The bell rings for the first round and my fighter looks as terrified as I am.
This is our shot at the Middleweight title. Bruce McManly (my created character) has been training hard for this, even though his opponent is still leagues above him in skill and victories. But, in the Octagon, all men are equal until proven otherwise.
UFC 2 lands on March 17 as the sequel to its fun, but ultimately flawed, predecessor UFC.
As the second collaboration between EA Sports and the leading MMA promotion, you’d expect it to pummel UFC into the canvas and declare itself new top dog. Luckily for fans of the series, UFC 2 is a marked improvement on the original.
That’s not to say that UFC 2 is without flaws though – far from it.
This game has a steep and punishing learning curve that does a splendid job of making you think and feel like a complete tool.
Having only ever been in one real fight in my life, I felt significantly out of my depth for the first hour or two as I flailed aimlessly at opponents’ heads before they took me to the ground and systematically began to wrench my arm off. That’s pretty much how my real-life fight ended too, by the way.
Luckily, there are extensive training measures you can (and absolutely should) acquaint yourself with before stepping into the Octagon.
The three main ‘phases’ of a fight are all covered in both offensive and defensive scenarios, so there’s no excuse not to go in 100 per cent ready, and save yourself an embarrassing ass-whooping.
While you’re wriggling around on the floor trying not to get your leg snapped in half, prompts and commands will appear to help you choose your next move, not too unlike the dreaded quick-time event. Get it right and you’re golden, back in the fight. Get it wrong and you’re staring down the barrel of an untimely defeat.
While these prompts are certainly helpful, you’ll find yourself watching them instead of the gorgeous visuals going on behind them, which is a real shame, because UFC 2 is undoubtedly stunning to look at.
While it’s expected that the likes of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey look the business, the impressive roster of over 240 fighters across 10 weight divisions (including two women’s) all look and feel like fleshed out, meat-and-bones warriors. A couple do slip into the uncanny valley, but you can forgive the odd questionable face when the rest of the game looks so good.
Fighting – for the most part – feels robust and weighty. Skin ripples on contact and drops of blood and sweat fly across the canvas with each well placed hit. Cuts and bruises appear on faces and bodies over time, giving the impression that these are actually two people knocking seven shades of shit out of each other in the cage.
It’s arguably the most important thing to nail – the feeling of an MMA fight – and UFC 2 gets it right for the most part.
However, while you’re frantically trying to time your kicks and punches, the on-screen avatars can sometimes move unnaturally as there’s no option to properly string together combos. With real MMA fights these things are obviously done flawlessly, but you can become painfully aware of the fact you’re playing a videogame if you take a second to sit back.
It’s an odd problem to have when a game looks too good and reacts too well, but it can detract from the enjoyment of landing a special knockout in a close-fought match if it doesn’t feel just right.
Step out of the ring, though, and there’s plenty to do in the way of new modes. Among the several additions, there’s a nifty KO mode that allows you to do away with all the fancy-pants wrestling and cuddling, and just punch your opponent in the head until they pass out. Great for pick-up-and-play score settling if you can’t be arsed with the intricacies of the sport.
There’s also the obligatory Ultimate Team mode (this is EA, remember) that tasks you with creating five fighters in different weight divisions and have them slug it out to unlock new moves, styles and upgrades via online or offline card-collecting.
If you’ve ever played an EA Sports game you’ll know the drill, but it’s a welcome distraction from the meat-baggery of Career mode and general fisticuffs.
Speaking of Career mode, this is where I spent most of the time with my mate Bruce McManly. It’s your standard ‘started from the bottom now we’re here’ type stuff where you level up your fighter to challenge for the title in your given weight category.
Between fights, you need to train up with a series of mini-games. Pushing harder in these yields greater physical rewards, but train too hard and you risk buggering your body up with injuries. While fun to begin with, these mini-games can become pretty tedious, and are skippable if you’re just looking forward to the clobber-fest.
UFC 2 is a real mixed bag of mixed martial arts. Despite its struggles in uncanny valley and sometimes unsatisfactory fist-swinging, it’s an incredibly enjoyable title that fans of the sport will get a lot of fun from, and it might even be enough to draw in new comers.
Oh also, you’ll be happy to hear that Bruce won his title fight by judges’ decision. Unfortunately, he then lost five fights in a row by total knockout. Badda-bing, badda-boom.