EA Sports UFC 2 – Review

Title   EA Sports UFC 2
Developer  EA Canada
Publisher  Electronic Arts
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Genre  Fighting
Release Date  March 15, 2016

Fans of the oddly mainstream combat sport, MMA, have actually been pretty well served when it comes to videogames. Even the early UFC games were pretty decent which is no mean feat given that MMA is a terrifyingly complex sport. Where most fighting games just have to worry about kicks, punches, and fireballs, the UFC games have to consider complete and varied striking styles such as Muay Thai, Karate, Tae Kwon Do and Kickboxing as well as the extremely detailed ground game which will need to somehow represent the complexity of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu along with wrestling and ground striking (ground and pound).

In MMA, every possible position is utilised and so the games have to consider move sets for things like you being on top of your opponent, the same but with their legs wrapped around you, or maybe just one leg or, perhaps, similar situations but now up against the cage. As previous license-holders THQ upped the complexity of the move sets, they also had to bring in the feel of a big UFC event. The crowds, the Joe Rogan/Mike Goldberg commentary, the TV-style graphics as well as stuff for the hardcore fans. By the end of THQ’s stewardship, the UFC games were impossibly detailed but excellent.

When EA took over in 2014, they stripped things back. MMA is now much more mainstream since stars like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor have made headlines in regular sports media and so there are many more casual fans. Also, EA know how to market the hell out of the game. You could never expect the average fight game fan to understand the complexities of the submission game and so EA Sports UFC was a bit more user-friendly.

Their efforts instead were more focused on the overall container of the gameplay. Anything you’d see in a UFC television broadcast was thrown in and with many actual UFC fighters providing video clips, it was a great introduction to this style of game. However, the hardcore fans couldn’t help feel that everything had been dumbed down a tad.

Where the first game set the template, EA Sports UFC 2 refines it. It starts you off in the fifth round of the Welterweight title fight between Robbie Lawler and Rory Macdonald that took place last year at UFC 189. Going into the fifth and final round, the fight was looking fairly level until Robbie broke Rory’s nose (well, he maybe broke it earlier in the fight but in the last round he turned it into sherbet).

The game guides you through the remainder of the fight until you finish Rory. Additional tutorials based around specific parts of the sport also turn up later on and, during the game’s career mode, you’re expected to perform training exercises which hopefully will embed some of the complexities into your long-term memory. Being an EA game, the main menu is a slew of panels that let you into various on and offline modes. When you get into a fight, you can expect to see some top notch presentation. You’ll see the fighters walk out into the arena, get checked by the officials, enter the Octagon and do various warming up moves all in great graphical detail. The official UFC commentary team of Rogan and Goldberg add to the realism and an actual UFC referee will start off the fight.

The fights themselves look amazing. Muscles move under skin, blood pours out of cuts, faces bruise and swell up and the fighters are immediately recognisable. The moves are excellently animated too, with barely any texture clipping. The gameplay is very good. The striking is excellent. Each face button is mapped to a limb (Tekken-style) and you can perform a massive array of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows. As in real life, some fighters may have one great weapon (such as Roy Nelson’s huge overhand right) where as others rely on slick combinations and stamina over raw power.

Strikes combine well and it soon becomes apparent just how important range is. You can’t afford to waste stamina on missed strikes. Damage to each body part is indicated so it’s up to you if you want to target, for example, their left leg to take away their mobility or maybe test their stamina with a succession of strikes to the body.

Or, just go headhunting. This is worthwhile as the physics engine now provides some great knock outs. A punch from any angle can end the fight now and send the opponent sprawling. It’s incredibly satisfying, especially if it happens late in a close fight. The clinch and ground parts of the fight aren’t quite as good. They require you to move the right analog stick in certain directions. The quicker you do it, the better. So it pays to learn the patterns. It’s not incredibly instinctive and sometimes the opponent will block your moves without you ever realising how they did it but it does work and most fans will appreciate the simplicity of it.

If a fight ends up on the ground, I just use the ground game enough to win back a position where I can attempt to get up. The submission game feels off and no amount of practicing it has allowed me to pull off a submission. I’ve defended them, even without really knowing how, but I’ve never pulled one off and haven’t seen it done online. This part of the game will definitely be one of the things they’ll change in the next game, you can guarantee it.

The game offers plenty of modes. You can do exhibition fights or set up fantasy UFC cards if you fancy it but Career Mode is where you’ll spend a lot of time. As with the previous game, this sees you creating a new fighter and getting them into the UFC via The Ultimate Fighter (the UFC’s reality TV show).

After winning the show, you make your way into the UFC proper and then it’s a case of working up the rankings until you become the number one contender and get your title shot. Then, hopefully, you win and keep defending.

It’s in your interests to keep fights short and defend yourself. Damage accumulates over time, ultimately shortening your career. You can mitigate against this by earning more fans (with great performances) but eventually time will run out.

In between fights you’ll have a training camp where you can work on various parts of your game and increase your fighter’s stats and attributes. There are lots of numbers here. Everything from left hand power to how quickly you can get out of submissions is covered and you can earn additional perks such as better stamina recovery and better responses to being stunned during a fight. There is a lot of detail. Although, thankfully, they’ve taken out the awkward ‘hey champ, I saw your fight. Good job!‘ videos from real fighters that were in the last game.

Aside from that, there is also the more arcadey Knockout Mode where you just have to land five strikes on each other and there’s no ground game.

There is also the EA Sports staple that is Ultimate Team. In their other games, like FIFA, this involves acquiring players. It’s usually oddly compelling but can feel like a cash grab. You don’t have to spend money on it but everyone else is, so you either grind away forever or, if you’re me, leave it alone.

In this game, you assemble a team of five fighters (that you create) and the stickers that you earn, or buy, then give you stat boosts, perks or new moves. A pack of ten stickers will get you maybe a couple of moves and perks, an attribute card that might improve one type of stat (like submission defence) at the expense of another (like punch power) and then a few things to improve conditioning. None of it has the impact of suddenly unlocking a Lionel Messi. For me, it doesn’t really justify its own existence.

Online play is pretty good. People have figured out that clinching is the way to a cheap victory. There are ways to defend it but it’s kind of exhausting when you get into that kind of fight but I’ve had some decent fights online and it’s all smooth and responsive.

EA Sports UFC 2 isn’t perfect. The striking game is way better than the ground game and the Ultimate Team mode feels tacked on but at its best, this is a just a great fighting game with enough fan service for UFC enthusiasts. As a stand-up fighter, it’s one of the best on the market and the ground stuff doesn’t detract from it but it doesn’t live up to it either. It’s a step in the right direction overall though.

  • Authentic presentation
  • Excellent graphics
  • Stand-up combat feels amazing
  • Lots of modes
  • Ground game isn't quite up to standard
  • Ultimate Team feels tacked on and isn't much fun
  • Can all be a bit stat heavy
  • Probably not ideal for non-UFC fans even if they like fighting games

EA has improved their UFC series with this entry. The realism is upped, there's lots to do, and it all looks and feels great. It still needs to work on its ground game and flesh out some of the modes but, overall, there's plenty of game here and it's just a bit more suited to serious fans than the last one.

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