By Christopher Medrano
It’s time for our main event, EA’s UFC game! After months of hype surrounding UFC’s transition to the next gen consoles, does the game live up to being a main event or feel more like a prelim fight? The big thing EA promised is that the player would “feel the fight”… something I don’t want to do; I don’t want to feel the force behind Cain Velasquez’s punch or being choked out by Urijah Faber. Doesn’t sound like a fun experience to me, and it comes off as a weird slogan for the game. Based on Dana White’s laugh when EA said that at E3 in 2013, I think he’d agree. Unfortunately for this game, it comes off feeling more like a fighter that needs more training before jumping into the octagon.
For a sport that’s growing in popularity, the smartest move EA could make was placing all the popular fighters and champions in the game. Big names like current Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw and welterweight contenders Tyron Woodley and Matt Brown are missing, and I’m sure there are more. While it’s tough to predict who’s going to be in the top rankings, these fighters have been in the top ranks for the last year and are sorely missed. There should be at least the top 15-20 fighters per division in the game. Having Bruce Lee as a playable character is…interesting, but having old-school fighters like Mark Coleman, Don Frye, Bas Rutten and Randy Couture as well would have been better. After all, they have Royce Gracie in the game, it shouldn’t be difficult to add great fighters of the past. Think about how many cool past vs. present matches that could be explored if they had a ‘legends’ roster.
Campaign mode is the biggest part of the game that also features the most flaws. Its biggest offense? It can get boring really fast, and takes away a lot of player agency. That makes it all the less enticing to play. In campaign mode, you get to create your character, but do not get to choose the gym or coach you train in/with. Instead, you get stuck with Mike Dolce and train in a generic UFC gym. After enough training, your character gets invited to be part of the Ultimate Fighter, the popular MMA reality show designed as a launching pad for new fighting stars.
I have a problem with being forced onto the Ultimate Fighter road; not all great fighters are made through that show, and some of the best are contestants who don’t win the whole thing. Instead, it would have been cooler if they could’ve made up amateur leagues for your character to fight in and grow their reputation. Then maybe your fighter gets invited to be in the Ultimate Fighter, or opt to take a stab at a prelim match. Not to mention, the bouts in the Ultimate Fighter feel more difficult than the ones the player faces when in the UFC. It makes partial sense because you’re an amateur who’s constantly training to get better, but even then opponents in the Ultimate Fighter are mostly comprised of amateurs too. Also, it was weird to see the set up as Team Velasquez vs. Team Browne since Fabricio Werdrum beat Browne and is next to face Velasquez for the title belt.
Once you beast your way through the Ultimate Fighter, you win a contract with the UFC. Training is oftentimes repetitive and boring; you go through the same several tutorials in order to earn points to make your fighter stronger in whichever attributes the player wants. Maxing out your stats is pretty easy to do and eventually makes the points earned through training meaningless. As you go through your UFC career, your character will get sponsors that can be changed or swapped at anytime, with no effect on the gameplay. One thing that’s different in this game compared to previous iterations is the freedom of choosing your strategy; this can be anything from better ground game or better stamina, which can affect your gameplay.
Eventually, players will reach a title belt contention once they’ve won enough fights. If you win, the matches thereafter become title defenses until you lose. If you lose in the title contention fight, you have to fight your way back into contention again. However, I didn’t have to fight my way back up to the top; I maintained my character’s division’s belt until I retired.
The biggest issue with my campaign playthrough is the repeat matches I had with top fighters in my respective division. Especially because, from my understanding, a contender is only given 2-3 chances to fight for the division title belt. In this game, because I chose Bantamweight, I fought Michael McDonald, Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao at least 4 times. Other than that, there isn’t much left to the campaign aside from videos of Dana White NEVER CHANGING HIS SHIRT in all the years he’s congratulating you in your career and other fighters telling you how good you are. Most of the acting is forced and feels cheesy. A player’s career ends after 40 matches, and then they’re forced to retire. Chances are the character will be placed in the UFC hall of fame and be a poster in the Ultimate Fighter Gym.
