This past weekend, EA SPORTS Canada invited members of the MMA and gaming community to Las Vegas, Nevada, for a “Fans First Event” showing off EA SPORTS UFC, set for release on June 17th, 2014 for Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One. GoodGameBro.com had two representatives on-hand—Corey Andress and myself—and we both got the opportunity to spend about an hour and forty-five minutes with a final build of the game on PS4. Corey’s lengthy, in-depth hardcore impressions can be found here; for my time with the game, I focused on assessing the experience of a more casual gamer, as well as taking a look at the game’s Career Mode, which features “The Ultimate Fighter” for the first time in a UFC video game.
While Corey has a rich background as an amateur MMA fighter, fan of MMA in general, and an experienced gamer with various MMA titles which have been released, my gaming experience is significantly more limited. I’ve watched the UFC since its early days when a person could go into a video rental store and rent entire pay-per-view events on VHS cassettes (showing my age badly here), but my gaming experience was mostly with the original titles which were released on the Sega Dreamcast; recent titles, from both THQ and EA SPORTS, haven’t gotten much of my gaming time. As a result, I came into EA SPORTS UFC with a very fresh approach to how the sport is replicated in the video game world, and that’s part of why I opted to focus on the game’s Career Mode.
As with any other sports game Career Mode, you begin by creating a player that will be your avatar through the process of working your way from an amateur fighter trying to prove their place in the UFC all the way through to a respected Hall of Famer in the promotion. Unfortunately for some gamers, it doesn’t appear that you’ll be able to take an existing fighter through the Career Mode thanks to the game’s focus on beginning with “The Ultimate Fighter” as a starting point; the UFC “reality show” which allows amateurs to compete against each other for a UFC contract.
Creating a fighter offers a pretty significant number of options to choose from; gamers who have put together a solid EA SPORTS “Game Face” file will want to take advantage of that by importing it into EA SPORTS UFC and seeing how closely the game will replicate your likeness. We weren’t able to test this in our time with the game, however, since online services weren’t in place.
If you don’t have a “Game Face,” the creation options will be very familiar to anybody who has previously created a player in the NHL or FIFA games; the menus have a very “EA SPORTS Canada”-feel to them, which will have you right at home with regard to the creation options. I didn’t want to spend too much time documenting all of the options in favor of just creating a fighter and getting into the mode during our limited hands-on window, but you can address everything from head to face shapes, to eye color, to hair shape and color, to facial and body hair options, as well as height and weight within the specifications of the UFC’s eight weight classes. You can also choose what gear (if any) your fighter wears in his walk-up to the ring (as well as post-fight celebration); this appears to be tied into whether or not you’ve unlocked any sponsorships, as I was unable to choose any shirts to wear to the Octagon with my newly-created fighter.
You’ll also be able to choose from one of 10 different fighting styles for your created fighter, each of which sports a different set of base ratings and attributes within the game. The available styles include:
- Freestyle Wrestler
- Greco-Roman Wrestler
- Mixed Martial Artist
- Jiu Jitsu
- Kick Boxer
- Muay Thai
- Tae Kwon Do
Once your character is created, you’ll start off with a tutorial of sorts which will run you through the basic control scheme of the game in a training ring against a CPU sparring partner. Here you’ll learn the controls for basic strikes, movement and avoidance, clinches and grapples, and submission and submission avoidance. The game displays the controls you need to be inputting to achieve the desired result, so this is a good place to understand how things work so that you have an idea of the basic components of gameplay before you get into an actual fight with an opponent looking to take you down.
