EA Sports UFC – fists-on preview

Spending some time with the mixed martial arts powerhouse’s official tie-in, we find a brutal-yet-beautiful take on one of the world’s most exciting sports.

EA Sports UFC is a good looking game – combine that with the sometimes-brutal action in the octagon and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a lot of flinching in your seat.

Knee to the jaw? Squirm in your chair. Glancing blow with an elbow? Sink slowly back, away from the action. Roundhouse kick to the back of the head? Look away in terror.

It’s the sort of game that gets you ducking and diving with the punches – but blocking and swaying when you’re on the receiving end. It’s a game where little virtual men on a TV screen actually make you physically react to the action.

Now, we’ll not mention the bit where, when playing EA Sports UFC, a clever counter left our opponent (and creative director on the entire project) open to a flurry of punches from Johny Hendricks, leaving him in an unconscious heap on the floor.

Because we don’t like to boast.

Instead we’ll talk about what this is – it’s a game that aims to make UFC accessible to those who haven’t played any of the multitude of MMA tie-ins before, while at the same time keeping it deep enough for the expert players.

In that respect, it’s pretty standard fare – that’s what a lot of complex games are sold as. But when playing it we found the game errs more on the side of simplicity than it does depth and complexity.

EA Sports UFC preview screenshot 2

Striking is confined to the face buttons (with shoulder buttons operating as modifiers, for body shots, power strikes etc), while the right stick operates as your go-to grappling control.

Blocks and counters are a simple up/down, left/right system to move against your opponent, while submissions are a cat-and-mouse on-screen exercise in judicious use of the right and left sticks (right for the defender, left for the attacker).

There’s a real effort to keep controls – which can be overwhelming at first – consistent across the board. A button/stick combination used standing up should do pretty much the same thing when on the ground.

That sort of simplicity served EA’s last entry into the world of mixed martial arts (2010’s EA Sports MMA) well. A sort of rock-paper-scissors played out repeatedly through a five-round bout made for curiously tense, engaging contests.

So we’re cautious but hopeful with EA Sports UFC – our time with the game was limited to just a few fights, and a few features weren’t enabled in the version we played on.

As such, it’s hard to form concrete opinions on mechanics we simply don’t know much about. But from what we have seen, and what has been promised, this one has potential to be solid and engaging.

And brutal. Flinching-in-your-seat brutal.

EA Sports UFC will release on PS4 and Xbox One in the Spring. No other versions are planned.