Some fighting styles are fairly straight forward. Boxing, for example, is an above-the-waste punching contest that for all of its tactics, techniques and subtle clever variations is still a contest between two fighters who can only use their fists and only punch each other in certain parts of the body. UFC, on the other hand, is slightly more complex than advanced nuclear physics.
Between punches, kicks, elbows, knees, clinches, submissions and goodness knowns what else there’s a lot to earn when it comes to learning everything that UFC has to offer. With its huge and typically EA complete and official lineup of fighters and venues, and the frankly bewildering array of different moves and techniques included in the game it’s not at all difficult to realise who this game is aimed at. Take it from me, if you’ve never paid any attention to UFC before this isn’t a game that you’ll be perfecting within half an hour.
The good news is that there are a few tutorials in place to help you figure out what’s going on, one which offers itself up when you first load the game, and another which recaps all of the skills when you start a new campaign with your own created fighter. Both take you through the numerous skills and controls used throughout your fights, and you’ll need all of these at your disposal if you’re planning on beating even the more straightforward opponents. As I found out repeatedly in the first few hours, relying on a more boxing-type fighting style just won’t get you anywhere, and you can expect to lose on points in most fights you take part in. Instead you need to be a bit cleverer, mixing up your attacks to give yourself the best chance at keeping your opponent at bay.
While you’re doing that you can enjoy the frankly outstanding visuals in place, certainly on the PS4 version we played. Each firmly planted punch and kick is met by sweat and blood from whoever’s face happens to have got in the way; you even get blood dripping from heavy cuts when grappling on the ground. Deliver a few heavy blows to open up a cut and the blood will spray even more. It’s nothing overly graphic, and nothing that will make you feel ill, but it adds to the realism and gives you an excellent sense of just how brutal the fighting in UFC can be. Bodies also develop bruising over the course of a fight, accurately reflecting the punishment received as a result of not blocking properly or just trying to win by letting fly with a series of badly timed attacks.
In terms of game modes there’s plenty for you to be getting on with. In addition to the expected one-off fight and huge career mode there are sets of challenges to complete and a range of online options to let you take your fighting skills and compete against friends or random online players. If you’re still getting to grips with how UFC works it can be a brutal and unforgiving experience, unless you end up facing off against someone with a similar lack of experience in which case it often turns into a button mashing swingathon where a lucky punch could be the difference between victory and your fighter lying on their back decorating the canvas with a nice shade of red.
But at the point when everything starts to make sense (or for those of you who have played a UFC game before, from minute 1) the game is a very satisfying experience. Ducking and blocking attacks is met by the chance to counter the opponent’s efforts, grappling and wrestling goes from confusing violent hugs to genuinely tactical battles in their own rights and stringing combinations of moves together can take a perfectly healthy opponent and leave them on the floor, wondering what just happened to them.
And that’s when UFC comes into its own and does things that your average fighting game doesn’t let you do. It’s utterly baffling at first, and takes a long time to learn the ropes if you don’t have any prior UFC gaming experience, but get to grips with how everything works, and reach the point when you can have some truly epic fights, and this comes alive. Whether it’s a game for you though will rely on a lot of things, such as whether or not you’re interested in learning on of the most complex fighting games in recent years, whether or not you have an interest in UFC or if you just love fighting games. You don’t need to tick all of these boxes to warrant taking a look at UFC, but if you don’t nod to any of them then I don’t think it’s for you. It’s a very well made game with stunning depth and a huge cast (including Bruce Lee), but it’s a steep learning curve.
Reviewed on PS4