EA Sports UFC 2

The Many Ways It Looks To Improve Over Its Predecessor
by Brian Shea on Feb 26, 2016 at 05:00 AM
Publisher: EA Sports
Developer: EA Canada
Rating: Teen
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

EA Sports UFC was a strong first effort when it released in 2014, but EA Sports' debut as the holder of the UFC license was far from perfect. In addition to a repetitive career mode structure, the ground and grapple mechanics were difficult to understand and the game lacked overall depth in the modes it offered. We recently got our hands on the sequel to get a good idea of how UFC 2 looks to improve over its predecessor.

The striking of EA's first UFC was great, and that appears to have remained mostly intact. Some new animations and improved knockout physics made my time operating in the stand-up game more satisfying, but it largely felt the same and my skills learned from the first game were transferable.

The team realizes that many players view the striking of the UFC series as its most enjoyable aspect, so for UFC 2 they added the all-new Knockout mode. In this slugfest, players take their fighters into the Octagon with the sole purpose of taking out their opponent's health. Individual stats don't matter as much as it's all based on a fighting-game-style health bar, which can be handicapped prior to entering the match. Once you're in the match, successful body and significant head strikes remove one segment of health from the victim (jabs and leg kicks aren't included due to their ease of connection). The first fighter to lose all health goes down hard and loses that round. Like a traditional fighting game, you can adjust these Knockout matches to crown the winner based on one round or the "best of" multiple rounds.

To add an extra twist to the health-bar formula, fighters in Knockout mode can earn back health segments by performing a successful parry. While that may not sound like a big deal, the thrill of being down to your last health segment only to execute a successful parry to climb back into the fight and land a successful counter attack brought me to my feet on multiple occasions. By nature of taking the multidimensional sport of mixed martial arts and simplifying it down to its most basic facet, the mode doesn't seem like it has the most depth, but I don't know if the excitement of a close match in Knockout mode will ever fully go away.

Those playing the more traditional bouts can expect marked improvements to the ground and grapple games. EA's first UFC used almost a turn-based mechanic where if one fighter initiates a movement when engaged with the other, the other fighter had nothing he or she could do aside from defending that move. Now, when two fighters are engaged – either in grapple or on the ground – they can try to execute moves independently of one another. This means that more strategy comes into play since how long the inputted moves take to execute plays a role in their success. For instance, the top fighter might want to transition from the full-guard position to full-mount, but it's quicker to slip into half-guard, making it the safer bet. 

Also new to the ground and grapple mechanics are interfaces that tell players what each input aims to do. In EA's first UFC, players had to memorize what movements did what from each position, but with the new interface, I know exactly what holding right on the stick will cause me to do from the side-control position. In the last UFC game, I never fully grasped the ground game because of the way it worked, but in my time with UFC 2, I felt much more adept and confident in operating in the clinch and on the ground.

On the next page, we look at the new modes brought to UFC 2 and look at the improvements made in career mode.

In addition to the noticeable gameplay improvements and the spectacle Knockout mode, UFC 2 looks to add a ton in terms of mode depth. Ultimate Team lets you create a team of fictional fighters and steadily improve them by collecting and equipping cards. Once in the mode, you can compete online with ultimate championships and offline through the single-player championships. Each action in these modes earns you points that can be used to buy cards. Those cards can then be equipped to fighters, added to your collection, or sold for additional coins.

The new Live Events mode presents you with the scheduled fights that are about to play out in real life. Your job is to predict the outcome of each fight. You choose the winner of each bout, how they'll win, and which round it'll happen in. Each correct component nets you points, which translates to two separate leaderboards – one global and one friend board.

Taking the concept a step further, players can jump into the scheduled fights and try and make the predicted outcomes happen in the game. If you pick Holly Holm to defeat Miesha Tate by a second-round knockout in real life, and you can make that happen in-game, you earn bonus points for the leaderboards. I was initially concerned that this part of the mode would break the cool "pick 'em" aspect of the overall concept, but in practice, the points earned by making your predictions happen in real life are modest when contrasted with the points earned by correctly predicting the bout. Your success in this mode can also carry over into Ultimate Team, as Live Events can reward you with Ultimate Team points.

If you've ever dreamed of stepping into the role of matchmaker, the Custom Event Creator gives you the ability to plot out the fight card you've always wanted. This mode looks highly customizable, giving you the ability to choose the number of fights on the card, the venue the fights take place in, which referee is in charge of each bout, and if there is flexibility in the weight classes during the fights. If you disable strict weight classes, you still won't be able to trot a 145-pound featherweight in to take on a 235-pound heavyweight, but you can have the mobility to have a 185-pound middleweight clash with a 205-pound light heavyweight. If you put together a card that you really like, you can also save it for future playthroughs.

Though career mode isn't technically a new mode, with so many improvements, it feels like it could be presented as one. Gone is the repetition of being matched against an opponent and completing the same training activities on repeat. Now, you are given different offers for fights with different timetables and circumstances. Fighting on a main card in a pay-per-view match might net you more fans if you're successful, but it'll likely be against a tougher opponent than if you take a fight on a UFC fight-night card. Your career's longevity is based on your popularity and ability to hit certain milestones in your career, so taking risks is an important part of being successful in career mode. With a substantially deeper roster at launch, players can expect to see matches against real fighters in career mode a lot sooner than they did in the last UFC. The team has also made a concerted effort to make each fighter feel different, so you don't feel like you're fighting the same opponent over and over.

Different random variables can affect your preparation for a fight. One example I saw was that one of my coaches hurt himself trying to show off some pro-wrestling moves, so as a result, my training was hindered for that fight. Another variable I saw pop up was that my coach spent some time studying at a world-class gym, so my training was more effective in certain areas. These random variables can also pop up to affect your fighter's popularity and injury resistance during training. When you go into these training minigames, your benefits are contextual to what you're training. No longer can you train your upper body and then pour the experience points you earn into your leg kicks. If you want to improve your leg kicks, you need to train your legs. You're also now able to select the intensity of your workouts, with higher intensity training yielding better results, but running a higher risk of injury. Injuries will never keep you from fighting, but they do lower your attributes for your next fight, which arguably has a bigger impact than outright missing the fight.

From my time with the game, UFC 2 feels like a considerably more robust experience than its predecessor. Time will tell if these modes truly have the depth that they appear to, but from this in-depth look at the game, I'm excited to get my hands on the final product.