PRESENTED BY EA SPORTS
Anyone who's played even the smallest handful of arcade brawlers has been asked to finish the fight before. That could be by stringing together a bout-turning combo that breaks a Street Fighter opponent's block, or tearing the other guy in half to conclude a vicious encounter in the Mortal Kombat series. But believe us when we tell you: you haven't seen a fight finished like the ones in EA SPORTS UFC 2, the studio's latest entry in its mixed martial arts simulation series.
Knocking someone out inside the octagons of UFC 2, or seeing yourself get total KOed, is like a poetry never before spoken in gaming. This is bruising, brutal, bloody – and so painfully realistic that it's only natural to wince when one fighter's knee connects with the other's chin and down they go, crumpling, neck snapping off the canvas, completely organically. This isn't canned animation, the sort of flashiness that'll get tired the second time you see it – this is UFC 2's new knockout physics, and they're glorious.
"It's a really accurate simulation of what the human body does when you shut the lights out," says UFC 2's creative director Brian Hayes. "That's our new knockout physics in layman's terms. It's basically very clever maths – the actual code involved is way beyond me, as a creative director. But how it looks is, like, if you knocked someone unconscious, it's not like turning off the switch to every single muscle, neuron and ligament. They'd have natural tension in places, in knees and hips for example. I still scream in amazement at what I'm seeing, and because these animations are procedurally driven, I'm seeing new ones every day. And I think really speaks to the depth of this feature, and what it means to the core gameplay experience."
That core gameplay experience is multifaceted and enveloping. The art of fighting is vastly improved upon EA's achievements with its previous UFC title of 2014, with never-better, near-photo-like visuals partnered with new defending mechanics and on-the-floor grappling advancements. When the trading of kicks and punches gives way to jujitsu techniques, the right stick is employed to guide the player's moves, directed via a new heads-up display. "The new grapple-assist HUD makes moving around on the ground somewhat analogous to just moving on your feet," Hayes says. "When you're on your feet, you move the left stick to go somewhere, and you go there. Using the right stick when on the ground, you can move into different positions. We saw the opportunity to make fighting on the ground a lot more accessible, and we went for it."
The more experienced you become with the system, the more like second nature it'll seem. And then you can begin to read your opponent, to predict and counter their moves, just as the very best competitors in the UFC have to do. "Once you're familiar with rolling through all the various positions, it almost feels like rolling in real life," Hayes enthuses, adding: "You can move from one strike to another and very organically find what combos work, but there are no input strings that you need to use, like the combos of arcade fighters. This game is less about learning combos and more about exploring your own distinct fighter's move-set. You have to manage your stamina, and that's just one way in which this is more of a combat sports simulation than a standard fighting game."
A great array of game options is open to players from the beginning, ranging from quick-start fights to the UFC Ultimate Team mode. Live Events will be mirrored in-game, allowing you to play cards taking place in the real world at any given time. Players can create their own fighters and events, and if the holds aren't doing it for you, there's Knockout Mode – one on one, old-school style, the first player to lose all their health falls down, eyes puffy and pride dented. Slip to just a hit away from collapse in Knockout Mode and your pad will pulse, rapidly, reflecting your chosen fighter's state of panic. It's just another way in which UFC 2 is bringing the high-impact world of this full-contact sport into the digital realm, with palpable force.
"We try to take any avenue available to us to improve player feedback, whether that's in an intuitive sense, or something more in your face," Hayes says. "We want to get the player as keyed into the experience as possible. And part of that is the visuals – in this game, you can even see fighters flinch, before they receive a blow. And when a punch lands, you have these new impact effects, where the skin will sort of ripple across the body or the face. We're really bringing these people to life."
Which is sure to be exhilarating for UFC fans – with 250 fighters on the UFC 2 roster, chances are that your favourite is in there, somewhere, ready to get high-kicking at your command. But when one of the sport's stars gets hold of the game, and finds themselves on the end of a beating, just how does that play out?
"When they see themselves in a bad position, they do not like it," Hayes confirms. "I played with Chris Weidman for half an hour. I was taking it easy on him, but then he said, 'Okay, come on, screw that, let's just play.' I was Lyoto Machida, and I took off the kid gloves and knocked him out with a blistering head kick. He went really quiet. At that point in his career, he was undefeated, and he turned to me and said: 'That's the first time I've seen myself lose.' And I see how that could be weird. Now, when I see an avatar of myself, that I've made in the game, being battered, I just think: that's never going to happen for real, because there's no way I'm ever stepping into an octagon. For the real UFC fighters though, I think it can be quite emotional at times."
At least they all get right back up again, though. It doesn't matter whether you've won or lost, injuries heal instantly and bragging rights get reset. Approached solo, online or locally, EA SPORTS UFC 2 puts the player inside the beating heart, lungs and liver of the world's premier MMA competition. Nothing is left out of this complete package, and whether you're guiding Conor McGregor to another belt or starting from scratch with a fighter crafted by your own colourful imagination, it guarantees absolute submersion in everything UFC. So what are you waiting for? Finish the fight, like you've never before.