by Dylan Favorite
I have been eagerly anticipating the release of EA Sports UFC since it was officially announced two years ago. Unfortunately, after spending a good chunk of time with it, I can say that it is considerably flawed. I have enjoyed all of the past UFC games from Undisputed 2009 to EA MMA. I would consider myself well versed in both the games and the sport. This version just falls flat in some key areas.
The first thing that I noticed is that there were very few features or modes to choose from. I mostly intended to play online so this was not much of a concern to me. The game is fantastic visually. They fighter detail is incredible and the presentation is pretty great as well. That was until I tried to play the actual game.
The tutorial was pretty long and detailed but that’s a good thing. Many people have complained that the control scheme is too complicated. This is going to be a fact of life in an MMA game as there are so many options available for your fighters to use. The controls are pretty similar to Undisputed so I got a hand of it pretty fast. I decided to fight the CPU a few times to get a feel for the striking rhythms. This is where I started to notice some issues.
First of all the CPU AI is relentlessly aggressive to the point of stupidity. It charges in your face non-stop and wings punches and kicks with reckless abandon. So I figure, “OK, slip the overhand, cut an angle, crack him with the straight right”. The strategy seem to work, again, and again, and again. I start to come to the realization that these punches that I am landing are not having much of an impact; and that the CPU couldn’t care less to adapt to the hole in its game. So I decide to switch it up a bit and try to catch the CPU coming in with a double leg, to very mixed results.
My opponent’s state of balance seem to play no part in whether or not a take down is successful. In fact they seem to be rewarded in some cases for over aggression as take down attempts miss due to awkward collision detection on more then a few low percentage kicks. It does not appear possible to time a take down with an incoming strike to improve your odds of completion. At this point I am still telling myself that I just need to get online and that the CPU AI is just poor. There is some truth to that, but not nearly enough.
I went online at this point and I have to say that the match making and belt system are pretty cool. There is also a rivalry mode that you can do with people on your friends list that is enjoyable.
One thing I really don’t like is that they did not even bother to properly separate the divisions. There is no middleweight on lightweight classes listed. They are just lumped in with the welterweights and light heavyweights. Perhaps they are trying to mask the roster weakness in a few of the divisions.
I jumped into my first ranked match and started to fight. There is zero lag that I could register and this continued for my entire play session. The more I played though the more I began to notice how unresponsive and sluggish the game plays.
Forget trying to play as a counter striker. Its mostly ineffective due to your fighter not being able to return fire fast enough. I can understand this with a jab, but its seems to apply to even the most exotic of strikes. When strikes did hit, they never gave any visceral feeling of impact. I could never tell what was a major blow and what was a glancing shot. It all lands with the same force according to the feedback it gives to the player. I think this is why they default a player body HUD on the screen. Without it you would have no idea what impacts your strikes are producing.
The strikes themselves are also an issue. There are far to many circus strikes that are thrown in this game. It gives the impression that EA took some of the most iconic knockout strikes from the last five years and gave those particular moves to every fighter – even to the ones that would almost never attempt them. That in itself is not a problem. The problem comes when you are not able to punish your opponent for over-using them. A player can just spam spinning heel kicks and overhand bombs and there is little you can do make them pay for it. When you try a funky collision mechanic often initiates and both players seem to slow and reset their stances. All of this makes it difficult to put together any significant combos, especially when you try to set up kicks with punches. There is just to much of a reaction delay for it to be effective. You can parry strikes, but it becomes moot when you can’t counter effectively due to the game mechanics.
The ground game is an additional area of concern. First of all I was able to stop about 95 percent of all takedown attempts even when it was clear that I should have been taken down. For example, more then a few times I attempted a spinning back fist and my opponent timed the shoot pretty well. I was still able to stuff it with my back almost completely turned. I experienced the same issues in my endeavors, even with the best wrestling artists in the UFC. The only thing that seems to play in to success or failure in takedowns is if your opposition nails their input or not. The animations for the takedowns are visually impressive, but mostly unrepresentative of the types of the commonly happen in a UFC fight.
When things do hit the mat they feel far too easy. Those knowledgeable about BJJ can tell you that nothing comes easy in a grappling match. Once you down your target you have to be ready for them to attempt to get back to their feet at any time. This can be done from any position with just a press of the L3 button. The natural MMA math that would apply to preventing a stand up attempt would be to either smother and control your opponent or put them on the defensive with strikes.
The controls here are very similar to the Undisputed series except you cant transition block outright. You have to block each pass or reversal individually and when you miss it’s likely going to be a full sweep with you on the bottom. So you can easily end up on the defensive while in a dominant position. When I did manage to advance position there were a few times that I made it to mount. Anyone who knows even a little bit about MAA and BJJ knows that this a the most dangerous position you can be in. That fact just does not transfer in this game. I would rain down mounted strikes, at least 6-8, and it seemed to have very little effect on the opponent. The second you try to attack they just hit L3 and stand right up, even in mount.
The submission system is completely new and I see what they were trying to do. Submissions in real life happen in phases. Small adjustments to pressure and positioning making huge differences in completion or escape. I like how they incorporated this into their submission system. Unfortunately, in the 20-30 matches I played, not a single one was completed on either side. In fact rarely did I or anyone else get past the first or second stage.
While there were no submission finishes, I did see plenty of knockouts. Again the fact that strikes have little impact plays in here. I would get into a striking exchange and suddenly my opponent would collapse straight down in a heap from a random punch. The physics here seem to be off as well. The directional force of your attack does not play much of a factor in determining the trajectory a character rag dolls on. They mostly just drop straight down to the floor.
After knockouts occurred I noticed a theme in the stats page. Almost all of the time when a KO happened the player who got knocked out had more significant strikes landed. I don’t know if this plays into the fatigue system in the game or if it was just an odd coincidence.
Another major disappointment is based in the fighters themselves. There is too little variation in the styles that each fighter offers. Most fighters in real life have a martial arts base that they skew towards. You don’t get the sense that any of the fighters in game have much of a distinct style. They all play fairly similar, stats and trait markers seem to be the only major difference.
The last major flaw I have noticed so far is the game speed. Everything feels just a tick too slow. Almost like you are fighting in a pool of water. Its especially noticeable with the heavyweights. They moved so methodically they were almost boring to play with.
These are my initial impressions and I will update as I discover more. It appears clear though that the ceiling for this iteration is pretty low as most of this stuff is not patchable or was done intentionally.
Dylan has contributed coverage in the past on THQ’s UFC Undisputed titles and EA Sports MMA and is a diehard fan of the sport. He can be followed at @Jerkfacefave on Twitter. Look for my traditional full Hits and Misses review in the next few days and full discussion of the game will be held on Friday night’s Press Row Hangout. -PP