EA Sports’ UFC Preview/ Demo Impressions

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So here we have it, after swearing he would never get into bed with EA, then in typical Dana White fashion signing a deal to have them produce their UFC videogames for the foreseeable future, we are but a couple of weeks away from the official release of EA Sports’ UFC, the first in what seems likely to be a new yearly sporting franchise for the publishing monolith. The demo has been out on Xbox One and PS4 for a few days now, so this article will focus on the positives and negatives of the demo, and a last preview of the full game.

Previously developed by the now defunct THQ, EA Sports’ UFC has clearly ‘borrowed’ ideas from the previous iterations, whilst adding its own ideas to the gameplay. EA are still being very coy on the range of modes, both online and offline, that the game will feature so this preview will focus on the in Octagon action primarily.

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Most of the pre-release footage has centred around how the game looks, with the games admittedly impressive graphics engine taking centre stage as opposed to how it actually plays. Now that the demo is out, it is reassuring to see how good the game looks in motion. Fighters will noticeably press off the canvas rather than ‘gliding’ over it and will realistically react to being hit. It is also impressive when the fighters take to the ground, as they will visually strain as they battle for position. Naturally with a game of this nature there are a few clipping issues, but even at the demo stage it is comforting how few and far between these instances occur. However with so much of the publicity being on the presentation, this lead many to question why EA chose to show so little of the game being played, wondering whether they were trying to entice players with sumptuous graphics when the game underneath it was not up to scratch.

 

It feels almost like an act of defiance then that EA have released a demo a fortnight before the games launch, as if they are trying to prove the naysayers wrong. As with real life MMA, the game breaks down into three distinct phases, the striking, the clinch and the ground games, so we will deal with each separately.

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All areas of play stick largely by the template that THQ’s games laid out so UFC game veterans should be able to pick up and play the game with a minimum learning curve. Strikes are tied to the face buttons with each being dedicated to an arm or leg, and the bumpers and triggers are the modifiers. RT/R2 for instance will block, LT/L2 will cause body strikes and the bumpers are modifiers for ‘signature’ strikes. This will allow Jon Jones for instance to throw his infamous spinning back elbow amongst others. Combinations feel very fluid and land with satisfying thuds. It is easy to string together basic combinations, allowing even the most basic player to get some satisfaction, however the interplay is nuanced enough that a more experienced player can pick apart holes a newcomers game. It is also nice to see more in the way of flash knockouts. Although THQ’s UFC games had no visible health bar, it was clear one was working behind the scenes and you could knock someone out once their damage reached a certain percentage. At this moment in time, EA’s effort feels more fluid, with knockouts occurring with once strike if it lands in the right place. Overall the striking feels very intuitive and a step up form previous efforts. It was an interesting move not to use the analogue control that the Fight Night series is famed for, and EA Sports’ MMA used previously, but it is a decision that seems to have paid off.

 

The clinch and ground games on the other hand feel almost identical to THQ’s games. As before you rotate the right analogue stick to advance position from, either an offensive or defensive position, and the opposing player has to match your movement to reverse or block the transition. Moreover, each attempted transition, whether successful or not will eat away at a players stamina. This causes a curious game of cat and mouse between players. Patience it better than blowing out all of your stamina straight away, and as with the striking, learning the nuances of the system will reap its rewards. Happily, takedowns are marginally harder to execute than in any MMA game before it. A well timed takedown attempt is almost a certain success, but shooting a telegraphed double leg from a distance will give the defender ample opportunity to stuff it. It is a small change but one that will hopefully encourage players to be more experimental with the striking.

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Finally is the submission game. This is the area that has seen the biggest overhaul, and historically the area of the game that seems to be the hardest to get right. Every MMA game that releases seems to have some new ‘improved’ system that never truly sticks. EA Sports’ UFC’s submissions lay the screen with a large overlay in which the defender has to move the right stick in various directions to escape and the attacker has to match his movements to advance the submission. It is fiddly to say the least and at this moment in time feels less than intuitive. Time will tell as to whether this system has it merits, but at the moment it feels overly complicated.

 

All in all though, EA Sports’ UFC is shaping up very nicely. The presentation is excellent and the majority of the gameplay feels intuitive and crisp, with the exception of the debatable submission system. Hopefully it does not turn out to be all window dressing and EA back up the foundations with numerous online and offline modes to keep the player interested. If they can, then this could turn out to be a very successful debut indeed.

EA Sports’ UFC is out on Xbox One and PS4 from June 17th in North America and June 20th Worldwide. Check out a battle between Jose Also and Anthony Pettis using in game footage below.