Inside Pulse 12

Review: EA Sports UFC 2 (Sony PlayStation 4)

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EA Sports UFC 2
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Genre: Sports
Release Date: 03/15/2016

THQ proved there was a market for UFC games with the Undisputed franchise, but they also proved the market wouldn’t support yearly titles. EA thankfully picked up on that, and so the release of UFC 2 comes nearly two full years after their first attempt with the title. That game wasn’t met with the highest of reviews. It lacked content, had graphical glitches galore, and was outright worse than what Undisputed had offered players. UFC 2 hopes to correct all that and take the franchise into the future. Instead, it turns it into a proper EA Sports game, with all that that implies.

First up, there are definitely more modes to play with here. You have the standard exhibition mode, a practice mode, and the expected online mode. You can battle in ranked online matches against random opponents or play some friendly rounds against friends. There’s a brand new knockout mode as well. Here, the grappling is scrapped and the health meters are dropped. It’s just two people slugging it out to see who can land a knockout blow first. It’s a short, fun mode, that will likely help you out with your stand up game.

ufc1Ultimate Team brings the series up to EA standards. For this mode, you can create up to five different fighters and battle them online against other’s creations in ranked matches or play bots for offline matches. Winning moves you up in rank and gives you tougher opponent. It also gives you coins, which are used to buy card packs. These cards come in the form of new moves, attribute bonuses, perks, and fitness cards that can be applied to upgrade your characters. It’s slow going at first, and it’s a bit of a bummer that you can’t learn exactly the new move you want. It’s also a mode that supports micro transactions. You can spend real money to buy in game points that can be used to buy card packs. This is a separate currency from the coins. Don’t worry about this too much though. The game lets you earn coins as other players fight bots of your fighters, and you can earn bonus packs in the events mode.

Speaking of which, the events mode is one of the cooler ideas in this game. In this mode, you pick upcoming real UFC cards. You choose who wins, how they win, and in what round. Then, you see if you can replicate those results by playing out the fight. Doing so gets you bonus points, and getting your picks right gets you even more points. The more points you get, the better the Ultimate Team rewards you’ll unlock. This is a fantastic idea that connects the player to the real life sport. I only wish that I had the guts to say Mark Hunt was going to knock Frank Mir out in the first round instead of the third.

Career is likely where offline players will spend most of their time. You create a male or female fighter, as well as you the appearance of licensed fighters if you want to essentially reboot them (If you pick Jon Jones, for example, he’ll start off with basic stats and without his fancy move set). Then, you play some exhibition fights as part of “The Ultimate Fighter” before getting started on your career. You’ll pick a fight, and then get three training sessions before going to said fight. Rinse, repeat, and so on.

There have been several changes to how you progress here. Pretty much all set dressing has been removed. There are no cut scenes featuring real fighters or Dana White, no weigh-ins, no press conferences, etc. There are events that happen between fights sometimes, but they appear as a bit of text and a static picture. It feels quite disconnected.

ufc2Several of your physical attributes in Career are not capable of being upgraded in the usual way. Each training session can be used up on a specific area such as punching strength, takedown defense, and submissions. You earn letter grades for each completed training session. You can play these yourself, or sim them to automatically score your best grade. Either way, this will build up your training meter for that fight. There are up to three different milestones on said meter, and they will upgrade a specific physical stat for each one you reach. These include, leg health, body health, chin, stamina, etc. The catch is that the stat that will be upgraded, and by how much, is random. You can’t really plan ahead. They’re also different depending on what area you train on that week. If that weren’t enough, it’s almost impossible to earn them all unless you earn top ranks on the hardest version of each training mini-game that session. The hard versions are just more difficult, they’re also more likely to give you injuries. Injuries last until the end of the next fight, and offer massive debuffs to your stats. You could end up going into a fight with a -10 to your health, for example. The whole system is a pain in the butt, exacerbated by the fact that if you don’t train yourself to the breaking point every fight early on, you’ll never be able to upgrade your stats later on.

