As a fan of the UFC/MMA in general, I have frequently found myself disappointed with games based around the sport. The THQ-developed Undisputed franchise was fun, but a far cry from realism. EA Sports MMA was a nice start for the publisher, but again, wasn’t entirely realistic. Although I had some issues with it, the original EA Sports UFC was arguably the best version of the sport seen so far. Now, after taking 2015 off, EA Canada has returned with EA Sports UFC 2, which is shooting to the be the new king of a not so crowded genre.
While EA Sports UFC 2 introduces several new features to the franchise, the most noticeable is the revamped grappling system. Moving away from the special maneuver-like joystick flicking of old, EA Canada has implemented a system that is easy to learn, but a little more difficult to master.
The easy part comes from the fact that when you are either grappling on the mat or locked in the clinch, a joystick map will now appear onscreen. Each direction on the map corresponds with a different position you can move to from your current spot. So, if you’re on top of your opponent, you would pull up the map and see that you can shift to full-guard, half-guard or any other position that is open from your current place. Once you figure out what position you wish to shift to, all you have to do is hold the analog stick in proper place on the map, and eventually you’ll transition over.
When you’re the aggressor or have the better position, the grappling system is easy to understand. What’s considerably more difficult to handle is when you’re trying to either hold your position or get up. For those looking to stall, you have two options. You can either hit your opponent while they work to change position, which will reset the period of time needed to advance position. Or you can grab onto your opponent and hold them in place, but at the cost of stamina.
This sounds simple enough to understand, but there were times where I would be in a match or training for a match and I would try to stop my opponent, only to just have them effortlessly grapple all over me. It’s difficult to keep track of what your opponent is trying to do, which can only be done by looking at the fighters, while also focusing on your own movements.
Despite the changes made in the grappling department, the submission system in EA Sports UFC 2 is pretty much the same as the one found in the last entry, for better or worse. As in the previous game, in order to lock in a submission, you need to use the right analog stick to match your opponent’s moves on a four-direction map. Once you hold onto their position long enough, a prompt will come up for you to flick the left analog stick in a certain direction. Doing so will further advance the hold, with the same gameplay segment repeating until either you get them to submit, or they escape.
I’ve come to the realization that trying to accurately depict the intricacies of submissions is an incredibly tough task. EA Canada’s take on the painful holds are just as good as any other studio’s attempt at them. With that said, I still find the system pretty damn clumsy to use at times. Matching your opponents moves with the right stick is fine, but having to hit the left analog stick at certain points always feels off. It doesn’t help that if you hit the left stick either too early or late, your opponent instantly escapes. All of your hard work can be washed away with an errant swipe or hit, which is frustrating to say the least.
Of course, grappling only plays half the role in a typical MMA match, and the stand-up game should feel familiar to anyone who played the first EA Sports UFC. Players have two buttons each for punching and kicking, as well as modifiers for each one. Holding the left bumper lets your fighter unleash a heavy, but exhausting strike. Examples of these include flying knees, roundhouse kicks, looping hooks and spinning backfists. Holding the left trigger allows you to target your opponent’s body with thudding punches and searing kicks. The right side of the controller controls the blocking of your fighter, with the bumper covering the head and the trigger covering the body. You can also parry a strike by predicting your opponents strike and hitting the corresponding button in time with the block button.
For the most part, the striking engine last time out was fine, and EA Sports UFC 2 doesn’t tinker with anything it doesn’t have to. It’s easy to target specific areas of the body, whether you want to slow down your opponent with savage leg kicks or go headhunting with wild hooks. And while EA Canada eventually patched it in, I’m glad to see that strikes actually look and sound as powerful as they are. Every punch and kick lands with the appropriate power it should, with heavier attacks such as capoeira kicks and standing elbows given the proper oomph they need.
