Game Picks

Game Picks: 'EA Sports UFC'

CorrespondentJuly 10, 2014 

There’s a perception of UFC among those who don’t watch it that it’s a fast-paced and violent sport, not all that different from kickboxing. The highlight reel moves that glamorize the sport tend to be haymakers or roundhouses to the head – blows that send foes reeling to the ground. When you actually watch UFC, however, you realize just how little of the sport involves those big hits, and how much of it is spent on the ground by two men, trapped by one another, desperately trying to get the upper hand.

Whether you take to UFC depends largely on whether you can bear those ground struggles. If you can, they’re fascinating. If you can’t, they’re tedious. “EA Sports UFC” ($59.99; Rated T) is for those who can.

For better or worse, “EA Sports UFC” does a brilliant job of simulating the sport of mixed martial arts, from the opening standoff to the closing tap or knockout. It is great for diehard fans, but is also well-built for players who may not yet understand the intricate nature of a fight.

Learn the moves

The first thing you do when you fire up the game is barrel through an 18-step tutorial. While this might not seem like the best way to get you to jump into the action, it is necessary. Striking while upright, grappling while upright, take-downs and grappling on the ground are given an equal share of time, and if you don’t pay attention, you’re bound to get frustrated quickly.

For a while, it is possible to stand up and hammer on buttons and do just fine. As a beginning player, this is actually how you’ll win most of your fights. Unless you specifically hold down one specific button, the game assumes you want every blow to be a head shot. If you’re not playing an opponent smart enough to block a whole bunch of predictable head shots, you can manage a couple of knockdowns early and win by KO before that opponent even knows what happened.

Get close to your opponent or knocked on the ground, however, and it’s a whole different story.

Blows to the head or the body only really do damage if there is momentum behind them, and once you start grappling, everything is about position. You need to position an upright grapple to be able to throw knees to the gut. You need to position your ground game so you can get on top and begin a “ground and pound” session. If you don’t know how to manipulate the bumpers and sticks to gain the correct positioning, your opponent will soon figure it out, and your match will be over very soon. While it feels nearly impossible at first, it’s only a few hours of play later that you’ll be bloodying faces and forcing submissions.

Options and modes

The options of “EA Sports UFC” are minimal but sufficient: you can stage single matches, participate in a career mode, fight others online and join an online league. The Rivals mode pits you against friends who also have the game, and of course there’s training, which is basically a repeat of the tutorial. That’s it, but there really doesn’t need to be anything more.

Like the sport it is simulating, “EA Sports UFC” is less about title belts and careers and more about the simple, savage drama of two very strong humans facing off against one another. As far as conveying the tension and strategy of such a confrontation, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing much better than this.

“EA Sports UFC” is now available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

New this week: “Mousecraft” (PS4, Vita) looks like an odd-but-cute little game where you stack Tetris-style blocks to help Mice get to their cheese. The final episode of Telltale’s episodic noir-fairytale adventure “The Wolf Among Us” (PC, X360, PS3) arrives this week as well, promising resolution to what has been an involving, and sometimes shocking, story.

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