One of the things previous UFC career modes has been awkward about is when the mode ends. Typically, players were capped at a certain number of fights. While consistent, this was hardly realistic. UFC 2 goes for a more realistic route, but ends up being a wonky mess. You see, each fight adds damage to your longevity meter. If that damage reaches a red marker, it’s times to retire. You can extend your longevity by gaining fans. You do that by winning fights, completing challenges, and via special events. Sounds cool, right? Well it doesn’t really work out all that well. The number of fans you get for wins is pretty small. You need to get lucky with events for a nice boost. Sometimes you’ll be playing and the game will go “You said something funny at a press conference and earned some more fans.”. Hooray! Taking a fight on short notice can also get you bonus fans, although at the cost of your training sessions. Challenges will get you the most fans, but they are not easy to get. As you advance your career, you’ll be challenged to perform certain feats in fights and win in certain ways. This is completely nonsense. For example, I was tasked to go three rounds with Quinton Jackson while landing a certain number of strong strikes and attacking his legs. However, I saw an opening early in the first round and submitted him. I didn’t get any bonus fans. I can’t imagine a real life scenario where a first round finish of a big name fighter wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s also kind of nuts that the game outright punishes players for playing well and winning fights in convincing fashion. You need those fans. However, losing fights loses you fans. So any time the game asks you to fight a top level submission artist by taking him to the ground, it’s asking you to make a terrible choice. Sure. It’s challenging all right, but it’s beyond counter-intuitive. Oh right. I almost forgot. When your damage meter rises, it also increases the required training performance needed to earn fitness buffs. So, the longer you go on, the harder it is to earn them. By the time you reach the end of your career, (which might be as few as twenty fights if you don’t earn those fans), you won’t be able to upgrade much of anything.

Let’s end the talk of the career mode by talking about one last thing. I mentioned various events. Sometimes these will give you a bonus for training a certain part of your game or give you bonus fans. As often, they are god awful things. You can lose training sessions. This is bad enough, as it horribly affects your long term prospects, but the stated reason is usually something like “the gym decided to install cable”. Imagine someone telling a top tier fighter they can’t train cause the janitor wants to watch MTV. Other times, you’ll have coaches catch the flu and be unable to train in that area at all for the fight. OK. Never mind that real life fighters often get months to train in between fights, but there’s no way a real fighter wouldn’t train on his boxing if he were going up against someone like Thiago Alves. I don’t care if my coach is sick. I’ll go borrow another one. You get negative events when it comes close to time to retire as well, and they’re nonsensical. At the end of my career, I was on a massive winning streak, had been winning fights early in the first round, and was at the top of my division. The game told me all of my losses and the shots I had taken were adding up and I’d have to retire. It also told me I had no fans and the bosses couldn’t find me interesting fights. Then it gave me a title fight. That about sums this mode up.

ufc3Visually, the game is mostly spectacular. The character models, textures, facial animations, hair, so many other things have simply never looked better. The stand up game is by far the best recipient of the upgrade. Flesh ripples, hair flies, eyes wince, and moves feel like they hurt. There’s also a heck of a lot less glitches this time around, so no flying mummy guard. The frame rate also keeps up, which is important for a game as fast paced as this tends to be. The downside is that the ground game often looks clunky. Part of this is due to the new mechanics, but those can’t be blamed for all of it. Sometimes punches feel like you’re gently caressing an opponent’s face instead of trying to beat their face in. It looks especially awkward in the slow motion replay. There’s also a complete lack of sponsors and banners here. Everyone is wearing the same Rebok shorts and shirts. It looks almost sterile at times. I never thought I’d miss product placement, but there you go. The menus are also as clunky as the new EA Sports games. They’re slow to respond, feature different sized and shaped icons, and seem like a really bad collage. But hey, the most important stuff looks phenomenal. So the overall vibe here is quite good.

