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Review: EA Sports UFC 2 is a triumph for the true fan, but a nightmare for the novice

To steal UFC Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer’s catchphrase – this is the moment fans around the world have been waiting for. A mixed martial arts video game that is actually worth playing.EA Sports UFC 2 is the first offering in many attempts which successfully makes the combat sport into a fluid and realistic gaming experience, and it is about as visually rich as it is possible to get.

A two-year hiatus since the last edition has really given EA the space to make much-needed tweaks to the gameplay, centred on a stunning knockout physics system.

Paddy

Gimmicky KO animations have given way to brutally realistic finishes and, finally, the days of painfully clunky transitions between ground fighting and stand up battles appear to be over.

But for the first-time gamer, this will be an uncompromisingly difficult challenge. Striking requires patience and timing, while grappling demands a lot of practice to stop yourself being mauled.

This is not a pick-up-and-play classic, it is a game that rewards effort and is the most successful attempt to date to bring a complex sport to consoles.

Fighters

The start screen of EA Sports UFC 2

With more than 250 fighters available to take into the cage, UFC 2 has more depth than ever before.

From fan favourites Ronda Rousey and Anderson Silva to relative unknowns Ruslan Magomedov and Derrick Lewis, every corner of the UFC roster is covered.

This year’s noticeable addition – besides the inexplicable inclusion of Mike Tyson – is former WWE superstar CM Punk.

Although yet to debut in the UFC, Punk will be a big draw for the casual fan, but, as expected, his stats might raise some eyebrows.

CM Punk and Nate Diaz in UFC 2

There is an argument to be made that making him too under-skilled would make his inclusion in the game pointless, but giving jiu-jitsu white belt Punk a rating of 82 on the ground, while awarding black belt submission wizard Nate Diaz 83 is borderline laughable.

However, with an extra division in the form of women’s strawweight and enough fighters to keep the most die-hard fans happy, this is an easily ignorable issue.

Visuals

Conor McGregor in UFC 2

UFC 2 builds on one of the last game’s real strengths – awe-inspiring realism. Each fighter is the spitting image of their real-life counterpart, with many of the sport’s marquee names boasting all the same mannerisms too. You can see every bead of sweat, every flick of the hair and every heavy breath.

This attention to detail is especially noticeable during the fights, which boast all the authenticity of real combat. Skin ripples when hit, fighters wince in pain and welts and bruising clearly form as the contest progresses.

The new physics system means fight-ending punches or kicks crumple your sorry opponent in the fashion you would imagine, providing a kind of macabre satisfaction that neither the previous EA game or the THQ editions before it achieved.

This is still a work in progress, however, as the graphics system is prone to the occasional glitch. A well-timed leg kick, for example, has the tendency to send a fighter flying off in a gravity-defying manner, a flaw which gave the previous game a real reputation.

Gameplay

Two women fighting in UFC 2

Mixed martial arts is, by its very nature, a tricky sport to make into a user-friendly game. It combines numerous disciplines, from boxing to jiu-jitsu, which real fighters move between in the blink of an eye.

Previous efforts have felt like entirely different games from the feet to the mat, but these transitions have been tightened enormously.

Grappling has been made more straightforward this year – escapes and advances require the right analog stick to be held in a certain direction, rather than a series of complex rotational turns. They are also accompanied by an optional guide of what moves are available in what positions.

But being taken down opens a whole new world of complications. Minute visual cues give away when your opponent is about to attempt a transition, reversal or submission, which can make them frustratingly difficult to block. Unlike previous editions, getting back to your feet can be a real battle of attrition.

A submission on UFC 2

This will invariably bore anyone who is not a fan of the sport, as it is time-consuming and not always rewarding.

On the feet, punch and kick combinations flow much more naturally and a slick, Fight Night-style system of head movement replaces the awkward analog-stick flicking of before.

But you cannot simply go charging in expecting a knockout. You will tire, leave yourself open to strikes or be taken down. Timing, movement and energy-conservation are the keys to success, to the inevitable annoyance of anyone wanting a mindless slug-fest.

Game modes

The new Ultimate Team mode in UFC 2

There are a number of new ways of keeping yourself occupied in UFC 2. The Knockout mode is clearly marketed for those frustrated with the complexities of grappling and limits you to punches and kicks – the last man standing wins. It’s mindless, but a lot of fun.

Alongside this is the arrival of the classic EA Ultimate Team mode, available both online and offline, where you build a team of custom fighters, earn coins by locking horns with others and then splash them on skills and move upgrades.

Finally there is the live event and created event mode, where you will be able to either play through an upcoming card or act as matchmaker yourself and put together a night of dream fights.

This particular mode really shines when you choose to combine weight classes, allowing you to sanction superfights between heroes of different divisions (within reason). For example, featherweight champion Conor McGregor and flyweight supremo Demetrious Johnson.

Conor McGregor and Demetrious Johnson in EA Sports UFC 2

Although the size difference can make this look a bit silly.

Two fighters in EA Sports UFC 2

Then there is career mode, which is the game’s major, major flaw.

You can choose to either create a fighter or import a real fighter (without their skillset) and lead them from the Ultimate Fighter reality show to the belt.

Create a fighter mode in UFC 2

Like the original EA UFC game and the THQ games before it, this is a tediously formulaic blend of training mini-games and fights. Except this time it is even more bare than before.

There are no longer emails from coaches, opportunities to train with elite fighters or anything resembling a storyline. In fact, there isn’t much of anything at all.

The career damage setting has returned, ensuring you have a longer career if you take less damage in fights, but it now extends to training as well. Staying smart in the gym will keep you healthy for battles in the cage.

A nice touch of realism, but it does little to counter the banality of the whole endeavour.

Verdict

There is no doubt this is a complex game, which requires patience and understanding, but, once mastered, it proves to be an incredibly satisfying experience.

The dynamic feel of the gameplay stands it apart from the stilted and repetitive combat in previous years and its staggering realism gives the fights a jaw-droppingly visceral edge.

EA Sports’s UFC series requires a lot of work still, particularly in the parts of the game beyond the cage, but this year’s outing provides all the scaffolding for something truly outstanding to be created in years to come.

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About Edward Lam

Edward Lam
Co-Founder, Managing Director and Multimedia Designer at InTallaght.

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