If you grew up on the likes of Street Fighter and Tekken, then you’re probably accustomed to being able to pick up a controller, sight unseen, and still put up at least a bit of a fight against a more experienced player. Button mashing won’t win you any Street Fighter tournaments, but, unless you’re playing at a professional level, you’ll usually be able to get a few good hits in and not feel too bad about yourself at the end of the match.
That’s not so much the case in EA Sports UFC, where button mashing is punished by the game’s mechanics, and even more so by players that have even a semblance of an idea of what they’re doing. UFC is not a fighting game. It’s a rigorous technical exercise behind an entertaining façade of people beating the pants off each other.
UFC is gorgeous on Xbox One, and ostensibly so on PS4. The fighters look frighteningly realistic while they idle, and even during the action of matches it’s almost eerie how lifelike the characters are. Outside of some hilarious technical glitches during bouts, the physics keeps up with the action impeccably well, making for some almost painful viewing experiences as punches connect and drops of sweat and blood fall to the canvas from the injured fighter. The physics and graphics jive so well together, in fact, that you can almost feel the impact as you land a roundhouse to the temple, or absorb a superman punch.
Where the graphics and physics are generally superb, the controls leave something to be desired for less adroit players. The face buttons on the controller are punches and kicks, which is simple enough to grasp. That’s where the simplicity ends. There are multiple modifier buttons that you can hold to use different strikes, as well as directional inputs changing what attack you make, which means you’re trying to navigate upwards of 20 different stand-up attacks.
Then there’s blocking, dodging, takedowns, clinch, and transitions. Knowing exactly which button or analog stick motion to input at any given moment is crucial in all but the most rudimentary matches in UFC, and it seems set up to allow an experienced player to absolutely dominate a new recruit in all but the luckiest of scenarios. That’s not to say it’s all bad, but it’s far from being accessible, and will take some patience on the part of experienced players not to just choke out friends playing for the first time.
UFC offers the standard fare for game types. You can pick a fighter and go straight to a match, or you can start a career and create your own custom warrior. There are a number of challenges to help hone your skills so you can take on tougher fights, as well as online play so you can test your mettle against other players. Unfortunately, for a game that lends itself so well to serious competition, the online play was a laggy experience throughout. Matchmaking was quick enough, but as soon as the match started, characters started stuttering and inputs were periodically ignored.
Career was significantly more enjoyable, however, since it allows you to create your own fighter and customize their stats and abilities to your liking. If you don’t want to mess around with the whole wrestling thing, you can create a fighter that specializes in striking and just aim to KO your opponent before they get a chance to take you down. Just punching your opponent in the face repeatedly is a lovely respite from struggling with the more technical aspects of submissions, escapes, ground transitions, and all the rest. You might not be able to go all the way in Career mode without being at least marginally well rounded, but a 23-second KO using nothing but punches to the face is surprisingly gratifying after getting submitted repeatedly by more experienced players.