Game review: ‘EA Sports UFC’ a beautiful, if slightly flawed, MMA recreation

As any good video game-playing MMA fan can tell you, the only option for some one-on-one combat sports for the past few years has been THQ’s UFC Undisputed series. Good games, to be sure, but THQ ultimately ended the franchise in 2012, depriving UFC fans of any next-gen MMA action on their chosen platform. Until now.

Today marks the release of EA Sports UFC, the latest evolution of the MMA game genre and EA’s first new major sports partnership in more than a decade. Building off the base established by THQ’s Undisputed games, UFC serves as the next logical advancement in sports combat games—though, it isn’t without its flaws.

First and foremost, though, it is a stunningly beautiful recreation of the UFC experience. Like all EA games, UFC prides itself on representing all aspects of the sport, right down to the injuries, audience reactions, and energy—all of which are executed perfectly here.

Players deteriorate as matches slog on, gaining bruises and cuts and tiring themselves out as they attempt to take their opponent down. Punches and kicks make what look like real connections, shaking the controller and grounding you in the game. Commentary from Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg is along the lines of other EA games, and when mixed with the cinematic visuals and digital recreations of UFC personalities like Dana White, it makes for a cohesive, enveloping experience.

That same type of attention to detail also went into not only the vast roster of UFC athletes the game provides, but the “create-a-fighter” in the game’s career mode as well. My fighter—Frankie “The Doctor” Bianchi of Hoboken, NJ—came together in minutes, thanks to pre-programmed last names, nicknames, and hometowns, along with easy-to-navigate attribute stats, move lists, and abilities. It makes getting up and running in your preferred fighting style and weight class a breeze, so you can get to the main event, so to speak, as quickly as possible.

The career mode starts you off on The Ultimate Fighter, where you fight your way to a six-figure UFC contract. Following that, you get onto the UFC card, move to the main event, and defend your title. And the first few fights are good. After that, however, the career mode begins to fall apart—mostly due to a lack of content and less-than-satisfactory A.I.

But that’s only once you play through several training tutorials that you’ll probably have to retry several times to grasp. When you do get it, though, achieving the wins you’re looking for isn’t all that difficult.

My character, in fact, went on a 20-win streak before his first loss in the normal difficulty mode—four more consecutive wins than Anderson Silva, the win-streak king of the real UFC. And while that’s good for the ego, it speaks more to how repetitive the career mode can become, even on harder levels. Sure, you have the option of attempting a submission or play the point game, but throw enough combinations and you’ll probably take your opponent out via TKO in the first round with very little strategy. More often than not, that’s what happens.

But while that bent towards a more button-mashing oriented game does take the fire out of the A.I.-driven career mode some, it’s no less fun when playing against friends or spectating. After all, watching someone get knocked out is, in large part, why people watch fights in the first place, but UFC might just give us too much of a good thing in that regard.

But with the grappling and clinching system, it’s easy to see why. Getting the action you want requires quick flicks of the left and right thumb sticks to block escape gates and advance submission moves, making for a tedious mini-game against real players and an almost non-event against A.I. The clinch, conversely, is almost to convenient a position, allowing repetitive knees to the body and face that add points while making for a less-than-exhilarating show.

Overall, though, for MMA fans, this is without a doubt a fun one. Lack of content and somewhat disappointing A.I. aside, UFC gives a glimpse at what could ultimately come to be for the humble MMA game: fun, realistic, and completely engrossing. There is seemingly unlimited potential to tap into with this genre, and EA’s first shot at the UFC manages to come out as a good, fun game that could use a little more polish on its ground and clinch work.

But, as UFC’s career mode reminds you, that type of progression is what fighting is all about. Hopefully, EA will keep that in mind for the sequel.