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EA’s third attempt at a Mixed Martial Arts simulation is once again shamelessly disappointing.
Not a knockout
When news came out about THQ’s bankruptcy, the one thing that came to my mind was “What’s going to happen to the UFC Undisputed series?”. (In hindsight, a very justified fear.) It wasn’t much later that UFC’s new partnership with EA was announced. The announcement left me with mixed feelings; I didn’t like EA’s MMA, but I really liked the Fight Night series. As it turned out, the same team within EA that worked on Fight Night would do the new UFC game. Awesome, right? At least that’s what I thought at the time. Especially after seeing the first gameplay footage. It looked stunning. Then the first EA UFC game finally came out, I got it on opening day and it was actually my first game on the PS4.
I remember being impressed by how great the game looked. I was less charmed however, by the fighting mechanics. I figured I might warm up to it eventually while mastering the various gameplay aspects so I started playing the – somewhat barebones – career mode. Ultimately I did get more accustomed to the controls and to be fair I did get a kick out of climbing the ranks and earning the Championship belt by knocking lots of opponents out. I actually finished the short career mode twice and during my second playthrough I got off the initial rush from knocking people out in realistic looking fashion and went back to critical thinking. Man, despite getting used to them I still really didn’t like these unintuitive controls and the way my fighter – and fighters in the game in general – responded. Everything just felt so slow and awkward/buggy, not at all like real fighting. I noticed that after the first weekend of playing, my urge to revisit the game lessened with each passing day. I sincerely wanted to like this game, but ultimately the mechanics felt so broken to me that found it hard to get enjoyment out of fights. As it turned out I wasn’t the only one who had complaints and EA announced they would be releasing multiple patches to fix the mechanics.
To be fair, there were a number of patches and EA even threw in some free content. At the end of the day though, the patches were nothing but band-aids on a much larger wound. Fast forward to the announcement of UFC 2. After the announcement of the game I was sceptical; I’d gotten up my hopes before only to be disappointed in the long run. However, EA took two years with the sequel rather than making this an annual thing like Fifa and they claimed a serious overhaul of the complete system, with a complete redoing of the ground game. They showed some gameplay footage to boot and I started to get cautiously optimistic.
Fast forward to the release of UFC 2. Again, EA completely nailed it with the visuals and the recent update in graphics in the real life UFC was translated perfectly to the game. The first fight in the game is basically a quick tutorial of the basic controls and it was over too quick for me to really get a good feel for these new, supposedly overhauled mechanics that EA announced. After the intro I landed in the Main Menu. There are both returning modes (career, quick matches) and some new ones (KO mode, Ultimate Team). I was especially interested in the new KO mode, since it was announced to be a stand-up only affair, focusing on knockouts. As a big kickboxing fan who has extensively played the old K-1 games by Konami on the PS2, hearing about KO mode has definitely added to my (cautious) optimism for this game during the marketing campaign. So the first thing I did was select KO mode and create the matchup of Alistair Overeem VS Andrei Arlovski – a matchup actually happening this year – before starting the fight. As it turns out, KO mode is nothing more than you trying to deplete your opponents health bar before he does the same to you in order to win by KO. You know, like in Street Fighter or Tekken or any other Arcade fighter. That’s right, KO mode is an Arcade mode. Something that works great for, you know, Arcade fighters. In a sport simulation, albeit a fight sport one, not so much. After the initial disappointment of what KO mode was and, more importantly, wasn’t, I started up a regular UFC rules match between Nate Diaz and Conor McGregor. I was about to find out how much changes have been made to the mechanics of the fighting. As it turned out – and this realization settled in eerily quick – disappointingly little.
This is essentially the same game with the same broken mechanics we’ve seen two years ago. Controls still make little sense: The new grappling system which, granted, has been simplified, actually manages to feel even less organic and natural than it did in the last game. I get it, something like grappling is terribly difficult to translate to a videogame in a way that makes for an authentic representation and satisfying simulation of what it actually is, but simplifying it to the most basic of stick toggling definitely isn’t the answer. The lackluster grappling system would (to a degree) still be somewhat forgivable if EA at least managed to nail the standup portion of the fights, something that other sport fighting simulations (by this very team even!) did manage to do succesfully in the past. Ironically, the standup portion is the department where the least noticable changes have been made. Fighters still respond slowly to commands, take forever to perform combinations, tire out way too quick and the overall physics are still awkward and buggy. I could forgive other shortcomings if at least the meat of the game, the fighting system, was done well. Because EA has thrown in some new content like Ultimate Team and improved on such things as the fighter creator, but none of these additions and smaller improvements manage to be a true redeeming quality in light of how unplayable the game is. It’s just insult to injury that a really cool idea like KO mode has been executed in what feels like the worst possible way.
With the same mechanics that proved to be beyond fixing in EA’s first UFC game, UFC 2 is another missed opportunity and inaccurate representation of Mixed Martial Arts. The (very few) improvements and things that do work are not able to salvage a game that fails to get the most essential aspect right: the fighting.
Note: If you want to play an MMA/UFC game that’s actually good, dust off your PS3 or XBOX360 and pop in THQ’s UFC Undisputed 3.