Hope for the future of UFC games were high when EA Sports announced the acquisition of the license just over two years ago. There was to be significant development time and investment made prior to release of the first entry in the series, it would launch on the new systems and have an opportunity similar to how Fight Night Round 3 stood out early in the previous generation, and the company was coming off a good first effort in the sport with 2010’s EA Sports MMA.
It’s especially disappointing then that EA Sports UFC’s release has been met with a critical reception that places it well behind the efforts of recent years. THQ’s Undisputed series and even EA Sports MMA all received much higher review scores. Dedicated fans of the sport have been even harsher in regards to how well it reflects what they love.
Designed by the same team behind the Fight Night series it should come as no surprise the company never intended to produce a true simulation. They’ve said as much publicly that they believe simulations wouldn’t have wide enough appeal.
The result with EA UFC is something that really won’t have a defined target audience. It’s naturally too complicated for casuals and not realistic enough for the hardcore crowd. Continue on for a summary of what was executed well and what was handled poorly with EA Sports UFC in this Hits and Misses review.
Built for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One the game shines graphically and in related areas. Most fighters look fantastic – the models and faces are incredibly well done – while aspects like blood and body damage are great. Basic presentation has been executed properly as well to give the game a sufficient broadcast feel. The camera angle and camera work is just about ideal.
Because of the potential for fun online is deserving of some recognition. Lag is almost non-existent and that allows for a level of responsiveness that is necessary (though the sluggishness that resides offline of course remains). Features like the Championships, Tournaments, and Rivalries are valuable inclusions. Not putting in the online Fight Cards that debuted in EA MMA though was an unfortunate decision.
Online fights will vary from very entertaining and rewarding to outright frustrating. A lot of that depends on the opponent as many have already found certain aspects to spam as exploits. But even with two people trying to fight the right way they don’t turn out at all realistic. Again they can be fun, and winning in certain manners thrilling, but it still may not be satisfying to those who wanted strategic fights that look and feel like the real thing.
Issues include wins not being granted when an opponent quits, not seeing what fighter your opponent has chosen, different weight classes being grouped together, and Bruce Lee being available to use in ranked fights.
Career Mode and Lack of Offline Content
Participants in the actual Ultimate Fighter don’t enter the competition as unskilled novices who can barely move, have no power to their strikes, and are useless on the ground. Instead they’ve already shown potential and are there to be coached up and have their skills refined as a few of them emerge from the group. So why career modes continue to insist on starting players as though they are worthless remains baffling.
It makes for a bad first impression especially here where there isn’t much else to do offline. For many people their first fights will be in Career. Points to spend on improving your fighter comes fast through wins – it won’t be difficult to max out ratings based on that distribution – but how many will stick it out that long and find that to be rewarding is in question.
Despite the poor starting form the mode has some compelling elements particularly the real video that will be recognizable to anyone who has watched the show. Unfortunately fights end up being far too bland, with very little differentiation in opponents, and it begins to feel like a series of exhibition fights rather than an experience that stretches beyond.
Arguments can be made about whether UFC should have been more of a simulation – or at least much more realistic – but not about EA’s decision to go the more “arcade” direction. This was their vision and they may feel as though they executed it as intended. Would the idea of the game being subjectively more fun outweigh the distress caused by those who understand the sport and feel it is entirely unrealistic?
The CPU fights ultra-aggressively with very little variety or strategy in their attacks. Going beyond that are the rare moves which become commonplace and are not penalized for being attempted, and the shared moves which leaves each fighter feeling even more nondescript and unlike themselves. The CPU also has a huge advantage in stamina, damaged areas regenerate far too much, and trying to wear an opponent down with leg kicks is pointless as it seems to have no effect on them over the course of a fight. There is very little indication given to which strikes had an impact and which didn’t and the fights tend to devolve into trading big shots until someone goes down.
On the ground it becomes a reversal fest, with dominant position often being reversed like its nothing, and always leaving the user just a single button press away from standing the action back up. Submissions will be either too easy or too difficult depending on who you ask. I’ve yet to see a single one completed offline or online however. Takedowns attempts are bizarre with them sometimes being too easy to stop, other times too difficult to stop, and situationally not making any effect on the outcome with shoots often being ignored due to animation conflicts.
One of the biggest problems is not being able to display an urgency in critical situations. When someone is knocked down or hurt, the other fighter can’t rush them to try and end it. It is unbelievably frustrating to see those opportunities go by.
EA also made the choice not to offer any sliders or a “simulation” option. Removing the ability for people to make adjustments to the game to better fit what they’re looking for has never proven to be a good idea.
While EA did a good job in some areas presenting the fights and on how the fighters look, there is a lot left to be desired in other areas. How awkward is it to see fighters like Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey, and Demetrious Johnson wearing plain t-shirts and trunks? Or Anderson Silva with plain black shorts? Well according to EA the reasoning for that is “complicated”. In the end any excuses don’t matter.
The MMAi that EA touted during 2013’s E3 is non-existent here. Fighters don’t display any of their own traits. The unique skills applied to each one are great in theory but rarely can be noticed in any discernible way. Then you have things like the knockouts which often look completely awkward. The fights just tend to end, with the ref never jumping in to stop it when situations would warrant doing so.
The roster is also relatively thin. It’s missing some names that should never have been omitted including the current Bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. Updates providing new current fighters are said to be in the works and will be offered for free. CAFs are limited to only 10, can’t be shared, and women can’t be created.
Despite what EA may have thought with UFC, realism and authenticity were going to be critical to its success and future. Casuals always follow the hardcore crowd whether it is to get on board or jump off the bandwagon.
EA Sports decided to design the gameplay (and their marketing campaign) around appealing to a casual crowd that would never widely accept it because of how inherently complicated and difficult a proper representation of MMA is to translate to a video game. Word of mouth from credible fans of the sport could have led to that happening over time. The reverse though will not happen.
With a sequel as many as two years away it’s discouraging that this is what MMA fans are left with – a game that had the potential to be something special but due to poor design decisions will quickly be discarded. EA will have to seriously reevaluate their approach to the UFC series going forward.