EA is the standard in sports video games, both because of its performance and at times, lack of competition. The company's first UFC game will undoubtedly be a raging success for both of these reasons. Although this is not the company's first foray into MMA -- that distinction belongs to EA Sports MMA, which was released in 2010 to moderate acclaim -- EA Sports UFC is most definitely their most successful MMA game, and a nice step forward for the fighting genre as a whole.
When I got to try out the game, what stood out to me is how seamlessly it all flowed together. Beyond just the natural motions of the fighters and referees, I was very pleased to spot fans in the crowd checking their phones -- a nice, realistic departure from the generic fan mindlessly waving their arms above their head that we've all grown accustomed to.
Like most games, EA Sports UFC offers a walkthrough tutorial, which the game's creative director Brian Hayes told me should take users unfamiliar with MMA games only 12-15 minutes to complete. Like most well-developed games, UFC takes only minutes to learn but likely a whole lot of time to master.
What's unique about EA's UFC offering is that, like mixed martial arts, it shines in its versatility. The stand up, grappling and submissions are each given equal attention and while it's possible to focus on only one of these areas during a fight, you likely won't win many matches unless you become well-versed in all three. Given his past experience as the lead gameplay designer for Fight Night Round 4 and Fight Night Champion, it comes as little surprise that Brian Hayes know how to make exchanging punches and kicks with an opponent an exciting mind game. A well-timed block is just as important as a powerful Superman punch. But more importantly, one doesn't have to be an expert of the game in order to perform either of these actions.
Sweat Sopping, Blood Drenched Graphics
One of the true tests of a great sports video game is how entertaining it is to watch. EA Sports UFC will be a nice complement to fight night gatherings with friends because it's simply a very watchable game. The designers at EA have taken full advantage of PS4 and Xbox One's superior engines to present fights that don't look too far off from the ones I forked over all my money in high school to watch on pay-per-view. As the technology continues to advance, the realism of these games is almost downright eerie. There were several moments while playing EA Sports UFC when I couldn't help but audibly gasp in response to watching my fighter take a devastating kick or punch.
Features, Features and Bruce F'ing Lee
While the games roster only contains 99 fighters -- which is fewer than the 150 fighters featured in THQ's 2012 UFC game -- casual gamers might be inclined to overlook this because of the inclusion of none other than MMA legend Bruce Lee:
Fans of the game will be able to play as Bruce Lee (as well as submission-fiend Royce Gracie) by either pre-ordering the game before the June 17 release date or by beating the game's career mode on pro difficulty or higher. While Hayes indicated that other familiar names such as Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme had been contemplated as possible bonus characters, Lee "made the most sense." He also added that "from a curiosity standpoint, it would be really cool to see what type of heavyweight LeBron James would be."
The inclusion of Lee was definitely a good call, but LeBron James vs. Chuck Norris in MMA? SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!
Online gamers will have the ability to use EA's frighteningly addictive 'Ultimate Team'-like ladder based-mode, in which they'll have 10 online fights at a certain difficulty level to determine whether they progress to the next level and face stiffer competition, or are demoted to a lower level. Another quirk that stood out to me was in the game's career mode, where The Ultimate Fighter will be used as a launching point for your custom character. Here's to hoping future iterations of the game include challenges that involve destroying the house that you live in during the filming of the show.
Although the formula to get there is complex, EA Sports UFC is ultimately successful because, as Hayes puts it, "at the end of the day, it's really fun to just go inside and knock the living heck out of each other." While there's undoubtedly room for more features to be added in future games -- I wouldn't mind an online tournament style bracket with progressively worn down fighters, a la UFC 1 -- it's safe to say that EA has scored quite well in round 1 of this series.
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