In my first hands-on with EA Sports UFC
I was overwhelmingly positive. I called it a 'true contender', because it's a sports fighting game and that felt like an appropriate term.
Following my second hands-on, my opinion of the game has been tempered somewhat. When I played UFC in San Francisco, there was a lot of wiggle room. A lot of the game hadn't been finalised, so what I played around with concentrated more on things they had finished. The wrestling and brazilian jiu-jitsu portions of the game took a front seat because while you could tee off on someone all day, you couldn't actually knock anyone out in the build they showed us.
And don't get me wrong, the ground game is still absolutely fantastic. The more time I spend with it, the more I become convinced that it's actually better than the previously untouchable UFC Undisputed games.
The stand-up game just isn't there yet, however.
If I had to put my finger on a single issue, I'd say it's the way the game treats striking defence. Players can put their hands up to block punches and they become essentially invincible. They still take some
damage, but it's such a miniscule amount that it's a mistake to think it's worth your while. You lose more stamina attacking than you do blocking, so a player can just block until the cows come home and they'll essentially negate all your strikes. Then you're out of stamina and they can absolutely man (or woman) handle you.
This is where EA Canada's Fight Night heritage betrays them, because that's not really how striking in MMA works. Fighters who win don't tend to absorb hundreds of strikes per fight. Anderson Silva doesn't throw his hands up and wait for his opponent to tire themselves out -- he gets out of the way (well, most of the time
). The Undisputed games gave players a full sway system, which let you stand in one place and duck backwards -- mastering this technique was a solid way to find your hand raised at the end of a bout -- but the best EA's UFC allows players to do is the parry.
By pressing both the block button (R2) and either high or low (triangle or X) the player can use hand trapping to parry an opponent’s attack, opening their enemy up to a counter-attack. Any fighter can do this, and I think it's a telling element of where EA's UFC is making a mistake. If Anderson Silva, the greatest professional mixed martial artist of all time (so far), prefers to move away from blocks than to attempt Wing Chun style Hand Traps, it's obvious (at least to me) that an error has occurred.
Judo philosophies run deep in the training of most Mixed Martial Artists -- Judo is part of the BJJ DNA -- and similarly the 'be like the water' concept is a huge part of Bruce Lee's mash-up martial art Jeet Kun Do. Fedor Emelianenko didn't shy away from using hand trapping to get close to opponents who (usually) had a reach advantage on him, and most MMA fighters will lean on the technique if it comes down to it. Still, it's a scenario where prevention is better than the cure -- you're better off simply not being there when the punches are landing in many cases.
These two elements -- near invincible guarding and unnatural parries -- combine to make the defensive aspect of EA Sports UFC feel unrealistic. Obviously the blocking situation can be easily rectified -- all that needs to happen is an adjustment in damage absorption and stamina degradation levels. The parrying situation is not so easy to fix, as it appears to be fairly core to the way you play the game.
That said there's hope for the system. Slow heavyweight fighters didn't have the speed to properly capitalise on a successful parry, which meant if you wanted to land a counter you needed to gamble on your parry actually sticking. Essentially, the timing window is on the knife's edge -- if you hesitate at all your opponent will have recovered and their guard will be back up before your counter lands. Quicker fighters don't share this problem, and I think it's indicative of an understanding of the differences weight classes have to offer.
For EA Sports UFC 1 I think the system currently in place will suffice, although as I mentioned I think the blocking needs retooling. For UFC 2, however, I'd love to see the game introduce a more capable system for letting players duck and weave so that they have the ability to stand and deliver, lean back out of the way of a few strikes and then come back in to punish their opponent. The parry system should stay as well -- as I mentioned, it's not so uncommon in MMA that it never happens, it's just less common than the game has made it. I'd love to see the timing windows for the parry follow the same trend as the counter-striking timing, so players fighting in the HW or LHW division are forced to think about their fighter's abilities and alter their defensive game-plan accordingly.
I still have faith in EA Sports UFC, even if I have spent the better part of 900 words ripping into its defensive striking. What I played wasn't final code, after all, and there's still room for improvement even before the game comes out. I have my concerns, but it was a brilliant understanding of the ground game that won the day in the first ever UFC, and I think I can see a Royce Gracie-esque performance at the core here.
Clarification - it seems like I've given some the impression that the sway system in EA Sports UFC doesn't exist. This wasn't my intention. I feel that the sway system as it exists in the game currently feels two-dimensional and incapable of delivering what players need. Ducking to either side didn't seem to matter as shots from either hand still found their home, which meant the only real option was to swing back, away from my opponent's strikes. When players can utilise a far more accessible and effective block or parry the sway system seems like a poor also-ran option.
Joab "Joaby" Gilroy is a huge fan of sports games, racing games, first-person shooters and 4X strategy games. He's awful at fighting and real-time strategy games although he'd love to get better. He thinks the Halo universe is hollow and that Arkham City was the real game of the year in 2011 and that AusGamers' managing editor Stephen Farrelly only gave Skyrim the nod because he is a filthy Marvel fan. His top three games of all time are (in no particular order) Deus Ex, GTA: Vice City and DayZ.
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