As the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle once said: "Kick, punch, it's all in the mind." Or, in the case of EA Sports UFC 2, the sequel to EA's first major MMA outing: "Kick, punch, it's all in the controls." See, while this year's adaptation of the popular bloodsport is as brutal as ever, the core fighting gameplay seems to have regressed a little.
It's not like the game hasn't evolved, though: there are plenty of new modes – most notably UFC Ultimate Team, in which you create a team of up to five fighters, earn coins, and buy packs that contain new moves and upgrades for your punchy posse. While getting a 5-star uppercut isn't as exciting as getting Ronaldo in FIFA or Odell Beckham Jr in Madden, it's cool how every one of your character's moves are rated, so you can see your strengths and weaknesses.
Of course, with an Ultimate Team mode comes two currencies, and one of those currencies, UFC Points, is purchasable with real money. The good news is that packs don't cost much – we were able to buy the most expensive pack after playing three matches – but it can give people an unfair advantage in online fights. Strangely, in a move that's too close to mobile gaming to our liking, you can watch adverts in-game to earn coins, which does feel a little too dystopian.
There are also Live Events – which allow you to bet on upcoming UFC fights in order to earn rewards – a Custom Event Creator that lets you select everything from the fightcard right down to the referees, and an online Title Chase mode, in which you work your way up from outsider to title holder. Career mode also has a Fight Night-style training camp feature, where you train in different disciplines before every fight. UFC 2 has new content in spades, and while the Career mode is an easy favourite thanks to its depth and unpredictability, always throwing new scenarios and stipulations at you, Live Events is a strong mode, too, and is a good way for new fans of the sport to get into it.
While these are all welcome additions to the franchise, you'll probably want to avoid all online modes for the time being because of some terrible gameplay tweaks. While the standing gameplay of punching and kicking feels as satisfying as ever, the clinching system is horribly unbalanced. Instead of clinch positions transitioning fluidly, it all feels very disjointed, and whoever starts the clinch has a huge advantage over their opponent thanks to an inability to escape from it. Play a match online, and more often than not your matches will be a race of who can clinch first, followed by 20 seconds of punches to the head and a knockout.
The ground game isn't very strong either. While the new HUD is quite helpful, telling you your available transitions and how to perform them, it still feels a little disjointed, and is always tilted in the favour of the fighter who initiated things. Submissions, meanwhile, are nigh-on impossible to execute – despite the new Skill Challenges and Practice Mode teaching you how to perform them, as well as every other mechanic in the game. In fact, in all of our fights, we have never lost to – nor won by – a submission. Perhaps all of these problems are why Knockout Mode has been introduced – a fun romp to play with friends that limits you to kicking and punching, with no dastardly clinches and ground holds allowed.
Thankfully, as already alluded, the standing gameplay has been improved. Thanks to the upgraded blocking system and the punches and kicks being simpler to pull off, the game is a very tactical affair when the fighters are standing; unleashing a flurry of punches just doesn't work anymore, so you have to be careful and considered, sniping whenever you see an opening. Every move carries weight with it, and seeing your fighter collapse on the mat or stumble back from a hard kick is enough to make you flinch. When matches get to the later rounds, they become very tense and nervy, and the feeling of losing (or winning) by one expert move can be soul-crushing (or satisfying).
Of course, while some of the gameplay can be pretty ugly, the graphics certainly aren't. The detail is stunning, from beads of sweat through to strands of hair – show this game to someone who hasn't even heard of video games, and you could easily convince them that it's the real thing. Every fighter – there are 250 of them – no matter how unpopular or obscure, has been scanned so that their every move and every facial expression, is perfectly mapped for realism, making the game an absolute joy to look at.
This effort has also been put into the customisation aspects of UFC 2 as well, with every aspect of your fighter being tweakable. As well as the Game Face feature, there are tons of sliders that allow you to make some absolute abominations, and the ability to customise every fighter's ratings, styles, and attributes is also there to mess around with, too.
Technically, the game is sound, with no framerate issues or bugs being present, and the online matchmaking is very well done, only taking seconds to find someone to play against. Of course, due to the aforementioned clinches and ground gameplay, it's likely to be over in seconds, too.
EA Sports UFC 2 certainly has a lot of new additions for fans new and old, but it still hasn't gotten the gameplay right just yet. The standing game is satisfying and has some real weight to it, but the floor and clinch mechanics are where things go downhill. This content-laden sequel packs a fair few punches, then, but ultimately doesn't deliver the knockout blow.