EA Sports UFC preview: next-gen tech-downs

By Andrew Yoon, Jun 13, 2013 8:15am PDT

When THQ crumbled, so too did its excellent UFC Undisputed series. Developer Yukes successfully adapted many of the nuances of the sport of MMA, and seeing EA take over the UFC license was met with a bit of skepticism--especially after EA Sports MMA failed to make its mark.

A new generation means brand new tech, and EA Sports UFC is taking full advantage of the company's new Ignite engine. At this year's E3, EA Sports focused almost entirely on the tech running the game, rather than showing actual gameplay. However, what they showcased was so impressive that it made me excited for the potential of their take on MMA.

As a sport, MMA is incredibly intimate. Unlike boxing, it's not just about two opponents trading blows. The ground game, for example, is a struggle for position and dominance; it inherently demands subtlety, something gaming has never been particularly good at conveying.

Given how close-up an MMA game will have to get to its fighters, the big-budget, high-definition approach that EA Sports is taking is much appreciated. While Madden simply getting prettier may not inherently improve the core gameplay, MMA is as much about the visuals as it is about input. For this sport, better graphics do a better experience make.

EA Sports MMA features some spectacular character models. But, it's what Ignite is doing to these fighters that makes the game so exciting. "Full Body Deformation" is a rather off-putting feature to highlight, but it perfectly captures what fans are looking for in a virtual representation of the sport. "Real-time vein popping, skin discoloration, muscle flex" would be impressive in any game, but in UFC, it's actually part of the gameplay.

The cuts and bruises that the virtual fighters are subject to look incredibly lifelike. In a presentation, EA Sports showed five different photos of battered heads and asked us to point out which one was rendered by the game. It was difficult to spot, given how believably rendered the virtual blood and sweat was. EA Sports calls their approach to damage "non-linear," as injuries aren't per-determined like in most fighting games. Instead, EA Sports claims that it can track the physics of every strike and calculate the displacement of skin and simulate injuries more realistically. The tech demo was certainly believable.

There were a lot of promises made during EA Sports' MMA presentation, and while we'll have to wait and see if the Fight Night team can deliver, their goals certainly sound promising,. The possibility that a single perfectly-landed strike can result in a KO keeps true to what makes real-life matches so compelling to watch. The potential of a more strategic submission battle is exciting, as fighters will have to work through multiple back-and-forth phases to win a submission. Properly translating the ground game is probably the most difficult task an MMA game has to undertake, and fans are divided over how "accessible" that kind of gameplay should be.

While the promises certainly sound good, there's no way of knowing close to realizing them EA Sports is. Oddly, the only thing we could interact with a controller was a tech demo showing off the highly-detailed character models. We could manipulate their faces and see them emote in real-time on PS4-spec machines. And that's it.

The Undisputed franchise may be over, but the spectacle of EA Sports' big-budget, next-generation approach to UFC is undeniably appealing. Hopefully, they can deliver when the game releases on PS4 and Xbox One next year.

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