It's EA Sports' newcomer of a franchise, the mixed martial arts fighting game UFC, that kicks of this year's barrage of sports sims with its second outing, UFC 2.
Building upon 2014's flawed, but generally well-received EA Sports UFC, EA Canada have spent the last two years creating a feature-rich sequel that's a marked improvement on the previous entry. UFC 2 screams player modes in the manner that you'd expect from any game coming from the EA Sports stable.
Players can embark on their own career using one of the included real-life UFC athletes or create their own (even using their own face via EA's Game Face tech). For the first time players can choose to play through the career mode with a female fighter.
The full match card of an upcoming UFC event can be played or fans can create their own event. If players just want to punch and kick their way to victory, Knockout Mode lets them do exactly that removing clinches and the ground game from the match.
Ultimate Team, the premier game mode for most players across the EA Sports ranges, comes to UFC 2. You can create up to five fighters across four weight classes: lightweight, middleweight, heavyweight and women's bantamweight. Using the same sort of trading card system in other EA Sports UT modes, players can add special moves, perks and attributes to their fighters and take them into single player or online Ultimate Championships.
UFC 2 also allows players to jump right into a quick unranked online match or partake in the ranked championships.
The skill challenges should be the first stop for players wanting to learn the nuances of the game's extremely deep combat mechanics. The challenges will take players through the offensive and attacking strategies required to succeed in the very different stand-up, clinch and ground components of the games.
With some skills under player's belts, the practice mode can be used to further hone their fighting prowess. And it's only through plenty of practice that you are going to discover the immense depth offered by the game.
There's no doubt that the most direct and immediate route to fun is when kicking and punching one another Thai boxing style. But UFC 2, like it's real-life counterpart is about much more than two people hitting each other.
Moving away from the stand-up game opens up more complex, more challenging, but ultimately more rewarding gameplay that you'll not find with any other fighting franchise. Clinches offer a bit more strategy and the opportunity to give your opponent a good knee in the face via a Thai clinch.
The ground game is where the game starts to get divisive. Definitely the most complicated part of the game and the mechanic that'll sort the men from the boys. There's no cheap shots when either fighter is on the ground. Two bodies shuffling around for the best position isn't nearly as exciting as the sound of a good punch creaking into a jaw, but a bout can easily be won or lost with a submission.
Unlike last time where negotiating your fighter during the clinches and grappling could be a bit difficult to understand, UFC 2 gives players a little more prompting removing some of the confusion, especially for new players. But it doesn't take long to grasp the logic and learn some very powerful game-changing techniques.
UFC 2, like it's real-life counterpart, offers players a diverse fighting experience bringing together some of the most brutal and exciting martial arts in one game. With such a huge depth no two matches are going to be the same. Each combatant can seek to gain the upper hand using their most proficient discipline, whilst exploiting the others weaknesses. Going beyond two opponents just hitting each other, player's fortunes can switch in a moment, creating some truly heart-in-mouth situation.
Using an improved physics system, combatants react more naturally to each hit. The animations are very fluid, sometimes you'll notice something not quite right, but considering the intensity and speed of the combat, the developers have done an amazing job of getting the moves to flow into one another. Also, the real-time physical damage modelling is something else. Faces get bruised and cut, whilst limbs redden. Blood sprays and drips on the ground. No other game honestly and vividly portrays the viciousness of martial combat like UFC 2.
Building upon their previous experience the developers have polished up their UFC game franchise and made it a worthy addition to the EA Sports range of premium sport simulations. As well all the new modes, the subtle refinements to the gameplay serve to make UFC 2 one of the most brutal and intense fighting games ever made.
EA Sports UFC 2 is out on March 17th on Xbox One and PS4, but is available now for Xbox One EA Access subscribers.