The first thing that will strike you in Ultimate Fighting Championship is the rather long introductory FMV sequence, which comprises of action taken from the real UFC. You will then notice that it is violent. Really violent. Not comedy grappling a la WWF – these people are punching and kicking (and almost anything else) the living poop out of their opponents. Which, to be honest, bodes well for a game based on the ‘sport’ – after all, violence is fun.
Down to the game proper then. The options are a fairly standard one-on-one combat set up – tournament, single fight, training, etc – along with the pleasant inclusion of a multiplayer tournament and the opportunity to create a player. However, try to actually take part in a fight without consulting the training mode, and you will realise that the fighting itself is anything but standard.
So, after a couple of resounding defeats, a visit to Big John’s Training Mode looks like a good bet. Well, not really. Enter the training mode, and you have the opportunity to choose any of the 22 fighters, and proceed to meet Big John in the ring. Then he verily kicks your arse. No teaching, just arse whupping – your learning in the game is confined to a move list in the pause menu, which is of relatively little help if you are not familiar with the UFC terminology. However, an amount of experimentation will yield you being able to knock your opponent to the floor and break his arm.
With confidence high, you may wish to practice your newfound skills in an exhibition match (a single fight by another name). Again, the choice of combatants presents itself, and you can also choose your computer opponent. After a few bouts, it becomes apparent that one wins or loses very quickly. Upright fighting only takes place until one of the fighters knocks the other to the ground, at which point getting on top of your opponent becomes the priority. You may then operate a submission (or ‘tap out’) move, which makes the bout draw to an immediate close, regardless of the respective energy levels of the brawlers. And it is this that is the games primary flaw.
A match will almost certainly take the following format – a few token punches and kicks from each combatant, followed by attempts to tackle the other fighter to the floor until one man is successful, then a couple of punches on the floor, and finally attempts to perform a tap out interspersed with blocks, reversals and rolling around the floor until someone wins. This will either take a couple of seconds, or flipping ages. The floor based grappling will be broken up by the referee, but nowhere near soon enough. This is a shame, because the upright battling can be quite spectacular.
Another problem is the control method. To perform a tackle, jab cross and circle. To do a tap out, press a direction and either cross and circle or square and triangle. Hence the fighting degenerates into randomly smashing the two aforementioned button combinations while moving your thumb around the d-pad, which is not exactly conducive to a satisfying experience.
But surely the create a player option must add some variety to the proceeding? Well, sadly no. The problem is that there are too many restrictions on you creation – he (no females) must be between 5’10” and 6’02”, and there are similar bounds on the weight. You can assign strengths to your player, but these make little actual difference to how he plays. So we end up with a fighter who is remarkably similar to the other 22 combatants, and no fat midgets. Damn it.
So we are left with the meat and potatoes of any fighting game – the one player tournament and two player modes. The tournament consists of a string of knock out matches, as expected, but with no continues. So you get past a few opponents, maybe have an unlucky loss, and have to start again. Unfair. It is not a very hard tournament, admittedly, which points to the fact that the developers took away the continues to make it a bit harder, which is pure laziness.
The two-player game also adds little to the game, unfortunately. The fights follow a similarly predictable format to the single player, and are as such annoying in the same way. If you can agree with your opponent not to resort to ground battles, then some enjoyment can be garnered, but it is nothing to eclipse other, more distinguished fighters.
I have painted a pretty dire picture so far, and this is not the entire story. Though the matches usually follow a predictable and short format, there are the occasional gems. Once in a while, there will be a great upright battle for supremacy, followed by frantic ground based fracas, featuring all sorts of attempts to finish the fight being reversed, and finally, one weary fighter will manage a sly tap out. It is this chance of a quality battle that keeps you plugging away at the game, despite most fights being infuriating. And to make matters worse – these decent fights could have been more frequent with more development time. It should be much harder to knock your opponent down, and the tap out moves should be much more complicated to perform. While they are at it, the annoying ‘smack!’ noise that is made every time you choose something from a menu can go too.
There are a few positive points though – the fighters themselves look quite nice, and presumably resemble their real life counterparts. The menus are easy to navigate, and there is a multitude of nice looking loading screens, which appear for a pleasantly small time. The build up to the fights is also (to some, painfully) authentic, and requires no less than six pressings of ‘start’ to get into the fight itself on standard settings. This can be decreased in the options, though.
A highly flawed, occasionally fun, fighting game. Fans of the UFC, who are probably somewhat sparse in the UK, may get considerably more out of this than others, but even they will struggle to actively enjoy it. Had it been longer in development, the fights could have been more balanced, which would have improved the game no end.