The brutality of these strikes is further amplified by the much-ballyhooed Knockout Physics. I’m happy to report that the new physics engine is incredibly well-done, and does an accurate job of depicting the vicious knock-outs that can occur in the sport. Fighters will now go completely limp if they get knocked out, with their bodies sometimes folding in gruesome ways. That sounds barbaric, but these devastating knock outs tend to happen from time to time. None of the knock outs I delivered looked the same, and, as crazy as this may make me sound, I never tired of seeing my opponent go down in new and interesting ways.
The previous iteration of the franchise was already impressive looking, but EA Sports UFC 2 manages to look even better. A vast majority of the 250+ character models are accurate to their real-life counterparts. Some of them aren’t perfect, which extends to both well and lesser-known combatants, but more often than not, a character model is a great depiction of the actual fighter. The crowd also looks surprisingly good, even if some of the models tend to be repeated each time the camera pans to the audience.
Besides the reworked grappling engine, the other big addition to EA Sports UFC 2 is the debut of Ultimate Team in the series. Already a staple of Electronic Arts’ other franchises, Ultimate Team has players purchasing packs of cards with either in-game earned currency or real world cash. Instead of getting fighters to add to your team, though, these packs feature cards that add new moves and attributes to your team of created fighters. These improved fighters can then either be used to accomplish single-player tasks, or be taken online in order to face-off against other teams.
Honestly, while I enjoy Ultimate Team in Madden, I wasn’t that enthused with how the mode works here. What makes the mode interesting to me in football, is that I can create a team using various players that I like or think are good. By removing the real-life combatants and focusing instead on your created fighters, there’s really no hook for me to get too involved with the mode. If I want to mess around with a created brawler, I’ll just create one to use for Career Mode. I have no desire to create five new characters, and then spend time and money to improve them, just so I can fight some people online.
The other new modes included with the sequel are the straight-forward Knock Out mode and the Custom Events mode. Basically whittling down the sport to its most primal aspects, the Knock Out mode lets two fighters duke it out with no grappling involved. Each fighter is given a life bar, and each significant blow landed depletes it. Once they are out of energy, you get treated to some nice Knockout Physics hilarity. This isn’t the deepest mode, obviously, but it is fun and quick to play.
The Custom Event mode lets players craft the UFC card of their dreams. While I haven’t had a ton of time to delve into it, I think it could be fun for setting up a series of matches between friends. The Live Event mode works off of this same set-up, except instead of fictional cards, the mode will let players predict and reenact future UFC bouts. Again, I haven’t played around with these modes too much, but I like the idea of creating my own card.
While it may seem like EA Sports UFC 2 is nothing but new modes, there are a few old ones that are back as well. Besides your standard local and online matches, the Career Mode also returns for another shot at UFC glory. Taking you from the dredges of The Ultimate Fighter to the top of the promotion, the mode is surprisingly more engaging than the one included with the first UFC title. The progression from fighting on the undercard of a Fight Night card to main-eventing a PPV, while unrealistic, allows for excellent fighter development.
The training prior to every fight also feels more enjoyable and substantial than it did in the last entry in the series, too. Prior to each fight, you usually have three chances to partake in a training activity. There are four groupings for you to choose from, with each one representing a different facet of fighting. Unlike in the first UFC, these drills actually helped improve my skills. Through them, I was able to improve my ground game, as well as takedown defense. The fact that it’s possible for your fighter to get injured in camp is also a nice, realistic touch.
Successfully making the jump from pretender to contender, EA Sports UFC 2 is arguably the best depiction of the sport to be released yet. EA Canada has not only managed to implement several new impressive features in the title, but they have also managed to improve upon almost every other facet of the original EA Sports UFC. After all of the mistakes found in the original 2014 release, it’s nice to see a developer actually take the time and remedy these issues instead of just slapping a new coat of paint over it. While it’s still not perfect, as Ultimate Team could have been fleshed out and the submission system needs improvement, I’m excited to see where the series heads over the next few years.
This review was based off the Xbox One version of the game, which was provided for us.
Consider the bar for MMA games officially raised, as EA Sports UFC 2 improves upon almost every facet of the original, while also introducing an intuitive new grappling system and realistic knockout engine.