Last year, UFC was EA’s debut with the licensed MMA franchise and it was a solid effort with room for improvement. UFC 2 follows this up with a very improved effort in some areas and some mind-boggling decisions in others.
What immediately strikes (no pun intended) with UFC 2 is the authenticity. The presentation is top notch with the commentary being some of the best I’ve ever heard in a sports game. From the menus through to the introduction you would be easily fooled for thinking that you’re watching a real life broadcast. Sometimes games let themselves down with backgrounds, lighting or the main characters but a cracking job is done here at really making this look the business.
Once you’re into the fight, crowd sounds and chants are authentic without getting repetitive and punches and kicks land with a hefty crunch. The reaction the fighters have to blows as well is very well detailed – bruises, welts, blood down faces and onto the mat – all looking realistic and brutal. Whilst the presentation visually is at a very high level, the loading times grate a bit.
A game of this ilk lives or dies by the gameplay and this is both the biggest strength and greatest weakness of UFC. The slightly confusing control system of the previous title has been smartened up here by making it more logical yet less intuitive at the same time. For example, each striking limb is mapped to a face button with body blows modified by holding L2 (on PS4). This works well however sometimes a face button kick will perform a leg kick, so you need to know what directional modifiers might strike low instead of high. Blocking has changed also and is now done by both right buttons – high and low. This works well to a degree but it’s quite hard to flick between pushing both quickly and previously one block button and flicking up/down on stick was better. Parrying is also weird; the tutorial tells you to push a button when you’re hit to catch a punch or kick but in reality you need to hold it a split second before. Very odd.
Despite this, the stand up game is generally excellent. Bobbing, moving and blocking are all achieved with ease and moves are executed simply and look devastating. A key part of MMA combat is the flash knockouts; any fight can turn on its head completely in an instant. In the previous game it could be a bit annoying that a lucky punch would hit you and be out cold. This has been tweaked but too much in my opinion, you can still have these moments but all too often the characters seem to have iron chins and can take an absolutely massive amount of damage. At times it feels like a war of attrition where fights can go until your stamina is just too low. Anyone who saw the recent Kimbo Slice/Dada fight (where both fighters were completely worn out they pretty much collapsed – Dada did but that was due to other reasons) knows that this is mega boring to watch, it’s even worse to play.
The other major parts to MMA are the clinch and ground game. Grappling is a tough thing to get right and UFC fails at this spectacularly. The tutorial is immensely confusing and after many hours of playing and YouTube video watching I am none the wiser as to how these are supposed to work. In theory it makes sense, you move your right stick to move position – labelled for clarity (which was a problem in the last game). To defend you have to hold a bumper and move the right stick in the correct direction but it’s not clear what this always is. You also have to do it at the right point and doing it wrong results in a vibration – but as fighters move it vibrates anyway so is this an error code or a measure of success. Sometimes you win, sometimes not as speed is also a factor, and you can punch to interrupt the flow. Or something. I have no clue, it feels random – clinching seems easy to get into and just knee your opponent in the face, and moving around is either a piece of cake or you’re in big trouble.
Submissions are even worse. Venture into one and you have to push a bar to the up/down/left or right with the defender having to push in the same direction to block. You can move this around – and at points have to flick the other stick in a different direction to progress. Prepare for your mind to be blown watching all of these arrows and colours and lights on the screen. Shame really – still, UFC 1 was patched heavily with regards to its control scheme so this can be resolved. Let’s hope so.
Feature set is fairly unexciting. Career mode is a constant slog with some progression through training mini games – thankfully once a good rank is achieved you can simulate to save doing over and over. There’s an Ultimate Team mode where you create fighters and win cards/buy cards to manage move sets, abilities and stats as well as fitness. It sort of works quite nicely but at times feels a bit like a way to incorporate stealth micro transactions. You don’t need to pay anything of course but as always if you do you’ll progress quicker.
Online seems to work ok if you have a decent connection and a new mode debuts – Knockout mode. Basically a short best of three set of fights with an energy bar of five portions. Five big hits and you’re knocked out. No ground game here, it is a way of getting the instant big moments into a short game or a recognition that most fun is had by removing a sizable and weak part of the game.
In all I want to like UFC. The stand up fighting game is good and exciting but the grappling leaves a sour taste each time I play. It could be great, for now it’s just a fair effort with promise.
Reviewed on PS4