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I got some hands-on time with the demo of EA Sports UFC for the Xbox One and I'm loving it so far. It's a small and fast demo that gets you right into the thick of it without lollygagging around. You boot it up, it teaches you how to play and then throws you to the wolves.
The 2-gig demo that Electronic Arts let loose for the upcoming EA Sports UFC is the perfect way to win over a bunch of gamers (like myself) who have approached every new title from the software publishing giant with the sort of skepticism and leeriness that college girls take when passing by the local pub for retired old perverts.
All the footage has led a lot of gamers to the same level of excitement as baby boomers attending a Rolling Stones concert, but at the same time EA's track record of shoddy releases had me reeling from the hype. Thankfully, the demo helps assuage a lot of the fears I had going into this game, and it's likely to help win over a lot of skeptics who were also on the fence about whether or not they want to purchase the game when it releases on June 17th.
The first thing that the demo wisely does is ensures that you can't skip the tutorial, but that you learn all the very, very, very complex maneuvers the game throws at you. Do you enjoy Mortal Kombat, Tekken, King of Fighters or Soul Calibur's long and button heavy string-combo button presses and complex counter-attacks? You'll probably adapt to EA Sports UFC easily.
Sadly (depending on how you look at it) this game is not for casuals.
Thankfully, for gamers who don't like casual fighting games, this game offered the sort of complex fighting methodology that gamers like myself have longingly yearned for since the days of Virtual Pro Wrestling.
There are a lot of technical elements and different control combinations to learn, memorize and master.
You could essentially break the fighting mechanics down into three parts: striking, clinching and ground grappling.
For me, it was difficult trying to remember all the button prompts for each of the different positions, and I don't like 'Murican ground-rolling so I didn't pay much mind to the ground grapple. Nevertheless, I can attest that the grapple is fairly intuitive, if not somewhat crude. I mentioned before that it seemed similar to Smackdown Vs Raw 2010 and it really is, except the submissions take place in stages. So you'll need to find the right position to outdo your opponent and move into the next phase of the submission before you can fully submit them, as demonstrated in the Ronda Rousey video (embedded below, just in case).
As you get familiarized with the striking and the blocking – and by the way, the blocking and countering is absolutely fantastic; it's not quite on par to the fluidity of Fight Night Champion but it is very intuitive and extremely responsive – it's pretty easy to find a fighting rhythm that suits your play-style.
In the demo you have the option of playing as Jon Jones or Alexander Gustafsson. I lost the first four times playing as Jon Jones. Finding a rhythm was pretty difficult and I didn't really understand Jones' strengths, but eventually I got into the groove of focusing the fight on counter-attacks and keeping Gustafsson off balance by attacking his legs when he would guard his upper body.
If you want to excel at countering you must pay close attention to your opponent. Animation frame-counting may not be helpful for this game, but gauging the movement and attacks of your opponent is especially rewarding if you want to fight a smart fight.
I think the way the moves are balanced and the fighters react, it's the perfect bridge between something like Fight Night and games like Virtua Fighter.
While the game keeps a great pace and the fighting can easily draw you in (much more so than I was anticipating) there are a few things I should point out in order to keep the hype and anticipation in check:
First, there was some frame stutter on the Xbox One. It's become common place in the realm of console gaming. It only happened in between rounds or the introductions or replays – it was minor but still apparent. When you come from PC gaming where it rarely happens, it makes it stand out that much more when you see it happen on consoles. It never occurred during the actual fight, but it is something worth noting.
Second, some of the animation transitions are still a little jerky. Going from knockdowns to the guard position can sometimes look a little off-putting as they blend from the ragdoll effect to the ground-guard position. And sometimes you can see the stop and start transitions between close encounters like the clinch or moving through the different positions while on the ground. It's not major, but again, it's noticeable.
Third, not all the attacks feel as impactful as you might hope. In Fire Pro Wrestling the game prevents players from busting out big moves early on by having auto-counters take place, so instead players have to build up their momentum to pull off bigger moves by peppering opponents with smaller attacks. In EA Sports UFC you can pull off your strong striking attacks at the start of the match and it doesn't really appear to have much effect on opponents. They just absorb the attack and keep going.
However, I should point out that the reactions and shock-absorption of heavy attacks look and feel a lot more impactful as the match wears on. The brunt of each attack (light or heavy) is met with staggering, sweaty, bloody and bruised fighters. By the end of the match every single strike comes across as if it could be the final blow to bring on the K.O. So while some attacks look light and worthless at the satrt of the match, they swell up in importance, impact and response by the end of the fight.
Also, knockouts and knockdowns can really occur out of the blue, but mostly they're in response to an opponent's low stamina.
I should also add that the stamina meter is balanced perfectly. Spammers will die fast!
If you spam your blocking then your stamina decreases rapidly. However, successfully timed counter-attacks won't take away too much of your stamina bar. So players who are precision artists with block-countering will excel in a fight, block-spammers will not.
If you spam strikes of any kind your stamina will rapidly decrease and leave you open for an easy knockout.
If you spam trying to get out of a submission or from out of the grapple, you will also lose stamina rapidly. Once you get on the ground you have to keep your wits about you, stay calm and methodically and technically exercise your skills to get out of a tight situation. Literally it's just like real life, except you don't have to worry about losing any teeth.
The bottom line is that EA Sports UFC rewards skillful, patient players and punishes button-mashers like they're the scum of the universe, which means that this game will be a blast to play online!