Joining EA Sports’ repertoire is the Octagon of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The steady increase in UFC’s popularity has been infectious, so it was only a matter of time before EA Sports stepped into the Octagon with its team of sports-savvy developers. Now is a perfect time for the company to do so, since THQ is no longer around to handle the UFC Undisputed franchise. With that in mind, EA has a lot on its plate, even if the developmental competition isn’t there.
Right out of the gate, the level of detail in EA’s UFC is extravagant, featuring realistic sweat, muscle movement, and facial reactions to impact. Muscle simulation is impressive as well, especially when the fighters are duking it out on the ground. Deltoids tense and trapeziuses pop as the fighters swing, twist and curl. The body itself also buckles and ripples when struck in real time. Wounds are also spectacularly delivered. When a wound becomes more severe, the amount of blood and the significance of the wound itself both increase. On top of that, vast amounts of blood end up being flung around when the wound is continuously struck, leaving streaks and spatters on the players and the mat.
Granted, the real reason to purchase a sports game of any kind is to experience that sport at home, and EA’s UFC does exactly that. Player movement is unprecedented on all fronts, and the visuals are borderline photorealistic, apart from the occasional unnatural foot slide or continuous shuffling into the Octagon wall. Apart from the basic intentions of the game, the rest of the presentation is rather neutral and sparse. Menu layouts are nice and even, but many of the same links can be found in multiple places, such as UFC Spotlights, where players can upload their match highlights and viewers can “like” them, emulating a very basic UFC social network. The Spotlight can be found from both the Home tab and the Fighternet tab; the latter tab is intended only for highlights and seeing player profiles. Then, all forms of play are found in the Play tab; that seems sensible, but it also contradicts the formation of a word like Fighternet when the Fighternet tab doesn’t include matching up against other players. As such, Fighternet becomes more of a barebones internet browser than a featured section of the game.
The Career Mode in itself is another topic worth mentioning, considering it’s the only other gameplay mode apart from Challenges. While the intentions of a career mode in any sports game are to go from match to match on the way to the top, the journey to the title is dull. All cutscenes, though they’re live-action featuring legitimate representatives of the UFC, evoke feelings of reality-TV competition, complete with dry acting and a false sense of motivation. However, the most determined of players will see a game that really trains players in all the complex commands needed to succeed on all fronts, and the level of repetition and rotation around training routines allows the learning process to occur more naturally. Still, even on the easier difficulties, the artificial intelligence is sophisticated on an almost-human level, leaving the risk-taking nature of actual players the only thing not well emulated.
With that in mind, the Career Mode is limited to male fighters only. EA’s UFC does feature female fighters (seven of them), but female fighters cannot join the Career Mode. Similarly lacking is the ability to create a fighter: female fighters cannot be created either. There are more than seven female fighters in the real-world UFC (though the same can be said for the number of in-game male fighters), but the previously acclaimed inclusion of female fighters ends up feeling like more of an afterthought than a well-considered inclusion, which places a major negative on EA’s newest sports title. Meanwhile, players seeking to fight online will only be greeted with Tournament Mode, Rivalries Mode (for challenging friends), and the expected Quick Match. Even though the servers are lag-free, the reasons for going online are sparse, so long-term multiplayer appeal may be reserved for only the heartiest of fans.
During my time with EA’s UFC on PlayStation 4, my positivity ebbed as much as it pulsed, where some things were absolutely incredible and others made the final product feel generic. Fighter detail is second-to-none and the simulation of the fighting on all fronts approaches what can be seen on television. There’s a lot of room to grow, however, as the Career Mode and Create-A-Fighter limit players to only male fighters, and the lack of game modes also leaves a hefty damper on the experience as a whole. The gameplay of EA’s UFC is a superb starting point, but the game’s content needs more, and more inclusive, options.