THQ’s “UFC Undisputed” series has been the only MMA video game in town for the past few years. While solid, it was hindered by a deeply flawed submission system and did not completely capture the atmosphere of an Ultimate Fighting Championship event.
Enter EA Sports, which swooped in, purchased the UFC license from THQ in 2012 and began to work on the latest Ultimate Fighting Championship game for the next generation of consoles. Its previous attempt at an MMA game, “EA Sports MMA” in 2010, had excellent gameplay mechanics but suffered without having licensed fighters from the largest mixed martial artist organization in the world. It failed miserably in the sales department.
As the release date for “EA Sports UFC” draws near, EA has ever so slowly pulled back the curtain on the game. We have seen beautiful screenshots and some video, but that does not mean much until you get your hands on the game.
EA Sports unveiled the full playable version of “EA UFC” to a group of MMA journalists at a private function. To some, this was foreign ground, as the nuances of gaming are better served for their children than themselves. However, for gamers like myself, this was an opportunity to compare and contrast EA Sports’ initial foray into the UFC with the product that THQ has handled for the past five years. Aside from it being EA’s first UFC game, it is also built specifically for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Let us get this out of the way now: “EA UFC” is absolutely gorgeous and has all of the bells and whistles to make it feel more like an event than a video game. The EA motto -- “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game” -- holds true. Fighter walkouts come complete with licensed music from a variety of major label artists; camera shots coincide with what you would see during a UFC broadcast; and you will even notice the likes of Mike Dolce, Greg Jackson and a host of other cornermen walking their fighter to the ring.
We have seen screen shots of the player models. Yes, they look amazing, from the muscle texture to the individual hairs on their chest and legs. However, what was striking was the way fighters move. Rather than feeling tethered to the canvas and gliding back and forth, they walk with a weightiness that matches their stature. Small nuances, like Benson Henderson moving his hair out of his face and Anderson Silva advancing while holding his hands at his side, are all captured.
Collision detection is also much improved. Punches and kicks do not go through the opponent. Rather, they connect and result in what seems like a great deal of animation depending on where the strike lands, the position of the opponent and the distance. I found satisfying a sequence in which a Jon Jones axe kick was caught on Daniel Cormier’s shoulder, with “Bones” struggling to recapture his footing. If a player gets rocked, movement will be impaired and he or she will stumble into the cage and use it for support.
The manner in which cuts and bruising appear on fighter is jaw-dropping to say the least. From the hour of time we were given, a wide variety of abrasions appeared and never duplicated. Leg kicks left thigh bruises; short elbows revealed nasty gashes that leaked onto the canvas; and eyes became swollen from the punches and kicks that connected.
The submission system has been overhauled. Rather than the horrific “shine” technique -- which caused more than a few controllers to break -- and the annoying sub system in the final installment of THQ’s “UFC Undisputed” series, “EA Sports UFC” utilizes a sort of cat-and-mouse game in which you have to work yourself into position and execute the submission in stages before locking them in. Upon the game being announced, the EA Sports Canada team that worked on the game was placed in classes with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Adam Ryan so it could better understand how grappling and submissions work. Nearly two years of rolling helped team members implement the tiny nuances of the grappling and submission game.
“We wanted to showcase the fact that trying to submit someone is a constant struggle and that very often [it is] not as easy as the press of a button,” Hayes said in reference to the 29 submissions included in the game. “There is always some way the defensive fighter can try to move or shift that will relieve the pressure of a joint lock or a choke. It’s the offensive fighter’s job to shut the defender down and look for their openings to tighten the submission to the point where their opponent has no choice but to tap.”
During our time with the game, I found it much easier to score a knockout than sink a submission, so the verdict remains out on whether the new system is effective.
Career mode gets a boost by having your player fight his way through “The Ultimate Fighter” house before getting his first professional UFC fight. The game will incorporate live-recorded footage from UFC fighters that will advise you throughout your career. We did not get to give it a shot, so you will just have to take EA’s word about it being awesome.
The roster is robust. With that said, how will “EA UFC” deal with the constant influx of fighters? One glaring omission from the game’s roster was that of new UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. “EA UFC” Creative Director Brian Hayes responded to Sherdog.com’s inquiry regarding the ever-evolving UFC roster and the status of Dillashaw.
“Dillashaw really snuck up on us, considering that in only his second fight after his loss to [Raphael] Assuncao, he shocked the world and captured the bantamweight title,” Hayes said. “Post-launch, ‘EA Sports UFC’ players will receive free roster updates as we look to ensure the game stays relevant and true to the UFC. We will announce respective updates as and when they are made available with more information coming shortly.”
Breathe a sigh of relief, fans. It would have been a pretty damaging blow if “EA UFC” could not right the wrong of overlooking a champion after its initial launch. Staying with the same line of questioning, we asked whether fighter ratings and records would be updated throughout the year to reflect what is going on in the real world.
“We do have the ability to update records and attributes,” Hayes said. “Fighter records are pretty straightforward, but attributes will be dealt with carefully. Dramatic developments in skill [and] technique are often the result of, or at least bolstered by, having faced the right opponent. In other words, just because someone known for being a striker gets a submission win, that doesn’t mean we’re going to immediately bump their ratings up after just one fight. If or when we do this, the cadence is to be determined.”
For online gamers, matchups with other players will be more balanced. Players will be placed in tiers depending on their ability using the belt system. Novices will face other rookies as white belts, while experts will face opponents of the same skill level as black belts.
“Back in the days when there were just worldwide leaderboards, what was the real motivation for the average user ranked 12,671st to try and get to the top? It wasn’t feasible,” Hayes said. “With the belt system in championships, there is always something just up ahead to go after, whether it’s promotion to the next belt or winning a title at your current level.”
“EA UFC” hits PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on June 17.