EA Sports UFC 2
Two years ago, EA Sports UFC was released and not only brought EA back into virtual MMA – but allowed the UFC to return to consoles as well. The launch was a bit iffy, as the action was too fast and lacked real power – but post-release updates crafted one of the best MMA experiences in gaming even if it was fairly lean in terms of mode selection and overall content.
With EA Sports UFC 2, the developers have kept everything that worked about the original game and expanded upon it. EA UFC was the first UFC game with a female fighting roster, and now the roster as a whole is the biggest yet in an MMA game, and features a slew of modern-day fighters as well as legends. The greatly expanded female fighter roster bolsters things as well. Far more fighters are in the women’s bantamweight division now, and the female strawweight division makes its video game debut here.
EA UFC 2 continues the franchise’s trend of delivering sickening strikes along with a fairly advanced ground game that accurately recreates a lot of small positions within MMA. This is something that tends to grow with each passing entry in the genre, and it’s been taken to a new level here. Stick movements are still in play for moving on the ground – but they aren’t just semi-circles now. Instead, you can adjust positions by holding the stick in a certain direction and if you aren’t countered by your rival or attacked, you will proceed.
Conversely, if you’re dominating, you’ll want to hold RT/R2 and hold the stick to avoid being countered and thus losing your advantageous position. A slew of new positions have been added, and you can now posture up and gain a physical edge or at least do damage from nearly every position imaginable. This leads to a bit more bloodshed than ever before, and also the most realistic-looking fights in terms of positioning ever.
The initial era of MMA games had very few positions, while the Yuke’s era led to far more of them and more organic fights as a result. Drama could build up with each passing of a guard and each strike landed. Now, you get some of the best blood splatter yet alongside fairly good cuts and wounds – especially when it comes to bruising and welts forming, and things feel even more like watching an actual event. Repeated kicks to the leg will both tire out the attacker, and build up wounds on the person attacked. They will die down ever so slightly during breaks, while cuts will heal up slightly too in the corner – they’ll never fully go away.
Every strike feels important, and thanks to improved controls, the input lag that plagued EA UFC 1 is gone. Not everything is perfect though, as submissions are still a pain to execute thanks to the game’s convoluted gate system. EA MMA literally had two different submission systems at work and both were better and easier to learn than this setup for stick movements and careful octagon-shaped icon movement.
Career mode is back and easily the least interesting of the bunch from an EA MMA game. EA MMA had the best one to date with Bas Rutten and other legends acting as coaches – while you did training to improve. EA UFC 1 kept in the training, but just had you progress from The Ultimate Fighter to major shows, championship-level, champion, and then hall of famer while the roster and associated trainers and MMA personalities sang your praises in a generic, cookie-cutter manner. Now, all of that horribly acted stuff is gone – but it’s just been replaced with a fight>train setup that is identical to past games and can get old fairly quickly. Fortunately, you can mix things up after dominating a weight class and then move to another to dominate more – and you can mix up your moveset far more now thanks to an expended arsenal of strikes and throws.
UFC Ultimate Team mode is new and it allows you to make an all-star fighter team of five across four weight classes. Each team gains a pool of perks from a series of cards, and the end result is a bit of a merger of card battling and MMA. You craft your own fighters if you want, or just use the existing roster with reset stats and movesets. In a way, it’s a bit of a dream scenario if you wanted to have rivals that would never otherwise team up – like Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate – do so in the game. Otherwise, it’s a fun little mode that adds some challenge since you’re starting from scratch – but your fighters can improve and others can use them and then earn you XP.
The inclusion of “Iron” Mike Tyson may have seemed odd, but it makes perfect sense once you try out the all-new knockout mode. It’s a thrilling “first to five hits” setup where every strike counts. It’s a great mode for striker vs. striker fights like Tyson vs. Cro Cop, or for something more rooted in reality – Cro Cop vs. Rutten. It lacks any of the takedown and ground game, but does give you a perfect chance to work on parrying and blocking strikes. You can choose to have sudden death, best of three, or a best-of-five setup here and it’s the best mode to play if you only have a few minutes for a play session.
Unfortunately, even with UFC owning Strikeforce and PRIDE, there’s no PRIDE mode featured here. It feels like a waste having fighters like Cro Cop and other legacy fighters in the game when PRIDE isn’t featured here. UFC Undisputed 3 had a PRIDE mode, and it just being a supplemental feature in that game still delivered the best PRIDE experience yet in a game. With PRIDE being such a flashy product, it would be even more at home here on current-gen tech that could show the company’s light shows and special effects with even more accuracy.
Visually, the only area in which EA UFC 2 looks iffy is in regards to some of the ground animations. While takedown, striking, submission, and reaction animations are more realistic and organic than ever before – some things have suffered a bit. New posturing up positions tend to result in robotic punching animations that reminded me very much of EA MMA’s “this is what an animation of someone doing punches” mounted strikes. They come off like by-the-numbers strikes from a robot as opposed to strikes being thrown by a human being engaged in combat. Both the person throwing the punches and the person taking them look stiff and awkward in their movements, and it’s something that I fully expect to be fixed down the line because it is a fairly minor issue – but one that sticks out during extended play sessions.
The sound mixing in EA UFC 2 is outstanding. When listening to the game with some high-quality headphones – in my case, the Status Audio HD Twos, I noticed many little details that blew me away. During close battles, I could hear each side’s corner bark out orders. My team was heard in the left channel, while my opponent’s allies could be heard on the right side and it led to the in-game world having a sense of scope that wasn’t there before. The sound of gloves hitting flesh also resonates better here than in any prior game, while Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg’s commentary rounds out the audio presentation nicely. They don’t repeat lines nearly as much as in EA UFC 1, and while they don’t reach the lofty heights of the commentary featured in UFC Undisputed 3, it’s still the best commentary yet in an EA MMA game.
EA Sports UFC 2 isn’t a perfect game, but it’s got the best foundation to an EA MMA game to date. The fights are all thrilling and the roster is the deepest in history even with a few notable absences. It would have been nice to have a definitive roster with Brock Lesnar, both Frank and Ken Shamrock, and Tito Ortiz included – but political issues are ever-present in some form or fashion, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t be featured. Hopefully, some of them can be added in time – with Brock being a great addition for the knockout mode, and one that would lead to some dream fights with Tyson in both knockout and regular modes.
Anyone who enjoyed EA UFC should give this a shot because they’ve fine-tuned everything that made it great, while those who missed out should give the series a shot here. EA Sports UFC 2 is available for 10 hours of free play to all EA Access users – so if you have an Xbox One, that’s a great way to give the game a shot and take no risk at all. Console-wise, it looks about even on each – but the controls are slightly more comfortable on the newer Xbox One controller. The revamped bumpers are far kinder on your fingers than the 2013 version’s rigid ones, while the DualShock 4 layout works nicely – but the cramped button layout can make pausing the game and/or taking screenshots a little bit of a burden during heated fights.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a digital copy of EA Sports UFC 2 for the PlayStation 4 provided by Electronic Arts.