I've already written a review of EA's first crack at the UFC license. It is a flawed game, despite a couple of positive aspects, that indicates a game that was rushed, and perhaps not created by a team of die hard MMA enthusiasts. A few years ago, EA released EA Sports MMA, developed by their EA Tiburon team. Sure, it was a game that had a few issues, but as a love letter to the sport it was exceptional. Cages, Rings, the ability to select from the Unified Rules of MMA or the Japanese ‘Pride’ Rules, which allowed for some extra brutal attack, like soccer kicks to the head of a downed opponent. The roster was a combination of at the time the best of non-UFC fighters and legends of the sport, with a career mode that was about the life as a fighter, as opposed to just a series of matches with varying title implications. Again, EA MMA had more than a few issues, but it was a solid first attempt and many cracks were covered over by their clear enthusiasm for all things MMA. Also, Bas Rutten.
With the UFC license acquired, it seemed like an obvious fit for EA to hand over development to Tiburon, but instead opted for the team behind the Fight Night boxing games.
This analysis of EA’s UFC game is purely from the stance of someone who watches all the UFC’s product, without fail. My actual experience with Martial Arts is limited at best, or from such a long time ago it is basically irrelevant, so I won’t be touching on whether or not a technique looks correct or not. However, if you check out the episodes of the Chet and Jon’s Reassuringly Finite Gaming Playlist podcast, host and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu strangler Jon Denton does note that during some of the grappling animations the fighters make some real, amateur mistakes. It isn’t something I’m particularly qualified to write about, but it is perhaps a point worth noting nonetheless.
You can't have a fighting game without a load of fighters to do the fighting. EA's UFC has loads of fighters - 97, in fact - and each one of them has had the utmost care and attention put into how they look. The graphics are one of the games high points. Despite looking the part, they don't feel the part, and this is largely down to EA's insistence on putting a stat point on everything.
Let's look at current Light Heavyweight champion and pretty much unarguably the best Pound-for-Pound fighter in all of MMA Jon 'Bones' Jones. He's 27 years old, won the belt aged 23 and has dominated ever since. He's knocked fighters out, choked them out standing, submitted them on the mat, suplexed fighters and tossed them around like ragdolls. He's been in five round wars where he has found himself tested and he bit down on his mouthpiece and found a way to win. He's a champion. He's Real Madrid. He's Floyd Mayweather. He's whoever wins all the time in basketball. He's pretty fuckin' good.
His stats are, obviously, very high. In Jones' case, this doesn't seem too out of the ordinary. What is odd is how he fights. ‘Bones’ throws some unorthodox strikes, sure, but he’s never thrown a cartwheel kick in his UFC career. Hell, the only person I’ve seen do it is Brian Ebersole, a man who once threw that exact kick in a fight for some regional MMA promotion and was accused of trying to throw the fight, such a ridiculous manoeuvre that it is! This is indicative of an issue that plagues EA UFC. It is way too easy to do the spectacular, while the simple (and really useful!) act of throwing a knee to the body is actually way harder. Current Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis once did this in a fight. Brace yourselves.
Incredible, right? It is regarded as one of the most spectacular moments in the sport’s history. I remember watching it, the day after it happened, spending the day avoiding spoilers. Went over to a mate’s house, had a few of us in the room, all of us went wild when we saw Pettis connect with that kick. A moment. Part of MMA history. Part of a highlight reel we will likely see forever. A true one off.
L1 + X near the fence. That’s it. Sure, it’s fairly contextual, but you can throw at least one out per fight with ease. For comparison, throwing a powerful right hook to the body of an opponent requires you to hold down L2 + R2 + Triangle and Forward! You see THOSE twenty times a fight! This issue seems really affect the champion fighters, the elite of the elite. They’re names, faces of the organization and the fighters that players are likely to pick to play as, so of COURSE they’ve made them the best, with all the spectacular, mega-damaging moves. This makes online play a bit of a bore, because 90% of the time you’re going to find yourself facing off against Ronda Rousey, Jose Aldo or the aforementioned Jonny Jones, spamming the a spinning wheel kick over and over, hoping for that KO shot. He’s Real Madrid, after all. Why pick anyone else if you’re trying to win?
Now let's look at Mark Hunt, who poses a different problem. The Super Samoan. Mark is a big lad, a Heavyweight, who fights at the very top of the Heavyweight limit of 265 lbs. He has a record of 9 Wins and 8 Losses. He is 40 years old. Hardly sounds like the elite of Heavyweight MMA, right? Hunt is a former K1 Kickboxing World Champion, which is no joke. The man hits like a tank, that is being fired out of another tank. Anyone who gets a full crack on the chin from Hunt is going to get tucked in.
Mark Hunt’s EA UFC stats are Striking: 89, Ground: 80 and Submissions: 78. A total of 86.
The low submission and ground scores are fair. Homeboy hasn’t submitted anyone in his career and SIX of his eight career losses have come from a submission. It’s not his game, and his skills are basic at best. There are fighters not known for having ridiculous power - Rashad Evans, Michael Bisping and Tarec Saffiedine for instance - who have a higher striking score than Hunt! Perhaps they’re more technical, but Hunt has legitimate one-punch KO power. Essentially, fighters that are deemed 'better' get an overall stat boost to pump their main rating number up. It is a shame, because giving Hunt this weapon would encourage players to fight like he does in real life, loading up those big shots and trying to stuff every possible takedown attempt, looking for opportunities to counter. It’d be far more interesting than throwing head kicks over and over again.
