pushing a given analog stick outward in the four directions when prompted to either tighten the hold, or push their way out of it.

It takes some getting used to, but is surprisingly tense in the later minutes of a round.

UFC’s career mode is much like the rest of the game, a situation of give and take. I adored the little details, such as eye-catches from The Ultimate Fighter to act and transitions between fights and training during the early phases of the mode. However, there is little more to it than fighting handicapped by limited statistics, and flipping through piles of menus to spend XP after a successful battle.

Getting comfortable with a player-created brawler takes hours of work, and lacks the smoothness of other games under the EA Sports flag.

That being said, it’s a load of fun once you actually notice the changes that all those little points are making. It becomes easier to power one’s way onto the mat. Punches explode outward faster, and dodging becomes easier.

There’s a lot of information to digest in correctly levelling-up a fighter, but the end result can be quite devastating. Watch how easily Rhonda Rousey bullies her way through positions in a grapple compared to a created character at the start of their career.

And hey! Finishing career mode in certain weight classes unlocks martial arts legend Bruce Lee as a playable character. If that’s not worth a few hours, I don’t know what is.

“EA Sports UFC” may not be the Anderson Silva-like beast that fans had been hoping for — it’s far too wooden in its transitions during fights, and lacking in content when held against THQ’s resplendent “UFC Undisputed 3.” However, this is a solid foundation for a franchise to be built on, and a worthy first barrage from a marriage of sports and gaming giants that feels natural.

It’s less of a fighter and more of a sports simulation, and that’s a direction that I find exciting, even if UFC needed a few more hours in the gym before stepping into the cage.

Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

(PS4 version reviewed)

Developer: EA Canada

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Release Date:  June 17, 2014

Rated: T for Teen

Email Jon Mercer at thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: EA Sports

Geographic location: Canada

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