The roar of the crowd gets your blood pumping. The beat is infectious. It’s Robbie Lawler defending his Welterweight Championship against Rory MacDonald. The fists fly earlier and blood paints the Octagon’s canvas but the tides quickly turn in MacDonald’s favour. It’s round four and Lawler has to make a comeback. Suddenly, you’re placed in his shoes and challenged to eke out a victory with the barest of tutorials explaining how to fight. Thankfully, EA Sports UFC 2 strikes a decent balance between providing a challenging fight and making you feel like a bad-ass. MacDonald goes down, Lawler is victorious, cue the confetti and celebrate the beautiful uproar following the knockout. But the good news is there’s more in EA Canada’s Ignite-fueled sequel to get you invested in the MMA life, even if it’s one that comes with its fair share of hard knocks.
"hen there’s the new Knockout Mode which is tons of fun in its own right. Imagine UFC without the grappling and submissions. Five straight hits to the head and you’re down."
EA has been on a bit of a downturn in the past few years, especially following the first EA Sports UFC. While it introduced the Ignite engine to the franchise, its lack of options, laggy multiplayer and difficult learning curve were severely disappointing for fans of Undisputed 3. EA Sports UFC 2 immediately tries to address problems with the learning curve by throwing you into training from the outset. Select from over 250 fighters across a variety of weight classes, ranging from Vitor Belfort to CM Punk, and take to training against a free-style opponent. Tune your foe’s settings to improve your stand-up, grappling and blocking game.
How do you figure out the finer points of these mechanics? Aside from the game taking time to explain it in the middle of fights, you can head into the Challenges mode and complete a range of challenges, varying in difficulty, to properly hone your craft. Honestly, after Street Fighter 5, there was a small beat of terror as I thought this was all EA Sports UFC 2 had to offer. Thankfully, that’s far from the case.
Head to the Main Menu and you’ll be greeted with a wealth of options, from Live Events to Career Mode and Unranked Fights. Take part in online divisions to battle the best players in the world. Ultimate Team makes its debut for the first time in a UFC game, which allows you to create a roster of fighters (or select from the pre-existing batch) and lead your team to fame and fortune. Then there’s the new Knockout Mode which is tons of fun in its own right. Imagine UFC without the grappling and submissions. Five straight hits to the head and you’re down. Sounds boring? Maybe but the actual result is gripping, forcing you to duck and weave while carefully calculating your opponents mistakes. It’s an entertaining, if not overtly deep, diversion to the EA UFC formula.
"As it stands, Career Mode is a cut-and-dry approach to simulating the life of a UFC star. It’s nothing spectacular and gets the job done, offering plenty of fighting. One just wishes there was a lot more done, especially given the level of graphical fidelity and presentation."
The other modes are as touch-and-go as you’d expect. Live Events have a specified time and have you taking part in past UFC cards. The twist is you can bet on certain fighters and the outcome of matches in order to score currency. Say you think Mike Hunt goes down in the third round via Knockout. Play the match, make it happen and you’ll earn some currency, which goes into earning Card Packs in Ultimate Team mode. Then there’s Career Mode where you select your custom fighter (with the ability to create a female fighter for the first time) and work your way up the UFC ladder.
Career Mode is intriguing for all the nonsense that takes part before fights. This is best manifested in the so-called random events that can affect your performance. Maybe you’ll lose sleep one night and wake up late, cutting your training time down. Perhaps the gym picks up some new equipment, thus improving your overall training significantly. You can even sustain injuries from training too much but these don’t manifest in fights as much as we’d like. As it stands, Career Mode is a cut-and-dry approach to simulating the life of a UFC star. It’s nothing spectacular and gets the job done, offering plenty of fighting. One just wishes there was a lot more done, especially given the level of graphical fidelity and presentation.
Mechanically, EA Sports UFC 2 feels a lot better than its predecessor. Besides the hard-hitting stand-up game, which feels more physics and momentum-based while relying on tactics and placement, the grapple game has been significantly improved. You’re no longer left fumbling when your opponent takes you down. A list of commands will appear – hold the analog stick in a given direction and you can switch positions, effectively taking your opponent’s back and laying some serious ground and pound down. When coupled with the different styles of fighters and their skill with grappling and mat fighting, you’ll find an interesting range of options outside of pure striking. Pacing-wise, it can wear on your patience, especially when your opponent takes you down multiple times during a fight or when your attempt to change positions is countered but it’s still a welcome degree of control.
"EA Sports UFC 2 is a very good combat sports title that deserves your attention and improves on the weaknesses of its predecessor. The series still has a ways to go before coming across as championship material though."
Personally, submissions still took some getting used to, as did stuffing an opponent’s takedown and the game was a bit iffy when it came to explaining later. Nothing that some more hardcore training couldn’t correct but it was annoying in the early going.
Speaking of “pure striking”, there perhaps isn’t a more visceral looking fighting game on the market. EA Sports UFC 2 doesn’t have the most diverse range of visuals nor is it pushing the hardware for all its worth. However, the sheer detail on fighters – right down to their tattoos and skin textures – is amazing. You’ll be impressed from the opening prologue itself and the overall gameplay keeps delivering with realistic deformations on impact, impressive knockout animations that are unique for every instance and an incredible atmosphere that makes you actually believe you’re in the Octagon.
Gameplay-wise, it felt like some impact was missing at times, like blows weren’t connecting properly. Then again, on watching UFC for the first time, it’s easy to get that impression for even the most basic of hits. When the knockouts come or you’re busy pounding an opponent on the mat, then you’ll witness the brutality front and centre. Blood streaks cover the mat or paint the air and the cage is akin to an old-school battleground. It’s awesome, even if you’re submitted on the mat in the next ten seconds.
For all it has to offer though, EA Sports UFC 2 still feels like its missing something. The tactical nature of the combat, despite some hiccups in understanding all of its essentials, and the online play are solid, thus providing the best possible reason to hop in. It also helps that a large roster is on hand to offer a huge amount of variety, no matter which weight class you opt for. And yes, with the addition of training and Challenges, it’s easier than ever to learn game’s mechanics and pursue a career as a digital fighter. But even with Live Events, Ultimate Team and Knockout Mode, EA Sports UFC 2 could have used a more comprehensive and involving Career Mode to really suck players in. It’s a very good combat sports title that deserves your attention and improves on the weaknesses of its predecessor. The series still has a ways to go before coming across as championship material though.
Excellent presentation. Realistic visuals with some of the best blood effects today. Strong online performance and quick matchmaking. New mechanics offer greater options than previous game. More options and game modes, including the fun Knockout Mode.
Some gameplay elements not explained by tutorials. New submission defense takes getting used to. Transitions and grappling mechanics can interrupt fight pacing more than one would like. Not much to Career Mode. Still missing that "X" factor to really pull you in.