Full disclosure: I’m an MMA game addict. I’ve played them all, and I’ve played them a lot. Even EA UFC, 2014’s well-intentioned but ultimately disappointing debut on next-gen consoles. EA UFC is one of those games that I know isn’t perfect, but I still love to play. It’s a game that’s fun to launch for an hour or two each week, thanks mostly to its smooth striking and oddly satisfying damage system. The best thing you could say about it was that the game had a lot of potential. But don’t all MMA games?
I bought my Dreamcast just for the old UFC game with Tito Ortiz on the cover. I loved EA MMA, and the THQ games and Fight Night. The UFC Undisputed series peaked just as THQ was going out of business. MMA games, unlike many other genres, have lacked consistency and growth through the years, and very little refinement of their mechanics. They’re always playing catchup, and it’s rare when we get some truly impressive leaps forward.
EA UFC 2 is attempting to make these leaps.
I’ve spent many, many hours in the closed EA UFC 2 beta. Since it was *just* a beta, a preview is somewhat dubious. There were plenty of bugs, clipping issues and wacky physics issues rearing their heads. Hit boxes were arbitrary at times (you can still throw a flying knee, hit someone and nothing happens) but the good, even at this somewhat early stage, far outweighs the bad, and we could be on the precipice of one of the best combat sports games ever to be released.
Fans of the Fight Night series will love to know that the striking in EA UFC 2 is brilliant, and is probably the best striking in a combat sports game since Fight Night: Champion. It feels so good to land a 1-2, adjust your stance, then move back into range for another slick combination. And not only does punching feel good, but getting hit actually feels right, too. Jabs matter, and when a fighter gets popped, his head flies back and leaves an opening for more damage to be done. Rather than a game of rock-em sock-em, striking plays out like a chess match, and it’s wonderful. You don’t want to take any hits. You can feel them.
The ground game, which is much improved, is deserving of the hype. Now, rather than a race to make the first move, thus initiating a grappling animation, both players are “flowing” just like in a real grappling match. The potential breathtaking moments on the mat are diverse, interesting, and pretty fair. There are a few issues – it’s difficult to tell when or how to block another player’s advances, and just because someone is getting lightly punched (ground and pound is somewhat nonexistent due to all the grappling transitions), it doesn’t mean they can’t move. All in all, this is a major step forward. The grappling is not perfect, but you actually don’t fear going to the ground. It’s an MMA game instead of a kickboxing game with a few grappling animations! Wow!
There’s plenty more to talk about – the graphical improvements, the balancing, Ultimate Team, and the crazy physics, but those are best covered once the full release is in our hands. For now, enjoy the first double KO in MMA videogame history.