If you go back through the Darkstation archives, you can find some gushing reviews of the Fight Night games, which have long been one of my favorite EA Sports franchises. Starting with Fight Night: Round 3 through the story-drive Fight Night Champion, I found myself engrossed in the sport of boxing far more than its real-life counterpart. It’s been five years since the last Fight Night entry and like most of the boxing fan base, EA Sports has shifted its focus from boxing to mixed martial arts (MMA). They started with EA Sports MMA in 2010, which was a disaster of a game. The follow-up of EA Sports UFC in 2014 fared quite a bit better!
Now a couple years later we have their second go with the UFC license in EA Sports UFC 2. If you played the first you might remember that it had some definite swings in quality; the standing game was great, with punches that felt crisp, kicks that felt like they landed with authority. The ground game felt out of the player's control, though - more like a minigame mixed into the middle. For EA Sports UFC 2 the development team looked at improving both areas of the game and did a pretty admirable job.
EA Sports UFC 2 has a standing game that feels even better than in the first, feeling like a step towards being comparable to the amazing work they did in the Fight Night franchise - land a clean punch or kick and it's incredibly rewarding. The animation is far more crisp, and the game conveys the power of the amazing athletes' strikes far better than the first did. When the game goes into showing a replay, though, the animation falls apart a bit, and you can start to see each frame of animation broken down and the illusion of power falls flat. It was an issue with the first entry as well, and I quickly got to the point where I would button mash my way through the replays.
Just as the standing game has been improved, so too has the ground game, which has been completely revamped to try it make it as fluid as the real-life thing. When you clinch or go to the ground now, you have a control window pop-up that gives you the move options at your disposal. Your fighter's skill on the ground will determine how long you have to press in a certain direction to pull off a move. Once you get a submission in place, it opens up another control window where your goal is to stop your opponent’s attempts to get out of the submission. It’s a good system, but it does still take you out of the fight and loses a bit of the immersion that the standing game has.
The hardest challenge any mixed martial arts game has is combining the many facets of the sport into one fluid package. And although I think the game does it better this time around it’s still a problem, feeling like two or three separate games in one fight. I try to keep all of my fights standing up as that’s where I’m more successful and feel more in control and though the ground game is much improved, it still feels far less predictable in its outcomes. EA Sports is aware that there is a good portion of players like me who just enjoy the standing game, though, and have included a mode called KO Mode that doesn’t let you grapple. It’s by far my favorite mode in the game.
What EA Sports UFC 2 does best is capture the feel of a UFC fight. From the fighters walking to the octagon, to the pre-fight rituals, the game looks and feels great. This is one of the most stunning sports games in EA’s lineup. The fighter models have been vastly improved from the previous game with far better detail, making them feel a lot more alive. The damage that their bodies can take in a fight looks good.
In terms of modes UFC 2 feels a lot like its predecessor. The career mode, which I was really hoping would have been fleshed out, still feels bare bones. There’s a great opportunity to better utilize The Ultimate Fighter (the UFC’s minor leagues) to the game's advantage, but here it feels shoehorned in and not very well developed. It’s a serviceable enough mode, but not something that’s going to keep you engaged for long periods of time. They’ve also brought over their card game from other sports games to UFC 2 in the new mode UFC Ultimate Team. This is not something that I’ve had much love for in other EA Sports games, so I don't really have a new take on it here.
EA Sports UFC 2 is a very good game that’s on the verge of being great. I do really appreciate where the developers have improved all aspects of the fighting in the octagon, but it still feels like a couple separate experiences in the octagon that don’t come together for a full-fledged experience. The ground game in particular is still the weakest point of the experience and feels far too convoluted for its own good, and I never felt comfortable when I had to enter that mode. At the end of the day, EA Sports UFC 2 does an admirable job of trying to create the complex world of UFC in a video game while still making it fun for the player. It’s not a perfect game by any means but a good game all the same.
The owner and editor-in-chief of Darkstation.com. I've been apart of the website since 2002 and purchased the website in 2010. Owning and running Darkstation is a dream come true. I love video games and I love writing and talking about them even more.