Now that you’ve been sufficiently briefed on controls, you fight an elimination match to prove that you deserve being drafted to a team on “The Ultimate Fighter.” One of the coolest things about my time with EA SPORTS UFC’s Career Mode is that these initial fights all take place in a fully-modeled set for “The Ultimate Fighter” gym; you come to the Octagon through the same doors you’ve seen on the TV show, and the only people in attendance are your fellow “The Ultimate Fighter” teammates and competitors. Even though the venue for this hands-on event was not conducive to closely listening to the game’s audio, I was able to concentrate on it enough to hear a drastic difference between how these matches sound and how a “Play Now” match in a full arena sounds. Landed strikes sound even louder in the empty space, and instead of the crowd cheering in a packed MGM Grand, you’ll hear the voices of your fellow fighters rooting for or against you and trying to shout advice over the course of the fight you’re in.
Once you win the initial fight, a menu screen shows which two UFC fighters have been matched up against each other for your take on “The Ultimate Fighter”—in my case, it was Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, since EA SPORTS UFC has selected them as one of 13 pairs of real-life rivals for the mode—and those fighters draft their teams for the show. I got drafted to Team Jones, and my created player (slyly named “Player Name”) was officially a competitor on “The Ultimate Fighter”!
Once you’re on a team, there’s a standard procedure to how the mode carries you through. First off, your coach contacts you to let you know who your next opponent will be, as well as some information about that opponent. Next, you’ll get a series of three training sessions which aim to work on aspects of your fighting which should be useful in your upcoming fight; completing these training sessions earns you progression points (known in game as “Evolution Points”) to use in updating one of the 24 ratings categories for your fighter, or for unlocking new strikes and moves to add to your repertoire. Once training is completed, you advance to the fight itself in “The Ultimate Fighter” gym; winning the fight allows you to move on, while taking a loss prompts you to either “Rematch” or “Continue;” as I played through the game I selected “Rematch” on two occasions when I took a loss, so I’m unsure what progression takes place if you choose to just “Continue.” Other media reports we’ve seen suggest that, no matter what, your fighter has to end up winning “The Ultimate Fighter” in order to continue through the mode; this would suggest that, should you choose “Continue,” you’ll likely be put into a new run of “The Ultimate Fighter” to start over from team selection.
Regardless of what training sessions you do, the progression points earned are universal across the ratings categories when you go in to apply them to your fighter. In another nod to NHL and FIFA created player progressions, adding points to a rating has an ever-increasing cost-per-point as the rating gets higher. If you create a striking specialist, striking-related categories will cost more early on because those ratings are higher, while grappling and ground-related categories will have a lower cost due to their lower initial ratings. Your created fighter will begin somewhere in the realm of 55-60 OVR, and that rating range is shared by your fictional opponents in “The Ultimate Fighter;” by comparison, the big-name UFC fighters in the main game are often rated in the 80-95 OVR range. It’ll take some work to be able to stand up to the champion in your weight class!
As I went through the mode, I was surprised by how much real-life video footage has been captured and integrated into the mode. Before a fight begins in “The Ultimate Fighter” gym, real video of Dana White addressing fighters in the Octagon about the match will play to place the promotion’s president in full view. White will also address your fighter between matches in short video messages that almost feel like a “Skype” chat. Similar messages come from other fighters in the UFC promotion as a means of encouraging you along your path to making it big. I’m not sure if there are enough videos recorded to make it valuable for a gamer to keep watching them on their third or fourth created character’s run through the mode, but it was cool to see some real footage interspersed in the game.
Getting to the final match of “The Ultimate Fighter” and winning earns you a contract with the UFC, the UFC as your first gear sponsor (so you can wear UFC-branded gear to the ring), and the ability to start fighting on full UFC events. My first two full UFC events had me fighting in preliminary matches against random opponents around my OVR rating, but I was at least getting the opportunity to see fights in a significant public venue with a larger crowd and more interaction. Also, getting to these UFC events shows you a menu with every fight on the card, and once your fight is over the menu will update match-by-match to show the winner, how the result happened, and also to award honors such as “Submission of the Night” or “Fight of the Night” based on how the matches turned out.
