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EA Sports UFC

Score: 63%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2 (1 - 2 Online)
Genre: Sports/ Sports (Boxing)/ Sports (Wrestling)

Graphics & Sound:

Despite what is to follow below this section, it has to be said that EA Canadaís EA Sports UFC is easily to date the best looking sports title of all time when it comes to character models. There was a point back in the day when 2K Sports released NFL 2K for the Dreamcast when many also said that you couldn't tell the difference between the game models and live action at first glance, and Iím sure the future will make today seem moot. With UFC though, the fighters are so lifelike that there is no way you wonít have a jaw-dropping moment at first boot. The created characters arenít quite as impressive (in the face) as the real-life game counterparts, but the models are impressive nonetheless, to say the least.

Visually, the models' skin has the perfect amount of sweat reflection that really is the icing on the cake. Thank goodness gone are the days of just cranking up the reflective quality in games because it is the "new" thing to do. Added features like tattoos under this shimmer crank up the believability because they werenít just slapped on, and neither were the skin imperfections and other things that drive home reality. Add in body damage, from bruises and cuts to skin deformations during punches and kicks, and it really can be said that UFC is the most visually realistic game Iíve ever seen. As a bonus, the ability to resurrect one of the most influential martial artists of our time is a visually impressive feat considering how old reference footage is now. Bruce "The Dragon" Lee looks outstanding, and is presented in 31-year old form. I half-expected a little extra for Bruce Lee on the audio side, but the commentators really didnít go above and beyond for such a great piece of MMA history.

The audio elements of UFC at first feel a bit bland and boring when playing tutorials and the beginning stages of Career Mode. After your character enters the Ultimate Fighting Championship, however, things get better. Itís too bad that the developers choose this approach because itís very easy to get a negative first impression in this regard. Once involved, the announcers do a fairly good (but basic) job of calling the action and that auditory feedback can actually help improve your performance when visual clues arenít always obvious.

From a presentation standpoint, some of the non-Main Event features could have also had the quality increased a bit, but certainly the focus went where it should, on the characters. Some nice additional touches also include an almost graininess on screen and the fact that motion blur happens when slightly faster action happens. This detail really does go a long way to help seal the beautifully realistic visual TV-style presentation.


Gameplay:

If the visuals of EA Sports UFC are spectacular flurry punches, then the gameplay is the low blow kick in the crotch that ends the match by disqualification. I need to make the disclaimer that I do not follow the MMA or Ultimate Fighting Championship, nor do I go out of my way to see any bouts, but I have been engaged enough in the sport to know that it is not just a boxing matchÖ something that the gameplay sincerely overlooks. Donít get me wrong, you can perform takedowns, ground and pound, and submission moves. In practice, however, the ONLY way (it seems) to win matches is to stand and throw down kickboxing style.

UFC misses the chance to truly be the #1 Contender in fighting games and appeal to those who like 1-on-1 combat, but not necessarily follow the UFC. Unfortunately, ONLY fans of the UFC will likely find this game appealing in any way. The control scheme is convoluted and sluggish regardless of whether the fighters are standing or locked on the ground, but when it comes to clinches and the maneuvering on the mat, the game falls flat on its face. This is the only TKO that UFC performs, and it did it to itself.

UFC contains relatively few modes of play. Youíll be able to just dive into a Quick Match, play through Tutorials and Challenges, you can jump into Career Mode, or of course, play online with your friends or via random matchups in Championships, Rivalries, and eventually, Tournaments. Due to the problems with playing against the A.I., your best course of action for the most enjoyment is probably to play online. Unfortunately, sluggish play and the incomparable inability to even block at times can drive a playerís frustration level through the roof.

