How Realistic Is EA Sports UFC 2?

First published on GameSpot.

Mixed Martial Arts is an incredibly technical sport. In the Octagon, fighters are  forced to make multiple decisions and execute difficult physical moves  in seconds. But would real-life training in MMA make you better at  playing EA Sports UFC 2?  I had the opportunity to find out, thanks to a day of intense physical  MMA training with a veteran UFC fighter, followed by a hands-on session  with EA Sports UFC 2 on PlayStation 4.

First and  foremost: I am far from a professional fighter. While I boxed recreationally for the latter half of 2015, my experience with other  combat sports is practically non-existent. My MMA training consisted of  three sessions, focusing on teaching the fundamentals of striking and  grappling. It was a condensed crash-course in the martial art, and it  required me to get up and close personal with people I barely knew.  Nothing like introducing yourself to someone, tackling them to the  ground, pinning their limbs, and choking them out as a means of getting  to know them!

By the end of  the day I had gained a newfound appreciation of how truly complex the sport is. Matches aren't as straightforward as simply tackling somebody  to the ground and punching until the referee intervenes; making such a careless move would leave multiple openings for a skilled fighter to  counter and use any exposed body areas to their advantage. Using the knowledge I had gained from punching, kicking, and choking my training  partners in the Octagon, I jumped into UFC 2 with gusto.

Training had started with basic striking combos. It was natural, then, that the first  few combos I tested in-game consisted of strikes. Closing the distance  between myself and my opponent proved tricky, as they consistently  danced out of reach with solid footwork, although it was a relatively  easier task in-game. With less of an emphasis on exact positioning, the  game simply needed me to tap the left analog stick in my preferred  direction. Opting for a more aggressive strategy, I bull-rushed my  opponent and went on the offensive with a combination of punches and  kicks, concentrating particularly on my opponent's leg.

UFC 2 provides  you with tools real fighters don't have, with the HUD featuring a body  chart which highlighted parts that had sustained damage. With that  extraneous information, I could see that my opponent's character was  suffering a lot of punishment on the left leg, something which may have  been better hidden in a real fight. With that information I honed in on  it, and when the leg finally gave way, I went in for a takedown.

I had favoured the grappling section of my MMA training, so maybe that's why I liked  the options that opened up once the fight shifted to the ground game.  Forcing my opponent to the ground would have opened up many choices in  real-life, a lot of which get very technical in MMA. Instead of  presenting what could have been a lengthy list of potentially  overwhelming terminology for follow-up moves, however, EA Canada's  answer to this was to present a few selections which seemed to be based  on the context of my grapple position. As a result, I was still given a  fair amount of choice without being inundated by with options in the  heat of the moment.

My choices resulted in my fighter shifting speedily from a half-guard position to a  full mount, and then being rolled into a submissive position, all in  quick succession. Watching all the transitions happen one after another  in a short time span made me feel fatigued, but my fighter was able to  continue them effortlessly like a superhuman with endless pools of  stamina. Evidently some liberties had been taken with the speedy mount  transitions, but like in real-life, these cannot be defended  pre-emptively. Speaking to creative director Brian Hayes provided some  insights into the changes made to the ground game after the previous UFC game.

"This has been  new not just to us but [to] anybody that's attempted to express  jiu-jitsu and wrestling virtually with 3D animated characters," Hayes  said. "You could very often be in jiu-jitsu situations where you cannot  see 98 percent of your opponent if they're pushing your chin away and  you happen to be on your back. Visual feedback is not what you're  looking for, you're trying to feel where they are. It's always been a  challenging thing to translate something like that into a medium where  we can only give the user visual feedback."

In UFC 2, the  analog sticks help compensate for this lack of physical feedback. To  successfully transition to another position, I needed to quickly use the  left analog stick to move in my chosen direction and the right stick to  select what transition I would use--both relatively easy actions to  execute within a few seconds.

"Now you just  have to push the left stick to the left to see your fighter move in that  direction and attempt to transition in that direction. You might not  succeed in getting to the end point if your opponent does something  before you do, but it just is a little bit more intuitive not  necessarily from a Brazilian jiu-jitsu sense, but from a video game  sense. Many users are used to the idea that you push this stick in a  direction to go there. And that's the system we're trying to bring to  life," Hayes explained.

But I wasn't  quite yet victorious. With a personal preference for victories via  submission, I went in for an armbar, which triggered a mini-game. To prevent my opponent from breaking free, I needed to defend against  attempts to shake me off his character, facilitated by him pressing the  analog stick in one of four chosen directions. And to stop him from  escaping my hold, I needed to do the same just after he did, lest he  break out. Despite my best efforts, the mini-game's timings proved too  difficult and my opponent broke free, much to my displeasure. Still,  while the day's real-life training had touched upon submissions, I had  not executed anything more technical than a choke, so perhaps the  mini-game was an accurate depiction of the level of mastery an armbar submission requires.

For all the  options presented in the ground game, however, I was slightly  disappointed by the lack of options when fighters were pushed up against  the cage wall. While the wall game gets less attention in MMA, it still  contains some interesting techniques which make use of the environment,  something I saw little of in-game during my play session.

While the  real-life MMA training was helpful in teaching advantageous techniques  to employ in certain positions and gave me better insight into the  ground game portion of UFC 2, the advantage did not feel significant.  Mastery of the game is better achieved through practice, which I hope to  get a lot of when the game launches on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on March 15.

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