While it has certainly died down in recent years, the Madden curse was an oft-discussed topic after a string of misfortunes followed several cover athletes featured on EA Sports’ flagship franchise. With Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor emerging as UFC’s signature fighters, coupled with the inclusion of women for the first time, it made sense the pair of them would adorn the cover of EA Sports UFC 2.
Unfortunately, both went down in their most recent fights (Rousey to Holly Holm at UFC 193 and McGregor to Nate Diaz at 196), which removed a little luster. Now the question is whether it was a bad omen for the game itself. Let’s touch gloves and find out.
After last year’s Undisputed-inspired overhaul, UFC 2 looked to smooth out some of the rougher edges that found their way into the control scheme. Striking remains largely unchanged, mapping two punches and two kicks to the face buttons, though now only the left bumper works as a modifier. Blocking, meanwhile, has been split into high (right bumper) and low (right trigger).
Working in the clinch and on the ground has received more attention as the complicated array of stick rotations has been dumped in favor of a straightforward approach. Now stick movement is only needed in the four cardinal directions, and a handy on-screen meter displays your options — for example, pressing right to enter half guard, left to go north/south, up to mount, etc.
There isn’t a hierarchy system in place, meaning whoever can fill the meter first will see their move executed. Blocking transitions is still done with the right trigger, but you can’t simply hold it down to endlessly thwart your opponent. This time you’ll get heavy feedback from the controller and your stamina will drain quickly.
Speaking of stamina, it continues to be a thorn in EA’s efforts to emulate the world of MMA, and the way it plays out frequently comes across as unfair. It’s incredibly rare to see your computer-controlled opponent get gassed no matter how many haymakers they miss or how much you grind them on the ground. Conversely, we felt our fighters tired far too quickly.
Submissions haven’t really changed as you’ll still play the directional mini game, blocking (or trying to escape) with the right stick and cinching the hold in deeper with a flick of the left stick. There are times where you’ll be able to transition into a different move — such as going from a choke to an arm bar — but it’s still basically the same system.
Presentation was the highlight of EA Sports UFC, and it has been refined for the follow up. Fighters look like their real-world counterparts, and the way fists and feet connect with jaws and ribs creates plenty of painful-looking moments. Blood may flow a tad easily, but it looks good, as do the swelling and bruising that goes along with it. You’ll see some awkward animations when one move basically overrides another being unleashed simultaneously, but it’s not too common.
On the audio side things feel pretty much identical. Mike Goldberg and Seth Rogan are good at raising the volume during exciting moments, like a flash knockout, but for the moment-to-moment stuff it quickly blends into the background. Pre-fight introductions are strong for real fighters whereas those for created characters sound cobbled together.
While UFC 2 offers far more ways to play than its predecessor, its Career Mode is nearly identical, which is a disappointment. You once again make your way through The Ultimate Fighter, earning a contract with UFC and starting your ascent through the ranks. Early on you’ll be given three potential fights to choose from, though as your career takes off the game will sometimes mandate opponents.
Each fight is preceded by a training camp that typically consists of three activities — like working the heavy bag, defending takedowns and so on. Random events will sometimes cut training short, however, or increase/decrease the effectiveness of a specific discipline. Point blank, those things happen too often, and we’d say nearly half of our camps were cut short by something.
Even when camps aren’t abbreviated, they’re pretty dull. Thankfully they’re quite short, too, and it doesn’t long to get to the next fight. As you win you’ll earn fans and evolution points, which are then used to buy new moves and passive boosts that can be upgraded multiple times. It’s all decent enough, but it’s just lacking any juice to make you feel like you’re part of the UFC.
Ultimate Team, a staple across EA Sports’ suite of titles, has found its way into UFC 2. Here you select a crew of five fighters and pit them against other UT players, whether head-to-head or as A.I. versions of them. You’re constantly earning coins to use toward upgrades and boosts, even when you’re not actively playing, though it feels like a work in progress.
Knockout Mode is also new, and it’s a natural for local multiplayer with friends. Here each fighter has a few life bars and hard blows will take one away. Exhaust your bar and its lights out. The mode strips away things like takedowns and submissions, making for a fun and focused time. As with last year, online play can be really enjoyable as long as you have a stable connection and an opponent that’s not looking to cheese moves.
Given nearly two years to polish and refine the original effort, EA Sports UFC 2 succeeds in some areas while still needing significant work in a few others (more dynamic Career Mode, better implemented stamina system). Still, its quality representation of the sport and deep roster should make it a solid investment for MMA fans.