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We step into the octagon with EA Sports UFC

Here’s our full EA Sports UFC review.

If we’re picking one thing that EA Canada is most successful at bringing across in its upcoming EA Sports UFC mixed martial arts fighting game, it’s the brutality of the sport. That may not be a surprise if you’re familiar with the studio’s Fight Night series, which renders the sweet science of boxing with astonishing realism. EA Canada’s talents translate well to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Octagon, as we learned from a first-time hands-on with the game.

Story/Concept

Make your name. EA Sports UFC isn’t narrative-driven in the same way that, say, Fight Night Champion was, but it does feature an Ultimate Fighter Career Mode for the first time in a UFC game. We didn’t see it firsthand — the hands-on was all about seeing the nitty-gritty fighting — but you’ll create a UFC bruiser of your very own and then punch, kick, and grapple your way to excellence.

Punch everyone. Outside of the career mode, EA Sports UFC offers plenty of opportunities to get your mixed martial arts on. There is, of course, the expected online/offline exhibition mode for one or two players, in which you choose some fighters and make them brutalize each other.

The first head-turner in the next generation of true-to-life fighting games.

There’s also a pair of online modes that aim to offer a slightly deeper experience. Online Rivalries work a little like the one-off exhibitions, except it’s you and a friend facing off while the game tracks head-to-head stats over time. Online Championships, which EA Canada compares to FIFA’s head-to-head seasons, is UFC‘s core online mode. You work your way from the starting white belt division all the way up to black belt, taking on similarly ranked players from the game’s online community.

In addition to the gameplay modes, EA Sports also features FighterNet, which tracks your personal stats and provides access to the highlight reels generated from your fights. You’ll also find additional content, such as updates (and likely promotions) from the real-world UFC as well as strategy videos created by EA.

Gameplay

Punching and kicking. The combat at the heart of EA Sports UFC is relatively straightforward. Four face buttons, four human limbs. On a PlayStation 4 controller — the console EA Canada demoed the game on — Square/Triangle handle left/right punches and X/O handle left/right kicks. The L1 and R1 buttons apply modifiers to these attacks, allowing for fancier, more damaging strikes, such as the so-called “Superman punch.”

Defending is similarly simple. Holding down the right trigger puts your fighter into a defensive stance, effectively negating half the damage delivered by incoming blows. You can cancel even more damage out by correctly blocking high or low, and you can parry — a tricky maneuver to pull off — if you time the button press just right.

All-important grapples are initiated with the right analog stick, though the controls remain roughly the same once two opponents are locked in a death grip. Punches, kicks, and blocks work the same as they do when the fighters are uncoupled, and right stick can be used post-grapple to adjust positioning.

Epic choke hold. Submission holds are where things get tricky. An attacking player triggers one using the R1 modifier, at which point a analog stick-dependent minigame kicks off. The defending player tries to escape by pushing the right stick up, down, left, or right. This is visualized on screen  in a four-point indicator; when the attacking player sees an opponent struggling in a particular direction, those efforts can be guarded against by pushing his or her own right stick in the same direction.

That’s only part of it. A win by submission is a multi-stage process. While the attacking player defends against an opponent’s struggles, he or she must also watch for a pop-up on the submission indicator that serves as a cue to quickly flick the left stick in a particular direction. We learned during the demo that the window is extremely short, so there’s a definite learning curve. Flick the stick in time and you’ll take your opponent deeper into the submission. EA Sports UFC features 29 different submission moves, and each one breaks down into a varying number of stages.

Presentation

Pain never looked so good. EA Canada proved with the Fight Night series that it could deliver frightening amounts of battered body realism, and EA Sports UFC carries that torch forward into the new generation of hardware. The press release touts bullet points like “Full Body Deformation” and “Real-Time Exertion,” but seeing is believing in this case. The game isn’t perfect photorealism, but the fighters — the way they move, the way their muscles tense, the way veins pop out and sweat pools — are extremely lifelike.

Don’t take our word for it; just watch this unedited match footage:

Takeaway

EA Sports UFC feels like EA Canada’s attempt to replicate what it accomplished with Fight Night Round 3 on the new console platforms. The boxing game appeared early in the PlayStation 3/Xbox 360’s life, and it was immediately heralded as a visual powerhouse. EA Sports UFC, which is only coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, feels very much like it’s being positioned as the first head-turner in the next generation of true-to-life fighting games.

Mixed martial arts fans won’t have to wait much longer to find out; EA Sports UFC is out on June 17, 2014.

(Media © Electronic Arts Inc.)