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EA Sports’ first crack with the UFC franchise comes out in less than two weeks for both the Xbox One and Playstation 4, but they did release a demo to let players get accustomed to the gameplay and stepping into the octagon early. EA did dabble with MMA before with EA Sports MMA last console generation featuring Strikeforce, which is no more now. THQ and Yuke’s UFC Undisputed series brought back the UFC into the gaming landscape in a big way along with the big boom of MMA a few years back. Can EA Sports UFC continue the momentum the last UFC games provided? We go hands-on to find out to see how it is faring so far.
The demo opens up with a tutorial introducing the gameplay even though it doesn’t do a good job in terms of learning the controls and mechanics. It is simply follow these button presses to move on to the next step and there are a lot of controls to grasp just like all the previous MMA games. Even just by looking at the control screens, I don’t think most players will be able to utilize everything to their full potential. For those that are willing to accept the steep learning curve, EA Sports UFC does become a deeper game than just mashing hoping for the best. Unfortunately the tutorial can turn off players and that alone doesn’t make a good impression out of the gate.
Cover athletes Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson are the playable fighters in this demo. As the old saying goes, styles make fights and that is not exactly the case in EA Sports UFC for the most part. Sure, Jones has his trademark elbows and kicks, but allowing movesets from other fighters does make them not stand out as they should. What does separate them from each other are the Call of Duty-esque perks fighters have. Referring to Jones again as an example, he does damage at certain body parts better as the fight goes on. Hopefully we’ll see more of the fighters fighting like their real counterparts in the final game.
As far as the gameplay is concerned during fights, EA Sports UFC can be fun for both casual and experienced crowds. Casual players can mash their way when standing up to take out the opposition and mixing in stronger strikes, but just like the real deal, it is more than just punching and kicking. Timing your blocks against opposing strikes does allow for parries and you can counter with a strong strike that can knock your opponent back a bit. Clinching and ground game mechanics work similarly to the Undisputed games where you have to flick the right stick to change position when you’re on top and try to escape when on the bottom. Since the tutorial doesn’t do a good job showing off what to do on the ground, I felt like I was just flicking the stick at whatever direction hoping for the best.
The same goes for the game’s submission system too which is more complicated than it should be. When going for a submission, it is a separate mini-game of flicking the sticks and then timing the left one to keep going on the tightness before making your opponent tap. Same goes for escape attempts using the right analog stick. Most of the time, you feel as if you’re doing what you’re supposed to try to get out of a submission hold but still lose because you couldn’t understand what you’re doing. That is these UFC games in a nutshell with both EA’s new one and THQ’s Undisputed games. The barrier of entry is too high which turns off many players, but well worth it once you’re used to all the mechanics and controls. Even for all levels of play, you can still pull off cool knockouts like the one below.
From the first in-game screenshots and footage, EA Sports UFC looks amazing on both consoles and that is indeed the case in the demo and likely the final version. The character models are unmatched to any other sports game out now from Bruce Buffer, the fighters, and even the ring girls. Audio presentation is what you expect from a real UFC fight with the introductions and commentary provided by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Sure, the emotion isn’t there for most of the lines, but it is good enough for the game. The framerate has been smooth so far, but fighters glitching out doing weird animations will happen on a rare occasion.
However, I do have some gripes on other aspects with the presentation. Importantly, I wish the gameplay flow of the fights are more like the real deal where fighters actually pace themselves than going nuts. The demo is set on easy difficulty and the CPU AI can win quickly if you’re not careful defending. In addition, the hit sound effects don’t feel that impactful. This has been an issue with these games for a while, but wished it was improved considering the developers of EA Sports UFC have worked on the Fight Night franchise. Another nitpicky issue is that the refs don’t step in once you knock someone out or submit, which is also unfortunate.
Despite some glaring issues, EA Sports UFC has been a good first effort so far for EA with the UFC franchise. We’ll see if everything, both good and bad, holds up in the final version, which I have a feeling it would be the case since it is out in less than two weeks. It is already one of the best looking games on both the Xbox One and Playstation 4, but hopefully players won’t be turned off too much by the daunting control scheme, learning curve, and uninformed tutorial. In the meantime, the demo is available to download now on the Playstation and Xbox Stores for you to try out yourself as EA Sports UFC releases on June 17th.