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New Look: EA Sports UFC pulls no punches

By John Robertson on Tuesday 20th May 2014 at 1:00 PM UTC

Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson are on the cover. Bruce Buffer, Yves Lavinge, Joe Rogan and Arianny Celeste are all included in their respective announcer, referee, commentator and 'octagon girl' roles. Even Cain Valesquez's pectorals bounce up and down realistically.

If you're not a UFC fan to begin with then none of this is going to be of interest to you, you'll likely have not even understood any of the proper nouns in that first paragraph. If you are a UFC fan, however, you're going to feel spoilt at the attention to detail on offer in EA Sports' take on UFC.

Such dedication to the source material should come as little surprise given the fact that EA Canada is heading up development duties, the same studio responsible for the never-less-than-superlative FIFA and NHL offerings. Seemingly no stone has been left unturned, no punch unthrown, in the pursuit of a UFC game that will put an end to any and all discussion relating to whether or not EA can do a better job with this license than THQ did with their UFC Undisputed series.

What's more, EA Sports UFC bears little in common with 2010's mediocre EA Sports MMA; the latter's use of the analogue stick for initiating attacks replaced by a more intuitive and simpler set of button presses. Two of the face button's punch, the other two kick. If you want to land a heavier attack you simply press towards your opponent with the left stick while attacking - although it's important to keep in mind that stronger attacks are slower and easier to parry or dodge.

Attacking with a shoulder button engaged performs something different still, a more outlandish assault that changes depending on your chosen fighter. Jon Jones and Jose Aldo, for example, employ a set of visually spectacular spinning punches and roundhouse kicks. Land one of these and you can expect to deal enormous damage, miss one and the unorthodox move works against you putting you off balance and leaving yourself open to a stinging counterattack.

Knowing when and where to use such weapons is key to success in UFC, simply repeating your most devastating attack ad-nauseam is not going to get the job done against either A) another human player of mediocre skill or B) the AI set to anything above 'beginner'. Successful combinations seem to be the key to victory, forcing your opponent into defending her/his legs or torso before unpredictably firing the money shot at their head.

"It's pleasing to see that so much care and attention is being focused on getting things right"

That's as far as the stand-up game is concerned, at least. If your fighter is anything other than a boxing or kickboxing expert, you're probably better off taking the fight to the ground and utilising jiu-jitsu and/or wrestling techniques.

As in UFC Undisputed, twists and turns of the right analogue are used to try and work your way into a more dominate position from which you can land more powerful strikes and/or attempt to lock in a submission. Similarly, the right stick is also used to block the other fighter from changing position; with well timed counter moves potentially leading to you gaining a position on the top and the advantage that comes with it.

Completely unlike UFC Undisputed, though, is the way submissions work. Once a submission attempt is locked in, an octagon-shaped overlay - split into north, south, east and west sectors - appears on screen. In order to escape you must fill any of the four sectors completely by holding the left stick in the relevant direction. To block the escape attempt the aggressor simply needs to flick his own left stick in the same direction.

Creative director Brian Hayes on... Weight Divisions "There's a universal attribute system that has different minimums and maximums associated to it based on weight class. Male heavyweights, for example, have limits on what their maximum speed and stamina can be, but in terms of punch and kick power they can be pushed to the very top of the scale.

"On the other side, the lighter weight divisions (including all the female fighters) have the ability to be much faster and have better stamina. However, because they're smaller they can't punch as hard. Similarly, their ability to absorb damage is limited in comparison. That's basically how we manage it and after you've played for a while you'll pick up on the differences for each division and how they change how you can play.

"Going against a heavyweight is like getting run over by a truck that's only travelling at 50MPH, while taking punches from a flyweight is like getting run over by 10 motorbikes going at 120MPH... you wouldn't want to face either one because they're both pretty bad for you [laughs]."

If it sounds simple it's because it is. What ensues is scrambling of analogue sticks as each side tries to second guess in which direction the other is going plump for next. It isn't, however, without appeal. Successful submission escapes and victories are genuinely rewarding as both outcomes feel as though they've been earned following a back and forth struggle for dominance.

One of the most perilous positions you can find yourself in is attempting to fight out of a submission hold while low on stamina. Stamina affects everything from your speed and power, to your ability to block and alternate between ground positions. When low on stamina and caught in a submission the aforementioned 'sectors' fill up more slowly, thus giving your opponent a much greater chance of locking it in terminally.

Close Close

The best way to avoid this is by keeping a close eye on your stamina and refraining from unleashing wild flurries of punches and kicks, too often. Unless you knock your competition out during one of these mad scrambles you leave yourself incredibly vulnerable to retaliation as you wait for your stamina to recover. If your fighter is truly exhausted he/she will even go as far as leaning on the cage if it's within range, making you an even easier target.

All of this and more is explained through an exhaustive set of 18 tutorials accessible from the main menu. Alternatively, you can simply embark a career mode which begins with you creating a new fighter and then engaging in a set of combat drills designed to familiarise you with the basics.

Your first fights in career mode take place as part of the 'Ultimate Fighter' competition, a reality show in which contestants battle each other with the goal of earning a UFC contract. Here, unlike in the Ultimate Fighter of reality, you can't actually lose a fight. If you do find yourself on the wrong end of a beating you merely restart the fight as many times as it takes for you to win. Therefore, you will, no matter what, eventually win the Ultimate Fighter portion of career, make it into the UFC and start working your way up the ladder towards a title shot.

With Fight Night on hold, EA Sports UFC is the only upcoming option for those looking to indulge their hunger for a fighter based on a real-world sport. It's pleasing, then, to see that so much care and attention is being focused on getting things right and creating a game that will appeal to existing UFC fans. Given its track record, though, we'd expect nothing less from EA Canada.