We all know that EA Sports are no strangers to the sporting world, it's a bit of a no brainer even if you don't know who they are or their rather prestige back catalogue of games, but with the world of UFC, its something we haven't really seen the talent behind EA touch upon.
Sure, you could bring up EA Sports MMA, but with some shifty controls and a lack of official license, it wasn't quite the effort you would expect from the gaming behemoth.
With the sad news of THQ closing its doors some time ago, the rights to all future UFC titles eventually floated their way over to EA and the result is actually something pretty special. Its not without some flaws, but Its still definitely worth your time.
So, lets get the obvious out of the way. EA Sports UFC looks downright gorgeous!
As you would expect from the team behind Fight Night, that incredible series of boxing titles which made for some brutal nights in with friends, the character models are near photo perfect. Sweat and tears roll of the fighters bodies and fly in all directions after a good swipe, with limbs and skin eventually discolouring and deforming as they take a good beating. Throw in some slick and natural commentary, with detailed and eye catching walk outs as well as super smooth animations and you've got the recipe for a truly beautiful game. Hell, you wouldn't find anything more realistic to look at if you threw a tenner into the middle of your local and screamed fight!
When you peel away the layers though, EA Sports UFC starts to feel a little shaky, not due to bad controls so much as too many controls and a pretty steep learning curve to boot. Even the basic move set is so diverse, the pressure often left me relying on one good superman punch, or roundhouse kick to get the match going.
Fans of Fight Nights unique control system will feel a bit alienated here as EA Sports UFC uses a much more standard control scheme, setting the face buttons as light and heavy attacks for each limb while the triggers allow you to guard and, if timed right, parry your opponents swipe to slip in for a nice pop shot. Once you've mastered the basics, or IF in my case, you can then attempt the more complex shots which build into some rigorous workouts for your thumbs and mind benders for your brain. Want a good takedown? Simply hold the left trigger while pushing the right stick towards the right and then give it a gentle, sweeping motion, upwards and.. oh damn it! I got punched in the face again! Lets try that one more time!
This fairly complex system, while admirable in its effects to spur you on to try and try again, takes away a lot of the urgency you would expect in a brutal fight of this type. Perhaps this was EA Sports goal overall, to make the fight a real game of minds, but if you're will isn't strong or you're simply looking for a quick bout of pain and punishment, this can really put you off.
Each fighter offers a completely different feel, so if you're perhaps not playing as one of those guys whose built like a brick house and can deliver a KO in a few seconds, you’ll need to master the ground game in EA Sports UFC. If you've put up a fight and thrown your opponent into the clinch, then its up to your mighty thumbs to finish the job by using all manner of swirling motions on the control sticks in order to move into the better position. Feel free to throw in some cheap jabs and knees as you go, then once you've gained control, throw that sucker onto the cold hard octagon floor with a crazy, over the top back suplex. Or you could just sweep his leg. Swings and roundabouts eh?
This ground game is where EA Sports UFC is at its weakest, it’s not awful by any stretch but after a satisfying few minutes of kicking your opponent in the face and bruising the hell out of his body, it just feels like an anticlimax which isn't as well thought out as the rest of the game.
While mounting your foe in a manner that you wont be able to help but giggle at, you can chose to go wild on his face and pummel him like theres no tomorrow, if he's paying attention though you're more likely to be locked in a battle of wills. Each of you holding the controllers shoulder buttons and twirling those control sticks in an effort to be the mounter rather than mountee.
If you do happen to win and fancy ending it on a submission, you're treated to a fairly bizarre mini game. Once locked in, an octagon will cover the screen and prompt your opponent to fill a section of it with his or her colour (red/blue) by simply pushing the right stick in that direction. If they succeed, the hold is cancelled. Its your job to keep an eagle eye on the octagon and block the segment they're filling, in order to keep the submission held for longer than their will can hold out, all while reacting to button prompts with the offer of tightening that hold.
Its a nice idea and while it does work, it just seems to stick out from the rest of the game like a sore thumb. The submissions don't really feel punishing and the whole affair can end so quickly that you see more of two blokes (or women) rolling around having what looks to be a hissy fit, slaps and all.
To be fair though, its a rather small error in a game that offers so much. Multiplayer online, or with a friend is huge fun and there’s a huge roster of fighters to choose from, including the man himself Little Phoenix (thats Bruce Lee to you and I), each offering a completely unique feel as well as aesthetic and with the promise of new fighters through both paid DLC and free updates, you've got a lot to contend with.
If you fancy going it alone and working your way to the top, each fighter can be taken through the EA Sports UFC career mode, which for the first time in a game, throws you into the TV show ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ as your first stepping stone towards success. While enjoyable, its a tad short and once completed, it really highlights how little there is left for those who want to play solo.
Perhaps one of the cooler features though, is the opportunity to create a fighter. As you would expect, you can go into a lot of detail, sculpting the perfect fighter with that perfect hair do, slicked moustache and garish yet artistic tattoos but if you want to go that one step further, why not put your own face up on the chopping block?
Using EA Sports Gameface, you can transport your own mug onto the big screen and offer it up to the gods of UFC and MMA, you may even survive long enough to make it big! The only real shame about this feature is that it relies on a separate account and picture that you create online, as opposed to using the Kinect or PS Camera (it could have been so easy!)