Although I am not much of a sports fan, I love mixed martial arts. Games like football and basketball bore me, but MMA is fascinating. It’s athleticism mixed with ferocity, intelligence and brutality. To see a peak fighter like Jon Jones or Rafael Dos Anjos combat their opponents is like nothing else. The fluidity of their bodies, coupled with the intensity of their skill, makes for a spectacle showcase. And the anticipation of a championship changing hands, watching two competitors standing across the cage from one another, with gold in their eyes and fury in their gloves, is indescribable. And though I enjoy watching and training in MMA, I know I will never stand in the Octagon as Dana White wraps a belt around my waist. But I can vicariously live this fantasy through my Playstation, as I play EA Sports UFC 2.
When you pop the disc into your console, after the game has loaded up, you’re thrown into the action. You play as Robbie Lawler, UFC welterweight champion, in his toughest match yet, against contender Rory MacDonald. After four grueling and gory rounds, the player takes control in the fifth, learning how to strike and grapple in the midst of a real fight. The immense power of this moment is well-reflected throughout the game.
Striking feels dynamic and straightforward. Each punch and kick carries weight, reflected by the impact on your opponent’s body and the draining stamina bar in your corner. With a simple button combination or adjustment of the directional sticks, you can combine strikes in rapid succession and overwhelm your opponent. It’s gratifying when you land that powerful hook and blood spatters from the brow of your target. Striking is fun, easy to pick up, and easy to understand, while at the same time difficult to master.
Grappling, on the other hand, is not as satisfying. When grabbing your opponent in a clinch or taking them down to the mat, the game becomes less of a fighting game and more of a gambling game. Each transition and defense is a guess. Defense is based off of predicting where your opponent will move and what position he will take. It’s possible to combat this without relying on the prognosticative system, but doing so will drain your stamina quickly and leave you defenseless against ground-and-pound attacks. While the ground mechanics do not work as well, it is nonetheless enjoyable when you land that takedown or sink in a submission.
As an RPG fan, I love in-depth character creators, and UFC 2 is no stranger to this. Along with the ability to choose from over 250 existing fighters, the game includes options that allow you to build your own fighter and customize him or her in an extremely deep manner. This level of depth is not just limited to the number of aesthetic options you are granted, but in how you can personalize your fighter’s style. You can determine what statistics your character is well-versed in, whether he or she is a striker, grappler, or well-rounded; you can change what each button or button combo does, allowing for custom strikes, takedowns, or submissions; you can even give your fighter personalities that match another, real fighter’s trademark characteristics, from the gruff and intense walkarounds of Ronda Rousey to the confidence of Alistair Overeem. It’s really astounding to see the sorts of combinations one can throw together in order to create a completely unique fighter, or, in my case, to create analogous versions of real fighters not signed with the UFC. I only wish the system was even more in-depth, something more akin to Fight Night Champion’s character creator, where you can specialize moves to create chances of one-hit knockouts and your creation could partake in interviews which further determine his or her popularity within the game’s world.
There are also multitudinous ways in which you can play the game, as many as the different approaches one can take against another mixed martial artist. Along with your standard Quick Fight and Online modes, players can enter a quick stand-up match in Knockout Mode, take their custom fighter through his or her own very own UFC tenure in Career Mode, and even create a camp of fighters and customize them even further with loot and special gear in Ultimate Teams. These various modes allow for hours of gameplay and replayability, throwing you against new challenges and fights.
UFC 2 is a fun game, regardless of whether you enjoy mixed martial arts or not. With exception to a few gripes about how grappling is handled, the combat is strong and fun. The number of fantasy fights one can create, even including special downloadable competitors like Mike Tyson and Bruce Lee, leads to a seemingly-infinite string of fights. And much like in the UFC, upsets can occur at any moment, creating a sense of tension. In a single moment, your belt can be taken away from you and granted to another fighter. This lingering anxiety keeps you on your toes, filling you with a level of exhilaration equivalent to actually fighting. And when you snatch that win, victory tastes as sweet as the blood staining your knuckles.