Like a punch to the stomach.
I am certainly no stranger to one-on-one fighting games. Ever since I was tall enough to reach an arcade cabinet, I have been obsessed with mastering the pre-determined moves, and the competition against another player. However, one area I never managed to break into was UFC. For years THQ delivered a solid brawler that fans of the sport really seemed to enjoy. It was never a blockbuster, but it certainly worked on the levels it was aiming to hit. Now that EA has taken over the reins, they seem poised to deliver the definitive experience. Not everything always goes according to plan though, and EA’s effort feels more like an investment in what is to come, as opposed to the revolution of the genre.
The one area where EA has pushed things forward though is the visuals. This game is painfully gorgeous. Built from the ground up for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, the character models are some of the best I have ever seen. Punches hurt, bones crack and blood covers the ring more often than not. I cringed when slow motion knockouts pushed characters to the ground. UFC is sometimes more unsettling than a Fatality in Mortal Kombat, simply because of the level of realism.
The frame rate is also rock solid on both machines. Regardless of the resolution debate, both versions ran beautifully. This is the Fight Night of this generation, the game I boot up to show friends and colleagues why it is time to buy a next generation console.
Presentation benefits from this as well. The accuracy and portrayal of the sport are unmatched. The TV-style events made me feel like I was watching a pay-per-view match. The commentary is also really well done. Combine that with the gorgeous visuals and painful realism and this game is a showcase of visual fidelity that will turn heads when people see it. Sadly, that is about where my enjoyment of all things UFC ends.
A lot of my issues come from the complicated control scheme. Sure MMA is a complex sport, but figuring out a way to bring that into a game without learning a thousand button combinations and right stick movements would have gone a long way. The game starts off with an annoyingly long tutorial that cannot be skipped, nor should anyone attempt to. This thing is complex, and each new series of moves is more complicated than the last. I never had time to digest what I was doing, so once I finally completed it and was thrown into a match, I was lost.
Having to manipulate the right stick in combination with various triggers, bumpers, and buttons just to escape a simple lock-up was frustrating. Simple attacks requiring more than one button also became cumbersome. I am all about depth and variety, but the learning curve on UFC is so high for a newcomer, I can’t see this series appealing to anyone outside the hardcore fans willing to learn the ins and outs of combat.
Once I got used to the combat things get better, but it all still feels unbalanced. Hits don’t have the impact I expected, and being able to break out of grapples at a click of the analog stick is a bit simplified. There is also little to be offered here outside of the fighting. I tried out the career mode, but it is mostly an endless string of boring tutorials and challenge mini-games that suck the fun right out of beating up people. Also worth noting is that the menus on Xbox One were atrocious. They were laggy and slow, and constantly crashing when creating my character. A fun time I did not have.
There is also an online mode that is as bare bones as can be, but it is functional and fun when you get two players who have no idea what they are doing, or vice versa.
EA’s first foray into UFC lays the groundwork for an amazing follow-up. The visuals are stellar, and the controls, while overly complicated, at least bring all the complexity of the sport with them. With a more robust career mode, some tweaked controls and a few more modes, EA could turn this into another pillar title for their sports lineup. As it stands today, UFC is a title that only the most die-hard fans are going to want to take the time to invest in.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox One.