Overall, the campaign feels overly repetitive, dull and lacking. They could’ve done so much more with it; allow the character to go into superfights to get a second belt, fight in WEC, Pride or Strikeforce, and so on. The campaign feels like the bare bones of a skeleton to something that could have been great. The same goes for the other modes of gameplay. Aside from the campaign, there’s only an online and local multiplayer mode or challenges (which are basically the tutorials). Previous iterations allowed you to create your own card to see how well it would go, tournament mode was more fun with friends and challenge mode allowed you to see how well you could command your punches.
This is a part of the biggest drawback of the game that keeps it from being octagon-ready: lack of content.EA’s UFC feels like it’s missing a huge chunk of content that could’ve made the game great. Hopefully (considering this is EA we’re talking about) they’ll bring more fighters to the game via free DLC for players to choose. If it comes to having to pay for the content, I wouldn’t. Maybe they can look at the other games and come up with ideas for new content in the near future.
Visually, the game looks crisp and stunning on the new systems. Fighters look like their real life counterparts (for the most part) and the fights are livelier. However, some of the fighters and pictures can be weird to look at because they’re so angry! It’s not a huge problem for the graphics department; overall the game looks good.
Now, the most important part of a fighting game are the game mechanics; they can be precise and handle smoothly, or clunky and handle horribly. When it was announced EA was going to be working on the UFC game, I was worried the mechanics would be bad. The last time EA tried to foray into the Mixed Marshal Arts world (MMA), the result played horribly because they were trying to use the controls for their Fight Night franchise. It didn’t translate well, resulting in a game that bombed and felt semi-unplayable.
Luckily, EA learned from their previous experience and kept the controls feeling similar to previous UFC games. For those who have played the previous iterations, some of the game controls are a little different and do take some time getting used to. For example, I had a hard time getting used to controls for ground attack/defense. When in submission defense, a little octagon shaped minigame pops up. The submitted have to push into any of the “gates” and hope that the submitter doesn’t keep up with them. If they do, they are submitted. It’s similar feeling to previous iterations, but still feels a little different.
The stamina bar is a little wonky; you throw a few punches and get tired, but the computer can attack relentlessly and have their stamina stay fine. I guess it could be argued that the amount of energy expended depends on the weight exception (aside from Cain Velasquez, who has some insane cardio), but smaller guys like Demetrious Johnson shouldn’t tire so easily. If anything, he should be able to go 10 rounds if needed.
Damage is also really odd and unpredictable in this game; an area can turn from light red to heavy red (depending on the severity of damage dealt) for a few seconds then disappear. Normally, the area affected would turn darker in red over time, which would be normal considering damage doesn’t go away. I can understand if that is EA’s way of trying to show how unpredictable fights can be, but it shouldn’t be such a consistent problem. One thing that’s really cool about damage indication is when you rock an opponent, your controller vibrates to let you know to go in for the knock out. Maybe that’s what EA was referring to when they said you’d “feel the fight”. In the end, fights are still a lot of fun but take some time getting used to. Essentially, unless you close out the fight immediately after rocking them or severely damaging them, they “fully heal”.
As a fan of UFC, I’d say don’t buy this game unless you’re a huge UFC/MMA fan. This is a game that you can have fun with friends for a few hours…but will get bored with it otherwise. EA talked about their first MMA game saying they want you to train and fight in different countries with different fighters, which sounded promising. Ultimately, they never followed through on that promise. In the end, EA expects the player to be ok with a game with bare bones game modes that has/had potential to be great. With the lack of some great fighters both past and present, boring and repetitive training modes and some odd game mechanics the game comes off a bit broken and unfulfilling. Besides…how can Bruce Lee not defeat his opponents in one punch or kick? If they add more fighting modes like Pride or Strikeforce, create DLC with some of the popular fighters missing and the minor gameplay issues this has the potential to be a great game. I want the UFC games to become a franchise, hopefully they’ll learn from their mistakes the next iteration around. Time to go back to destroying people with Bruce Lee. Thank you for reading my review. OLIVE JUICE!!!