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'EA Sports UFC' review: Hug it out

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EA Sports UFC (PS4, Xbox One)

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EA Sports UFC” for the PS4 and Xbox One brings mixed martial arts under the EA Sports banner for the second time but also the first time with the UFC license. Is that combined with impressive next-gen graphics enough to make a great game? Or do we all just need to hug it out because of mushy controls?

Give credit where it is due with “EA Sports UFC,” developer EA Canada did a bang up job with the fighter models, literally. There are approximately 100 different fighters all modeled down to the every scrap of facial hair, every tattoo picked up somewhere along line and every cauliflower ear or disfigured nose.

The character models and animations are in tune with the striking system to help deliver convincing blows along with those that nearly glance off the intended target. It’s impressive how the “UFC” conveys the damage that is dealt both during impact and afterward.

In one of the early matches I played in my review, I quickly bloodied my opponent’s left eye complete with dripping blood on the mat. The fight kept on though and the bloody eye got worse and worse. However, that also highlighted one of the problems with the game in that it’s more arcade-like than realistic due to the amount of unrealistic punishment the fighters can take.

In a later match, I was able to get in a standing clinch with opponent and slip to a Thai hold with both of my hands behind his head. I then delivered a quick succession of three knee strikes to his face. Normally, you’d expect someone to go down after that kind of punishment. However, he was still standing though stunned with the damage indicator for the opponent as red as it I’ve seen.

The controls for “EA Sports UFC” don’t make any compromises. Between striking, kicking, clinching, grappling and the ground game, there’s a lot going on in the game that has to be translated to the PS4 and Xbox One controllers. Some of the more powerful and technical moves require difficult button combinations like holding down the left bumper and trigger while pressing one of the face buttons. There’s also various combinations used with either thumbstick to dodge as well as apply or escape submissions.

It can be a little off-putting and the mushiness of some of the controls does not help. It may be because the game is running at 30 fps, but the game doesn’t feel as responsive to commands as it should. Additionally, clinching and grappling on the ground, where every match always seems to end up, is usually reduced to quarter circle turns with the right thumbstick to move and counter-move into a better position. It’s not exactly exciting stuff when these can drag on for more than a minute until either you finally get in position to deliver blows, receive blows or escape.

The controls could be forgiven if there wasn’t such a lack of game modes. The only available options are a quick match, career or multiplayer plus a series of tutorial-like challenges.

Quick match is just like it sounds - you pick a fighter then go into the octagon and fight. Career lets you create your own fighter from a series of face-types and body builds along with options to change hair or skin color and add features like tattoos. You start out in a series of bouts based on the “Ultimate Fighter” TV show. In between fights, you go through mandatory training exercise to help build your experience points. The more points you earn, the more you can upgrade your fighter’s abilities and moves.

You’ll eventually make your way out of the “Ultimate Fighter” rounds and jump straight to the big time in UFC. There’s no other lower tier or mid-tier ranks that you have to work your way up through like previous MMA games. Whether that’s a good or bad thing probably depends on your perspective and tolerance for climbing the ranks.

The online portion reduces the number of ranks from nine in the rest of the game to five for multiplayer. This has the effect of making more fighters available for each rank and setting up some fights you wouldn’t see in the real world.

The multiplayer is probably the best part of the game and has a decent setup with tournaments and ranked matches. Unfortunately, EA Sports hasn’t yet addressed a problem with quitters. So, you may be in a match where you’re about to put your opponent down with a submission and they simply drop out or kill their connection. You get no reward for being in the winning position at the time.

“EA Sports UFC” is a decent first attempt at a MMA game from EA Canada. The eye candy is undeniable and easily has the more realistic looking collection of player models yet for the PS4 and Xbox One. However, there are things that need to be addressed if the series is to continue starting with the controls and ending with a larger variety of game play options.

Title: EA Sports UFC
Platform(s): Playstation 4, Xbox One
Developer: EA Canada
Publisher: EA Sports
Price: $59.99
Release Date: June 17, 2014

A review code for the Xbox One was provided by Electronic Arts for the purposes of this review.

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