MMA is a complicated sport. You’ve got boxing, freestyle wrestling, Greco-Roman wrestling, traditional mixed martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, karate, kickboxing, Muay Thai, and, tae kwon do, among others, all thrown into a single competition and going up against each other. It’s a daunting prospect for fighters, as they have to be able to perform and counter many different types of fighting styles, and that level of challenge has carried over into the field of video games.
THQ handled such things with a large amount of grace, opting for control schemes that were accessible to regular human beings while maintaining the requisite depth that comes with making a game about MMA. Alas, all good things must come to an end, and with THQ’s death, the license has moved on over to EA. Unfortunately, the same level of quality has not carried over with it. That’s not to say that EA Sports UFC is a bad game; it’s not, but it does have a number of major problems that drag the whole experience down significantly.
On the surface, this is the ultimate UFC game. There are over 90 fighters here over every possible weight class, just waiting to punch, kick, throw, and submit the living crap out of each other for your pleasure at the drop of a hat. There’s also a career mode in which you can create a fighter, guide him (no ladies in this mode, sorry) through The Ultimate Fighter reality show, onto a title in your chosen weight class, and ultimately, into the UFC Hall of Fame.
"When you first get started, though, you’ll play through an eighteen step tutorial that tries to walk you through everything from striking to the clinch, takedowns, and submissions. I emphasize the word tries because ultimately, this tutorial teaches you almost nothing about the game."
When you first get started, though, you’ll play through an eighteen step tutorial that tries to walk you through everything from striking to the clinch, takedowns, and submissions. I emphasize the word tries because ultimately, this tutorial teaches you almost nothing about the game. Part of this is due to the fact that EA Sports UFC contains one of the worst, if not the worst, control schemes I have ever seen in a video game, but part of this is due to the fact that the game does an incredibly poor job of explaining what the controls actually do.
Even little things are complicated. You want to do a roundhouse kick to the head? You need to press the appropriate kick button on the controller (each face button is assigned to an arm or leg), and back on the control stick. Want to make that kick to the body? That requires holding down one of the shoulder buttons. Want to make that a special kick instead of a roundhouse? That’s another button. And that’s just for striking, which is the part of the controls that works well.
The clinch, the part of a fight where two fighters grapple each other while standing, and the ground game are positively infuriating. Doing any sort of clinch or takedown requires the use of the right analog stick. This is fine when it’s just a flick in a direction, such as the input that gets you into the clinch, but after that, things get a lot more complicated. Once you’re wrapped up with an opponent, further action requires you to input quarter circles, but the game never explains what each one does, so you’re left to guess, and often times the game will simply refuse to recognize your inputs, and I say this as an avid fighting game player with years of experience in quarter circle fu.
"Because of this, I almost never used the grapples, clinch, takedowns, or even the admittedly (and refreshingly) simple and fun submission system. Instead, I just focused on kicking people in the head."
Because of this, success basically requires having the game manual open in front of you and a ton of practice. “No problem,” you might say. “I’ll just go into the game settings menu and open up the icon that says ‘game manual.’” Were it so easy. You see, that option doesn’t actually open up the game menu. Instead, it tells you to go to EA’s website to view the manual. Because putting one in the game is too much work. As is, apparently, putting in a decent tutorial.
And just wait until you try to prevent someone from leaving the clinch or from making a transition on the ground. That requires more right stick action in combination with a button press. Sure, there’s a challenge mode (that should probably have been the game’s tutorial) that will walk you through almost everything, but it throws so much at you and never actually teaches you why or how you should do certain things. It just shows you that you can do them and calls it a day.
Because of this, I almost never used the grapples, clinch, takedowns, or even the admittedly (and refreshingly) simple and fun submission system. Instead, I just focused on kicking people in the head. It’s what I did in the standard play mode, as well as the game’s career mode. Admittedly, the career mode does a significantly better job of teaching you than either the challenge mode or the tutorial, and I improved quite a bit as I played. That said, I almost never used many of the so-called “advanced” techniques.
"You see, I was so frustrated with the game’s controls, and EA Canada’s obstinate refusal to explain how anything worked that I named my custom fighter Will “Boom Boom” Baker, and had him kick people in the face until they passed out."