Aurally, the game doesn’t fare as well. Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan might still be the benchmark for commentating in video games, but this effort is not their best. That’s less their fault and more the game’s though. They’ll often call out the wrong move or talk about something else besides the fight in the question. They also lack variety in terms of how they commentate entrances and the beginnings of fights. It gets old. The thuds, slaps, and booms of the fights are quite good. It can feel like you’ve just smacked someone with a hammer at times. However, when that happens and your opponent manages to pop back up like it was nothing, it’s kind of a letdown. Finally, the game’s soundtrack is a collection of bland instrumentals and a handful of the typical licensed tracks. There are some decent ones, but you won’t spend much time paying attention.

Combat in UFC 2 consists of three tiers: stand up, clinch, and ground. We’ll talk about each in turn.

The highlight of the game is the stand up. You can throw punches, try for lethal kicks, dodge, parry, sway, etc. The controls are pretty standard for the franchise. Each button controls a limb, and the shoulder buttons aim and alter the shot. L1 uses a technique move, and L2 aims your shot at the body. Combining these modifiers with directional inputs allows for each fighter to have a vast array of strikes and his/her disposal. The trick is to time your shots and land combos. Attacking certain parts of the body damages them, allowing for a greater chance that any given shot will hurt an opponent or even finish them off. Going for the head allows for easier knock outs but body shots will drain their stamina while leg shots will make the immobile. Varying your shots and creating combos makes it harder for them to block or counter. In general, your attacks go where you want them to go. So long as your not mashing buttons, you can win any fight on your feet. The only potential downside is that moves, although they look like they hurt, often don’t do as much damage as you’d think. You can land dozens of shots in a round and not manage to knock them down. That honor is usually reserved for big time counter punches or catching them at a bad angle.

ufc4The grappling system has seen a complete overhaul. Gone are the half circle and quarter circle turns used to transition between positions. Instead, an octagonal display will pop on the screen and show you up to four different options you can take. Then you hold the right stick in that direction until either the meter fills up or you opponent does something to interrupt you. That could be punching you or perhaps blocking the transition by holding down R2 and flicking the stick in the direction you’re attempting to go. It’s an awkward system at first, and it feels slow and cumbersome. However, it also lets you be sure of exactly what move you’re trying to make. There’s a lot less guesswork. Like in previous games, this same control scheme is used for both clinches and grapples. The goal here is to move to an advantageous position and land strikes. Said strikes tend to feel slow, but extremely powerful. One or two shots from a back mount position will usually end the fight in my experience.

The submission mini-game from the last game is back and works about the same. The attacking player tries to prevent the defender from escaping by matching their movements with the right analog sticks. If the defender can build up a meter, they escape. If they’re too slow, the attacker will have a chance to advance the hold by flicking the left stick in one of four directions. It’s confusing if you’re new to it, but the system works well enough after a bit of practice. The only issue is that the longer submission attempts can simply drain too much time off the clock.

When everything clicks, this game is a lot of fun. Counter punching, throwing crazy kicks, slamming a foe from clinch, and cinching in that flying submission are all fun. Being able to create custom move sets for career and/ultimate team makes you feel like you’re advancing after every fight. It can be a very rewarding game. However, the game can also slow to a crawl if the right punch doesn’t land or the fight becomes a series of passes and guards on the ground. I’ve rarely seen a game that can transition so smoothly between exciting and boring on such a regular basis. Perhaps the issue is that flash knockouts and submission finishes out of nowhere are virtually impossible with the way the system works. It often feels like you intentionally take a few hits to the chin without worry. That just doesn’t seem right.

Short Attention Span Summary
diehardjack1-150x150UFC 2 is a definite improvement over it’s immediate predecessor in a lot of ways. There’s more content, more fighters, fewer technical hiccups, and a clear attempt to make the ins and outs of the game more accessible. When the game works, it works well and will gleefully satisfy the wants of fans. The online components work well, and the new knockout mode will sure to be a fun staple for multiplayer. However, the career mode is lacking any substance and can be downright obnoxious thanks to certain random effects. And then there’s the very real possibility that the fighting can go from fun to boring at the drop of a hat. It’s a mixed bag. As long as you’re prepared for that, the game is certainly worth a look. It’s not like there are a whole lot of options out there.

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