EA Sports’ foray into mixed martial arts is a hit and miss affair, if you pardon the painfully fucking obvious pun. Although graphically top notch, the game suffers from a lack of conviction to the grim artistry of the sport itself and collapses under the pressure of gamification, rendering it a shallow button-basher. Sadly, UFC is a monotonous and dull slog where two photo-realistic sprites just kind of cuddle each other until one falls down.
UFC tries to pass off stick-twiddling as a viable and strategic gameplay mechanic, which is the crux of the issue we had with it. The hope of the gruesome game of flesh-chess that UFC can be, in reality, is eradicated by its seemingly nonplussed approach to grappling and wrestling, concentrating on the stand-up fighting that starts a match. By the time you’re on the floor with an opponent, any form of strategy you’ve devised is countered by the fact that escape or victory are a mere stick and button combination away. Although, isn’t everything in games, eh? Eh? Games. #games
Well, no, the problem is that you can feasibly and unfairly escape from the most brutal pins by rolling the right stick around, reducing even the most face-smashing assaults to flimsy, limp-wristed slaps. Even a jaw-shattering punch that knocks an opponent off his feet isn’t followed up by a adrenaline-fulled pounce to take advantage of the situation. With only one method of attacking a foe on the floor from your feet, there’s a real lack of urgency to the potentially table-turning moment, and your opponent can end up just rolling about on his back like a damaged fly.
Resultantly, most of your battles will be fought on your feet, throwing luck-tinged punches and kicks at opponents until someone drops guard. Timing and concentrated attacks on specific body sections are important here and it’s where the game is most fun and well executed. But clinching and ground wrestling, huge aspects of UFC, are simply thumb exercises and usually end up in prolonged spooning sessions while the crowd whoop and roar at nothing.
Career mode allows you to create your own grotesque fighter and work through the ranks from nobody to somebody, interspersed with dull training sessions to increase skill points. If you’re anything like us, these allow you to hone your skills and memory when it comes to all those move combos, or they will most definitely bore the sweating arse off you between the comparatively short bouts. Coupled with real life videos of UFC stars delivering insincere motivational speeches, there’s no real sense of accomplishment here other than the realisation that unlocking a Superman punch and just using that all the time does the same job as an impressive repertoire of roundhouse kicks, grapples and submissions.
In fact, your best bet for a satisfying match comes from online opponents. You’ll find yourself trying to unnecessarily extend offline bouts to give some meat and context to the game, whereas online matches feel naturally tense and a real showcase of skill. Often you will come up against another flailing human throwing poorly aimed fists, but when you meet a well-matched foe, UFC suddenly shows the sort of game it could’ve been but ordinarily isn’t.
Ultimately, EA Sports take the über-violent ballet of real life UFC and try to squash it into hopeful button-mashing that comes off as half-baked and lacks the real heart of the sport. Sure, it has all the moves, the screeching violence and the roaring testosterone of its real life counterpart, but none of the artistry that makes its primal appeal more than just a glittery pub brawl. While it looks simply amazing, it’ll take more than 1080p bloody noses and Bruce Lee diving around the octagon to make this a yearly instalment to which anybody but the dedicated fans of UFC itself will subscribe.
EA Sports UFC is available now for PS4 and Xbox One.