The submission system will likely always be an issue MMA games struggle to overcome. There’s so much subtlety to the ground game, where a slight change of technique can make all the difference with some moves, or a bit of brute strength can make a difference with a load of others. A truly exciting thing is when a fighter pulls off a submission hold out of nowhere, using skill and timing to isolate a limb or grab a neck while the pressure is on, forcing their opponent to tap out almost instantaneously. This doesn’t exist in EA UFC. Every submission hold is started the same way, and you play through the 4 /5 stage minigame to crank the move, lock it in and get the tap. The same whether you’re playing as elite world champion submission artist Demian Maia or whether you’re playing as Pat fucking Barry.
The stats seem like they’ve been thrown together by people who have watched perhaps the last six months of the sport. Conor McGregor, superstar in the making he may be, has a submission score of 90. He has submitted one person in his entire career! Are they pulling these statistics out of a hat? Who are they trying to serve with these arbitrary numbers?
In several interviews around launch, creative director Brian Hayes confirmed that before being finalised, all stats had to be sent to UFC president and promoter Dana White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. That seems a bit odd, that the promoter and matchmaker, who are responsible in part for building superstar fighters who can draw money at the box office, would have a say in which fighters get the highest ratings and therefore are most likely to be picked. Consider this - You're not an MMA fan, but you've picked up EA UFC because by god it looks amazing and it really shows off your new £400 box. You know very little about the fighters but hell, you have lot of success with those lads and lass with ratings of 96 and above! Suddenly, you start enjoying the sport and fancy watching a Pay-Per-View. You recognise that Cain Velasquez, the 97 rated Heavyweight champion you've been wrecking people online with is fighting.
That seems like a good gateway. Of course you want your stars to look good. You could attract a new audience; new fans of these unbeatable superhumans.
For the most part, the people buying this game will likely follow the sport. People who follow the sport will know that Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza is a killer on the ground. Why attach a number to that? Would it not be better to keep these numbers hidden and should a player want to play as a wrestler who will take someone down and pummel their opponent on the floor, they pick a fighter who is known for doing that, rather than just finding the fighter with the highest number and going ‘they’ll do’? When you join a multiplayer match just to see your opponent pick Jose Aldo for the millionth time, it gets pretty tiresome.
In reality, styles make fighter. In EA UFC, stats make fights.
There’s no denying that EA UFC looks the part. The fighter character models are incredible to look at and the detail in some of their unique animations and stances are really, really lifelike. Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg provide the commentary, the fight night atmosphere is captured accurately, from Bruce Buffer announcing the fighters to the on-screen graphics and everything in between. It looks like a UFC Pay-Per-View. The basic aesthetic presentation isn’t a problem at all. There’s just loads of small oversights, things that fight fans will see all the time and they’re missing from this game.
In the most recent patch, the ability to touch gloves at the start of the fight has been added. This is something that happens in almost every MMA fight you’ll ever watch. Why this wasn’t included is baffling. It’s such a small thing in terms of gameplay, but it wasn’t ‘In The Game’, as EA Sports will let you know regularly.
A bigger issue is the missing fighters. The biggest oversight was that the game shipped without current Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw on the roster, after he dominated previous champion Renan Barao about a month before release, flicking the V’s to MMA oddsmakers worldwide in the process. As part of the first major patch, they’ve now added Dillashaw as well as two other missing fighters, but there’s still some glaring omissions. No Matt Brown, who has a seven fight win streak and is a fight away from a title shot. No Josh Barnett, a fan favourite and the 5th ranked heavyweight in the world. No Raphael Assuncao, the number 2 ranked Bantamweight in the world. No Dong Hyun Kim, No Hector Lombard... These are hardly fringe UFC fighters. Hopefully further free patches will add them to the game.
The career mode is a mixed bag. The UFC has a successful reality TV show called ‘The Ultimate Fighter’, where a bunch of newcomers are shoved in a house, split into two teams that fight each other each week until the final two meet on a live finale show. Past seasons of the show have yielded some fighters that have been UFC mainstays, as well as discovering three fighters who went on to become world champion of their respective weight class. They capture the feel of the TV show really well during these first few fights. Once you’ve won the finale and have made it into the UFC, it drops off hard. You do three training mini games, then fight. Make your way up the card until you win the belt and then keep fighting until the game tells you to retire. After every fight, you get some weird video messages from fighters pretending to be your mate - some of whom are better at reading from an autocue and looking natural than others - That’s really all there is to it. It is a pretty dull experience.
They’re missing so much from the UFC’s output. There’s no UFC on FOX cards. International events are indistinguishable from any other card. You don’t have any pre or post fight interviews, which could be used to call out other fighters and ask for title shots. Instead of a generic gym, perhaps you could nail your colours to a particular mast, like American Top Team, refusing to fight teammates unless it is for the gold? So many little things missed. So many opportunities. So many things that were in THQ’s UFC games and, of course, EA’s own previous MMA game.
The only other modes are the quick match, single or multiplayer or the online ‘tournament’ mode, which is a bit like FIFA’s online seasons. You play a series of fights against other players and depending on how many you win you either win the title, get promoted to the next division or get relegated. It is quite a fun system, but as mentioned above, online play is awfully reliant on whoever your opponent is, and whether them getting the win is more important than a fun fight. It is almost always the former. Then there's the absolutely ridiculous inability to change fighters when fighting online against a friend without quitting back to the title screen and creating a new match. Laziness, or perhaps they really were rushing to get this game out the door?
I said this in my review, but the most frustrating part of EA UFC is that when you’ve got two players, both fans of the sport, who have a gentleman’s agreement to fight like the fighter they’ve chosen instead of spamming high impact superkicks, it actually works. It is exciting and is a great base for EA to build upon for future games. Unfortunately, the whole package is lacking in that extra care, that extra love for the sport that previous MMA games have had. I suppose when you’re rushed to a deadline, care and love are two things you can do without.