You see, I was so frustrated with the game’s controls, and EA Canada’s obstinate refusal to explain how anything worked that I named my custom fighter Will “Boom Boom” Baker, and had him kick people in the face until they passed out. Any stats I got went into my leg power, and any supplementary abilities focused on damaging kicks to the same part of the body. So far, this has gotten me through The Ultimate Fighter and an undefeated 16-0 record (15 knockouts, 1 decision) in the UFC, as well as the Light Heavyweight Championship.
The career mode is nice, and it’s fun to do the various training exercises and compete in fights, but it’s dragged down by a lot of repetition and a number of videos in which major UFC talents contact you after a fight and proceed to offer a lot of “Atta boys” and “Good job, kids.” This wouldn’t be an issue if the acting weren’t so painfully bad, but it is. I understand that these guys aren’t professional actors, but most of them aren’t even trying.
Some do admirable jobs, but most of the videos are done by fighters who are rewriting the definition of phoning it in. It’s downright painful, and actively detracts from the experience. I’m also fairly sure that the guy I just beat for the Light Heavyweight title wouldn’t contact me afterwards, congratulate me on my title win, and then proceed to give me tips on how to keep it. Just a hunch, though. These things – repetition, the awful “acting” – don’t do a lot to detract from the game’s career mode, but it certainly doesn’t help.
"The other major problem is the game’s use of Bruce Lee. The character was featured heavily at E3 and his inclusion is a major selling point, but unlike literally every other fighter in the game, you have to unlock him. "
The real problem is that, outside of the career mode, there just isn’t a whole lot to do. You can jump into a fight with a human or computer opponent at will, but beyond that, the only other option is online play. That’s means things get repetitive very quickly, no matter what mode you play, and there’s just not a lot on offer for those who don’t want to learn every aspect of the game so they won’t get destroyed online.
The other major problem is the game’s use of Bruce Lee. The character was featured heavily at E3 and his inclusion is a major selling point, but unlike literally every other fighter in the game (with one exception), you have to unlock him. Sure, you can do this by completing the game’s career mode (and winning a championship) on the second hardest difficulty, but the game never actually tells you this.
Instead, it directs you to the in-game store, where you can purchase the four different versions of Bruce Lee for $1.99 each, or for $5.99 collectively. Or, alternatively, you could have pre-ordered. Everyone else? You’d better pony up that cash or get really good and put in the time. It’s a slap in the face considering a large chunk of the game’s marketing revolves around the slogan “Everyone can be Bruce Lee,” (it’s on the game’s official website. Go look it up, I’ll wait) but it’s made all the more infuriating because the game goes out of its way to place some of Lee’s more famous quotes onto the loading screens.
"The character models are legitimately excellent, and the detail is incredible. Skins ripples when characters take a hit, they’ll stagger under heavy impacts, and their movements will change depending on which parts of the body take damage and how much stamina they have left."
It’s absolutely disrespectful to the man who is perhaps the greatest martial artist of all time, but it’s even more disrespectful to the fans because the entire system is blatantly designed to part them with their money. “Want to play as the greatest martial artist of all time? Well, you could struggle with our poorly designed game systems that do nothing to teach you how to play, and eventually work your way up to the second highest difficulty, and win a championship on top of that, or you could pay the low, low price of $5.99. Act now. All your friends are doing it.”
If you can get past all of those problems, the game does look pretty good. The character models are legitimately excellent, and the detail is incredible. Skin ripples when characters take a hit, they’ll stagger under heavy impacts, and their movements will change depending on which parts of the body take damage and how much stamina they have left. You can even see the veins and tendons when they yell in triumph after a match, and the cuts and bruises form right in front of your eyes.
It’s really impressive, but ultimately, it’s too little, too late. When the game works, it’s incredible: the striking feels good, the graphics are stellar, and the career mode is a lot of fun. But the lack of game modes, the poor tutorials and controls, and EA’s ongoing problems with DLC drag the game down significantly. If you’re a dedicated UFC fan, you will probably want to check it out, but everyone else should probably steer clear unless all you want to do is kick people in the head. 16-0, baby.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Excellent graphics. Striking fighting styles are satisfying. Lots of fighters and fighting styles to choose from. Career mode is a lot of fun.
Poor, obtuse grappling controls and tutorials that do very little to teach you how to play. Bruce Lee’s implementation is designed solely to get into your wallet. Very few modes to play. Poor “acting” drags down sections of career mode.
EA Sports UFC will undoubtedly appeal to fans of MMA, but a convoluted control scheme, poor tutorials, few modes of play, bad acting, and an offensive use of DLC make this a game for hardcore fans only.
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