I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for fighting games. It was Tekken on the original PlayStation that reintroduced me to video games way back in the day. But despite great 3D graphics, inspired – but questionable – body physics (I’m looking at you Dead or Alive) they never seemed to transcend their arcade origins.
EA Sports Fight Night Round 3 on the Xbox 360 finally gave me a fighting game with two feet firmly planted on the grown. Realistic, visceral, and brutal. Fight Night Round 3, its successor Fight Night Round 4 and 2011’s Fight Night Champion broke the barrier from fighting game to fighting simulator.
Later this year I think EA Sports are going to break that barrier some more.
If ever there was a game that reaffirmed my belief that the Xbox One analogue sticks are cheese graters on my delicate thumbs it’s EA Sports UFC.
I was recently invited to an EA Sports UFC preview event at Sydney’s UFC gym for a session with a UFC trainer and a preview of the game.
After a couple of hours with EA’s upcoming mixed martial arts extravaganza it was time to bust on the Nivea and nurse my weathered thumb back to health.
UFC is a tough game. This spiritual successor to Fight Night has an almost unfathomable amount of depth to it.
Sure you can sit there spamming punches and kicks – a practise which I’d certainly recommend when you start out, to be honest; but there’s so much more to just hitting your opponent.
In UFC you want you be grappling your opponent rather than trading blows that will eventually beat you down. This is where a relatively short session with the game got a bit overwhelming.
The ground-based combat, grappling and holding your opponent until he passes out or getting him into a very punchable sweet-spot, is what separates UFC from every fighting game that you’ve seen before. But in order to provide a convincing wrestling-style gameplay dynamic – and it is convincing – there has to be a degree of complexity.
You have an attacker using carefully positioned arms and legs to bring down, and keep down, their opponent. The defender who must avoid the throw or, if downed, try to turn the situation to his or her advantage.
Cue lots of floor-based twisting, writhing and counter-moves.
Putting in all in perspective, these preview events usually have a one-page hint sheet sitting on the console. UFC had a multi-page booklet detailing the moves and buttons depending on the situation.
The game has in the region of one hundred UFC fighters to choose from- including New Zealand’s own Mark Hunt, each with their own styles, strengths and weaknesses. The legendary Bruce Lee is also available as a pre-order bonus and to those that beat the game.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the game is going to take a while to master. But don’t be put off, though. The game comes with a challenges mode that helps players focus on areas where they are weak, such as take-downs or Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, and improve those skills- all away from the competitive environment.
EA Sports UFC looks stunning and whilst, yes, you will be just kicking, punching and blocking at the beginning; suddenly you’ll put a move that gives you a little WTF moment. And then you’ll do it again. And again.
After the preview, I sat down with UFC’s assistant producer, Jazz Brousseau, and ask him a few questions about the game.
Can you tell me a little about yourself and the role you played in bringing us UFC?
I’ve been with EA Sports for about seven years. I’ve previously worked on Fight Night Round 4 and Fight Night Champion– so did a lot of the production team and the engineers that are now working on UFC. My role on UFC was primarily for the online portion of the design.
I’ve played UFC and it’s quite a complex game. Obviously, for UFC fans, picking the game up is going to be a no-brainer. But how does the game accommodate novices?
We feel that it is accessible. It’s easy to get into the game and punch and kick people, and it’s fun. I think that’s really what it is going to come down to. Is the game fun or not? If the game is fun people will learn to get better at it; they’ll grow, and they’ll evolve. They’ll work on filling in the gaps where they may be weak.
One of the things that we’ve really tried to focus on with this game is the challenges area, which allows players to train various specific portions of the game. So if you are not good at the take-downs and the Brazilian Ju-Jitsu, well, that’s an area that you can go in and train in a vacuum- away from online players or the CPU.
You worked on some of the Fight Night games. How does UFC compare? UFC does seem to be a comparatively deep game with a lot more gameplay strategy.
UFC is very much like MMA in that it is layered and nuanced. There’s a lot of different things that you can do depending on the position that you are in, depending on the style of fighter that you are. It’s tough to sort of understand all that when we toss you into “fight now” in the preview. It’s going to be a different experience as players go through career mode and are ramped up on the learning curve.
Obviously Fight Night is a stand-up game in that it’s only boxing. Even in the stand-up there’s a lot more that you can do in UFC; for instance, different types of clinches. There isn’t a lot of direct correlation between Fight Night and UFC other than the team that worked behind it and the experience that we brought to UFC from that game.
How many fighters do you have in the game?
Right now we are just shy of a hundred.
Wow, that’s a lot of fighters. How do you calculate the damage with all those different fighters and fighting styles?
The legs, the torso and the head are pretty much the primary areas where you can be hurt. There’s no simple math that you can apply that, you know, you can take seven shots to the head you are going to be hurt in the head. It’s really dependant on the fighter- not only the fighter being punched, but the fighter doing the strike.
It really depends on how much stamina you have, how flush the punch or strike was. It’s very much like Fight Night in that it’s a dynamic system it depends on a lot of different factors to determine if you are going to be hurt.
What do you think that the fans are going to enjoy the most about the game?
I think that the Ultimate Fighters are going to be the highlight for a lot of hardcore UFC fans. We are the first UFC game to capture a lot of the tough gym assets and make that come to life.
Other than that I think just the realism, the authenticity and the fighter likenesses are unparalleled. I think that is also going to be the big point that people are going to enjoy.
Can you tell me anything about the game that you’ve not told anyone else?
Well, something that we have talked about, but is not well known outside the team is that UFC was built from the ground up in under two years which I think is pretty increasable.
I think that’s a good titbit of info to close with right there. Thanks ever so much Jazz.
EA Sports UFC will be released in Australia on June 19th and in New Zealand June 20th for Xbox One and PlayStation 4.