Mixed Martial Arts is still the fastest growing sport in the world, with its premier organisation the UFC holding events all over the globe.
So it's no wonder that EA Sports, the biggest sports game publisher in the world, decided to get in on the action. We had quite an extensive playthrough at E3 2014 ahead of its launch in the US this week, so read on to find out if it's a knockout.
Tale of the tape
The first UFC game since THQ sold the rights to Electronic Arts, EA Sports UFC nearly never happened, thanks to a long and turbulent history between the two corporations. EA actually turned down the opportunity to make a UFC game when first approached, only to eat humble pie years later following the success of THQ's UFC Undisputed.
Now, the next-gen game's almost complete, ready to launch on 17 June in the US on the Xbox One and PS4. Having played several other MMA titles, I have to say that EA Sports UFC is the most complete one to date. Next-gen graphics are almost lifelike, gameplay flows beautifully, and most importantly, it manages to capture the essence of the sport's submission aspect.
Featuring something EA dubs "full body deformation", which simulates how flesh would behave when moving, impacted, cut, or twisted into positions they were never meant to adopt, the level of realism is astounding. Opponent AI is also intelligent enough to continuously adapt to your playing strategy - if you're constantly looking to take it to the ground, it'll anticipate and defend against your takedowns more effectively.
READ MORE: FIFA 15 First Play
There's now also a stamina bar to change the way you play. I found I wasn't able to just spam attacks any more, because poor energy management would leave me exhausted with nothing to attack or defend with. I didn't just lose attacking power either. I found to my character's detriment that I was more susceptible to being knocked out or submitted.
Stand-up fighting is both fluid and fun, with a large arsenal of attacks at my disposal, letting me choose how to best string effective combos together. There's no health bar here, just a graphic representation to show where the fighters are hurting.
However, it's on the ground that the game truly shines. Ground-and-pound is pretty straightforward, allowing me to beat my opponent senseless or soften them up for a submission. This is where the fun starts. Grappling and clinching required me to constantly change positions to seek an advantage, with an appropriate counter-position for the defending party. Submission attempts then trigger a minigame to see if it's successful. Essentially, I had to attack in one of four directions, while my opponent would guess, counter, and do the same in defense using the left and right analog sticks, almost like real Jiu Jitsu. Having trained in MMA myself, it's all quite a good approximation of the real thing.
The Ultimate Fighter
The UFC's popular reality TV show has also made it into the game as the perfect Career Mode representation. You create a fighter much like how you would create a player in FIFA 14, for example (except that you now kick people instead of footballs), with the option to download your EA game face to make it as realistic as possible. You then fight your way into the UFC just like the people on the TV show, going through training, winning the tournament, and then finally as a fighter on the UFC roster.
READ MORE: Battlefield Hardline First Play
As a game, this is the most realistic and comprehensive MMA game ever made to date. I haven't tried the online multiplayer yet, but EA promises online tiers based on a belt system, leading all the way up to championship belt fights. Details are sketchy at the moment, but the potential definitely looks encouraging. Its single-player experience is a truly engaging one with Career Mode, but everything will still hinge on multiplayer in terms of replay value and longevity.
READ MORE: Forza Horizon 2 First Play