Playing online is a quick way to realize that players gravitate toward tall fighters like Jon Jones whose long reach and kick make it much harder to defend and get in close. The only defense is to get great at timing blocks and parries or to take them to the mat, but that is generally more of a tip to avoid a KO rather than to actually use it on the offensive. It is fortunate that once unlocked or purchased, Bruce Leeís lightning-quick speed can be enjoyed either offline or online. His roundhouse kicks and many other forms of punishment look great and are enjoyable to perform, not to mention that his stamina seems to last longer than other fighters. Playing as The Dragon or the other unlockable, Royce Gracie, is a nice oasis in the game, but the title is not without problems. Tack on the fact that you could literally be beating the life out of someone only to be knocked out by a quick 1-2 combo is pretty ridiculous at best. Inevitably, matches end up being slug fests anyway, so all tactics really go out the windowÖ but this was all realized after going through the following growing pains.

After going through some tutorials and thinking I may have a feel for the game, I jumped into Career Mode since that is the heart of the game. Career Mode starts your created fighter in the Ultimate Fighter tournament after a few quick lessons (which are nothing more than "Challenges" from the Main Menu). I canít tell you how many times I had to play rematches (you canít move on with a loss at the beginning) because it was impossible to beat the computer A.I. when trying to be authentic and use all of your possible gameplay options. After reaching the point of giving up on the game, I was forced to read a few blurbs online to try and get a bit of help and direction. One talked about only using stand-up techniques of fighting (kickboxing), and that ended up being true for me as well. Not once, to this date, have I ever won by decision against computer A.I. despite ending matches with the thought of victory some of those times. The only possible way to walk away victorious was to literally be the last man (or woman) standing after a Knock Out or Technical Knock Out. The solutionÖ pick a body part (like the head) and then pound, pound, and pound some more. Take a breather to recover some stamina, and then deliver blows and repeat. You will either KO or TKO your opponent and move on. So much for the excitement of using the ridiculous amount of fighting techniques that (on paper) make the game look appealing.


Difficulty:

To get you started, the game does offer up tutorials dealing with button combinations in the form of videos and sparring matches. Unfortunately, the help they provide is very little in my opinion. The videos did give a nice overview of controller usage, but very quickly became overwhelming. In an effort to fight through things, playing the Career Mode didnít offer much help. One would think that at the beginning of a career, the opponents wouldnít be that difficult. This was actually true, but the control scheme makes things far more difficult than they have to be. EA Sports UFC seems to want to keep arcade-style fighting, but force the user to engage in simulation-quality options. Had the game offered controls more akin to wrestling titles, UFC could have been an amazing game. In the end, however, it is nearly unplayable in regards to true Ultimate Fighting Championship gameplay and ends up being a boxing/kickboxing game with sluggish controls.

As alluded to above, during the first stages of the Career Mode, the venue is basically an Octagon in a small gym with very little in the way of audio cues. As such, it is truly hard to know how you are doing in the fight. Once accepted into the MMA, the ringside announcers spice things up a bit and really deliver the much-needed auditory clues as to how you are doing. Without them, it is hard to know if you truly landed your strikes or if they were just glancing blows sometimes.


Game Mechanics:

EA Sports UFCís control scheme is one of the most overly-complex in recent history for a console game. On paper, if one really, truly studies them they sort of make sense. In implementation, however, trying to play this game as it was intended becomes a slow, boring chess match of sorts where the simple and easy solution is to break away from holds and just duke it out instead. Trying to maneuver from one hold to another to get into position for a submission or knockout blow just doesnít work. Iím sure over time and many, many hours of gameplay, things will be more understandable and playable. However, it is extremely easy to get turned off by this game very quickly.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is based on Mixed Martial Arts, but UFC fails to deliver on MMA gameplay. Itís in the game, alright, but execution falls short on many levels. Instead of delivering heart-pounding fast action, UFC ends up feeling sluggish and largely uneventful. The quick turn-around when going from total domination to quick victories feels too unrealistic too. Itís a pity because the visuals of the game are gorgeous, but this just goes to show that even the big players in the game industry can flounder on a next-gen first release. Hopefully, if there is a follow up next year, it will receive more time to work out the kinks and become the game that it has the potential to be.


-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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