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Before ‘EA Sports UFC’ can enter the Octagon, it needs to be built

Here’s our full EA Sports UFC review.

Previewing games is always a tricky business since you’re basically being asked to talk as much about the promise of an unfinished product as you are the product itself. Enter EA Sports UFC, a product that is so unfinished, there’s nothing to really see yet. Targeted for a spring 2014 release, the next-gen-only mixed martial arts sim represents the first step in a new franchise for EA Sports, which snatched the UFC license exclusivity away from THQ in 2012. 

EA-Sports-UFC---Henderson

Things have been mostly quiet since the deal was announced at E3 2012, but with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One just weeks away from release, EA Sports is now ready to share some details for its first next-gen-exclusive franchise. Just bear in mind as you read that the observations below are based entirely on screenshots and talk from Brian Hayes, creative director at EA Canada.

Hayes’ presentation focused almost entirely on how the amped up power of the coming consoles, coupled with EA’s new Ignite engine, allows for a greater degree of realism in the presentation. The former Fight Night dev readily admits that even the best-looking character models from the current hardware generation are little better than “good-looking action figures” plopped into virtual spaces. Using a series of screenshots and test animations that highlight facial expressions, Hayes runs through the specifics of what the souped-up presentation means.

Again, these are all basically promises. We have no clue what the game actually looks like yet.

The new hardware allows for a greater degree of visual fidelity in a number of areas. Fighter likenesses are much closer to their real-life counterparts, and not just in static screenshots. A demo reel showed off close-ups of multiple faces twisting into a range of expressions, and the “performance” is much more convincing than anything we’ve seen from the current-gen. Eyes twitch naturally and subtle muscle movements throughout the face produce much less of a wooden delivery than gamers are used to.

The focus on bringing out fine details extends to each fighter’s entire body as well. A series of screenshots highlight the more lifelike presentation. Muscles flex visibly with cords and tendons standing out, skin color changes with exertion, faces respond naturally with pained expressions as punches find their mark. There’s real contact now too, with skin visibly deforming around everything from basic jabs to full-on submission holds.

EA Sports UFC - LiddellThe added horsepower of the new consoles also allows for smarter AI. Computer-controlled fighters know what to expect from their opponents in terms of fighting styles, but they’ll also be smart enough to switch things up and adapt if you try something different.

Promises. EA Sports UFC isn’t close to unveiling a demo yet. The talking points all sound very promising and the screenshots – pulled from early builds that are nowhere close to complete – look good, but many questions still remain. We don’t know what shape the career mode will take, nor do we even have a sense of how many modes there will be. You’ve got to expect that the roster will be somewhat limited too, since this is EA Canada’s first year with the UFC license. Future iterations will no doubt build on the foundational work done in the 2014 release, but it’s reasonable to expect that this will be a scaled back experience in comparison to UFC Undisputed 3, although a much better looking one.

All that said, EA Canada is the crew behind the Fight Night series, so they know their way around games involving dudes beating on other dudes. We remain cautiously optimistic that the UFC license is in good hands, even if the virtual Octagon isn’t quite ready yet.