Even after you get to the UFC, training remains a part of the process, with the three training games tailored to your next opponent as you work on earning more XP and Evolution points and experience in the game. During my short time with the mode, I was only able to complete “The Ultimate Fighter” and fight on two UFC cards; I was not able to experience much by way of “Level Ups,” which introduce “Game Plans” to use with skill boosts. Per description of the mode, you can have access of three pre-set “Game Plans” at any given time, allowing you to tailor your skills to your next opponent.
Going into my hands-on time, the idea of fighter “Longevity” in the Career Mode was definitely intriguing as well; essentially, the more damage your fighter takes in his career, the better the chance that his career will be cut short before he’s able to attain Hall of Fame status. This encourages you to be career-conscious, like real-life UFC fighters are, and understand the risks of the fight you’re getting into. Through two UFC fights, the post-match “Longevity” menu feedback showed that my fighter hadn’t taken any significant damage in his wins; as the Career Mode continues and a fighter earns the opportunity to take on real-life UFC stars, however, it’s almost certain that more shots will be taken and more care need to be given to the results of each match.
All in all, I came away from Career Mode with a very positive impression for EA SPORTS UFC. Not being able to use a pre-existing fighter might be a bummer to some fans of the sport who would prefer to use an established superstar, but the very structure of the mode suggests that the developers wanted to replicate the experience of an amateur fighter getting a chance on “The Ultimate Fighter” and taking their career to the next level in the UFC. With so many weight classes to choose from, and so many styles/disciplines to apply to your fighter, it’s easy to see strong replay value in coming back for another career. The addition of the previously-mentioned “Longevity” also suggests that no two careers will be the same, even if you use two fighters with the same weight class and style; take too many hard shots or submissions and one fighter becomes an early retiree while the other could become a MMA legend.
Even though I was playing the game on “Normal” difficulty for Career Mode, I still (as previously mentioned) took two losses in my run through “The Ultimate Fighter” which needed to be undone through rematches. While part of this may have been just getting used to controls and strategy, I do also think that the nature of the sport and EA SPORTS UFC as a game allows for a better sense that any fight could go any given way based on how you approach it and how the fight turns out. Renan Barão was a strong favorite, being undefeated in his past 33 fights, to defend his Bantamweight title against injury replacement T.J. Dillashaw at this past weekend’s UFC 173 event, but Dillashaw’s approach to the fight and execution of his game plan allowed him to score a huge upset TKO and bring the title home. The results never felt random in the game; take the wrong approach, and it’s easy to fall behind and end up on the losing side. I know, once EA SPORTS UFC is released and I start playing Career Mode for real, that I’m going to need to really learn the game in order to succeed against real UFC stars.
For the future of EA SPORTS UFC as a franchise, I think it would be cool to be able to spectate the other matches on fight cards throughout your Career Mode; as it stands now, you fight your own match and everything else gets simulated through on a menu. Again, I understand the focus on your own fighter’s career as you go through this mode, but it would be great in future games if you could see the results in-game and actually be able to scout your future potential opponents in that manner. Even if you were just able to see a “highlight reel” of how each match ended in a given card, it would provide that much more of a sense that your fighter is part of a larger whole and not just an island unto themselves in their move up the UFC ladder.
As I think back to my time with Career Mode at this event for EA SPORTS UFC, I have to imagine that this mode will see significant usage over the summer once the game is released and people start creating fighters and streaming their road to UFC stardom in-game. Here’s hoping that, as EA SPORTS UFC continues to develop as a game franchise, we can eventually see some manner of a “Connected Career Mode”—not unlike “Connected Franchise Mode” in Madden NFL or “GM Connected” in NHL—where created fighters can participate in an online version of the UFC and fight each other for titles and bragging rights.
Have any questions for Corey or myself regarding our time hands-on with EA SPORTS UFC? Head to our community and let us know, and your question might be featured on the latest episode of our GoodGameShow podcast!
Our impressions are gathered from an event which EA paid for our flight & accommodations.