Summary : EA conclusively brings in its own dollars with a flashy replication of broadcast TV.
Flash back to 2009. UFC president Dana White was at war with EA Sports. Quote: “EA doesn’t give a [bleep] about mixed martial arts.”
In 2014, Dana White is found beaming on camera after EA UFC’s tutorial. THQ, former developer of core MMA videogames, sunk into bankruptcy, and here’s a smiling White (apparently satisfied) as he appears central to EA UFC’s progression, hypocrisy be damned.
Potential superstars begin their fighting warpath on the weekly reality TV series The Ultimate Fighter. Video interstitial segments – with White or other fighters – are classy while they recall their bygone Sega CD full-motion video luminaries, fitting together a weak narrative of non-consequence. They’re splashy window dressing. UFC’s menu systems are best designed to usher in another ranked octagon brawl rather than leveling or number-crunching.
The urge to enter actual combat is obvious. UFC is technically astute, with fleshy punches sending skin shockwaves across ribs, or temporarily molding faces into awkward images of scrunched-up pain. Believability is gruesome as bruises spawn on thighs and cuts drip onto imprinted ring advertising.
Skinning UFC with visible reality is crucial for both marketing and general wow factor. Unfortunately, outside of a controlled environment, these martial artists are required to move. EA’s stand-up system is genuine, a blending of trigger pulls, face buttons, and analog stick flicking to execute any number of sharpened kicks or punches. Safety systems designed to keep matches in check with authenticity are few. Spamming one oft-repeated head kick due to unbalanced strength is frequent and sadly effective. Docked stamina for exertion with body flailing, flying knees or off-the-cage superman punches is minimal.
But most egregious is predictability. Glowing pain indicators preface TKO stoppages, and stuns are but a call for all-out flurries. Flash knockouts may be irritating or frustrating in terms of interactivity, yet they are a natural element of combat. UFC is infrequently familiar with this concept. Not covering up or defending should come with a substantial career cost. It doesn’t. Instead, KO power is negated, expectations doubly ruined by flimsy, oversold physics best left to pro wrestling.
Twisting arms mimics the twisting of an analog stick once fighters hit the ground, bringing out a pitiful struggle of meters and escapes without thrilling submission consequences. Of EA’s licensed sports, few require the specific limb precision of MMA, and the developers seem lost as to how to best represent this elaborate tussle. Via EA’s Ignite engine, which shares sporting assets between the company’s sports labels, UFC is granted the right stick deke from NHL or a failed dribble mechanic from NBA Live, as if such a control membrane fits all. Mat tacticians are left cold.
UFC brings about this engine sans any remains of EA MMA, a forgotten 2010 one-off. This do-over excises depth in career play, fanciful with its Ultimate Fighter integration, boredom-inducing as videos enter an inescapable pit of repetition. Being greeted with “Hi, I’m Forest Griffin” post-fight is alluring – once. Sixteen times during a 20-year career is begging for a shutdown option, particularly as the simple training regimes suffer the same aggravating cycle.
Although it should never serve as a compliment, EA’s avoidance of questionable microtransaction tactics is commendable. Created UFC brawlers level adequately with suitable post-fight awards. No superfluous currency systems are embedded, even if it’s odd to see garb and banner ads rendered meaningless. They’re decorative, nothing else. While this slashes back-end management, it has an aftertaste of winding down engagement as careers slip into hollow routines without meaningful traction.
EA conclusively brings in its own dollars with a flashy replication of broadcast TV, stadium depth, cautious camera work, and often excitable – if dry – commentary from Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg. And texture work? It’s blissful. Maybe this is where Dana White fell for EA. It’s hard not to be attracted as a fan – or as an owner – when said product is glazed with such visual gloss. Of course, it’s superficial. Apparently, so were White’s empty taunts.