Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sam's Take: EA Sports UFC 2 Review

As the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said “Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind.” Or, in the case of EA Sports UFC 2, the sequel to EA’s  first MMA outing, it’s all in the controls, and while this year’s adaptation of the popular bloodsport is as satisfying as ever, the raw fighting gameplay seems to have regressed a little.

It’s not like the game hasn’t evolved, though - there are plenty of new modes, most notably UFC Ultimate Team, in which you create a team of up to 5 fighters, earn coins, and buy packs that contain new moves and upgrades for your team. While getting a 5 star uppercut isn’t as exciting as getting Ronaldo in FIFA, or Odell Beckham Jr in Madden, it’s cool how every one of your character’s moves are rated, so you can see your strengths and weaknesses.

Of course, with an Ultimate Team mode comes two currencies, and one of those currencies, UFC Points, is buyable with real money. The good news is that packs don’t cost much - we were able to buy the most expensive pack after playing 3 matches - but it can give people an unfair advantage in online fights. Strangely, in a move that’s too close to mobile gaming to our liking, you can watch adverts in-game to earn coins, which does feel a little too dystopian.

There’s also Live Events, which allows you to bet on upcoming UFC fights in order to earn rewards, a Custom Event Creator that lets you select everything from the fightcard right down to the referees, and an online Title Chase mode, in which you work your way up from outsider to title holder. Career mode also has a Fight Night-style training camp feature, where you train in different disciplines before every fight. UFC 2 has new content in spades, and while the Career mode is an easy favourite thanks to its depth and unpredictability, always throwing new scenarios and stipulations at you, Live Events is a strong mode too, and is a good way for new fans of the sport to get into it.

While these are all welcome additions to the franchise, you’ll probably want to avoid all online modes for the time being because of some terrible gameplay tweaks. While the standing gameplay of punching and kicking feels as satisfying as ever, the clinching system is horribly unbalanced. Instead of clinch positions transitioning fluidly, it all feels very disjointed, and whoever starts the clinch has a huge advantage over his opponent thanks to their inability to escape from it. Play a match online, and more often than not your matches will be a race of who can clinch first, followed by 20 seconds of punches to the head and a knockout.

The ground game isn’t very strong either. While the new HUD is quite helpful, telling you your available transitions and how to do them, it still feels a little disjointed, and always tilted in the favour of fighter who started it. Submissions are nigh-on impossible to do - despite the new Skill Challenges and Practice Mode teaching you how to do them, as well as every other mechanic in the game - having to go through layer after layer of HUDs until you can finally initiate one. In all of our fights, we have never lost to - nor won by - a submission. Perhaps all of these problems are why Knockout Mode was introduced - a fun romp to play with friends that limits players to kicking and punching, no dastardly clinches and ground holds allowed.

Thankfully, the standing gameplay has been bettered. Thanks to the fluid upgraded blocking system and the punches and kicks being simpler to pull off, the game is a very tactical affair when the fighters are standing - unleashing a flurry of punches just doesn’t work anymore, so you have to be careful and considered, sniping whenever you see an opening. Every move carries weight with it, and seeing your fighter collapse on the mat or stumble back from a hard kick is enough to make you flinch. When matches get to the later rounds, they become very tense and nervy, and the feeling of losing (or winning) by one expert move can be soulcrushing (or satisfying)

Of course, while some of the gameplay can be pretty ugly, the graphics certainly aren’t. The individual beads of sweat on every fighter, the way their hair flops around as they swing for punches, is absolutely stunning - show this game to someone who hasn’t even heard of video games, and you could easily convince them that it’s the real thing. Every fighter - there are 250(!) of them - no matter how unpopular or obscure, has been scanned so that their every move, their every facial expression, is perfectly mapped for realism, making the game an absolute joy to look at.

This effort has also been put into the customisation aspects of UFC 2 as well, with every aspect of your fighter being tweakable. As well as the Game Face feature, there are tons of sliders that allow you to make some absolute abominations and the ability to customise every fighter’s ratings, styles, and attributes is also there to mess around with too.

Technically the game is sound, with no framerate issues or bugs being present, and the online matchmaking is very well done, only taking seconds to find someone to play against. Of course, thanks to the aforementioned clinches and ground gameplay, it’s likely to be over in seconds, too.

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