Theres always a frustrating period when a new generation of consoles arrives, in which the only games you can play on them are essentially tarted-up versions of previous-generation efforts. Great games arent made overnight. But sports games, which tend to made on a yearly cycle, and which can make great leaps in realism with an injection of new console power, often provide our first hit of true next-gen gaming. Happily, EA Sports UFC has stepped into that particular breach with a certain amount of aplomb.
The first fruit of EA Sports newest official licence the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the pinnacle of the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) scene is also the first game to use EA Sports Ignite engine, custom-designed to take advantage of the Xbox One and PS4, boding well for games like FIFA 15. Made by the team behind the much-loved Fight Night, UFC looks fantastic. The fighters look incredibly realistic detailed, convincingly textured and endowed with a thoroughly life-like set of animations. As bouts progress, they get sweatier; slow-motion replays show a satisfying level of skin deformation. And the backgrounds consisting mainly of the audience plus the UFCs signature hexagonal ring also look near-photorealistic. The fact that fights take place in a confined space (recorded by a close-in camera) helps, but theres no mistaking EA Sports UFC, in visual terms, for anything other than a next-gen game.
More importantly, it impresses in gameplay terms. MMA is much more complex than boxing, even in its most conventional fight sequences as well as the usual repertoire of punches, you have a number of kicks, and then theres a whole upright grappling engine, plus another phase when you get your opponent onto the canvas and are trying to gain a submission. So, by necessity, the control system is pretty complex, but it has a commendable logic to it (with the right trigger used for blocking, the bumpers as punch and kick-modifiers, and the right stick for grappling). Plus, the game takes you through a tutorial, before the earliest stages of the Career and Challenge modes drum each of the three elements into you.
And once you master its nuances, there are plenty of rewards to be had. The fighting is satisfyingly tactical, and the AI impressive: if you dont vary your approach, you will get consistently battered after a while. The Career mode is satisfyingly meaty, too: you can spend hours in the character-creation program alone, and then you have to build up an entire UFC career from scratch, winning fights to upgrade your attributes, impressing trainers and agents and so on. The Challenge mode is useful for practicing aspects of your ringcraft which arent quite up to scratch, so it makes sense to dive into that before embarking on a full career. You can also go online to battle your mates.
And theres a great incentive to beat the game completing Career mode on the Hard setting you get to play as the legend that is Bruce Lee. Like all the other fighters, he looks startlingly realistic but, naturally, he has a whole raft of unique moves. You can also cheat and pay for him, if you never quite develop those ninja-skills.
EA Sports UFC, then, is mighty impressive. Its a bit pricey (its worth shopping around for), and the online side is run by EAs dreaded Origin, and we were unable to ascertain in the review period whether that means youll have to pay for anything it offers. And if youre not a fan of UFC, you might struggle to see the games appeal, although it looks so good that its one of those rare efforts which you can actually enjoy watching someone else play. Roll on more next-gen sports games.