Review: UFC 2

March 16, 2016

UFC 2 is a must-buy for anyone who craves a realistic depiction of one man kicking another man in the head. Never has the act of planting your foot against the cranium of another human being been so meticulously, lovingly recreated. Each hyper-realistic blow sees bursts of spittle erupt from angry mouths, gashes form under angry eyes, and droplets of blood cling to angry beards.

It may be a deathless bout between two consenting adults, but UFC 2 is so polished, the veil of fantasy so far drawn back, that the violence feels more involved than the usual video-game fare of sneaking up behind someone and cutting their throat, or exploding their head with a sniper rifle, or engulfing them in a giant ball of fire summoned from the very air. That’s not a criticism – slow-motion shots of people being kicked in the head is 90 per cent of the reason UFC is so popular.

And EA’s sequel is definitely one for existing fans rather than casual gamers. It features 240 playable characters – both male and female – plucked from 10 weight divisions. All your favourites are here: Conor “The Bad Man” McGregor, “Renaissance” Raphael dos Anjos, Jon “Fancy Knuckles” Jones. They’ve also thrown in two versions of the rapist Mike Tyson, who is available as a pre-order bonus character.

But don’t let the inclusion of Iron Mike fool you; UFC 2 is a million miles from a pick-up-and-play brawler. There’s depth and nuance to the gameplay and even simple bouts require patience and strategy. A rapidly-depleting stamina gauge, for instance, is a constant concern that prevents you running in fists-first.

Part of the problem with UFC video-games (and, you could argue, with UFC itself) is that a lot of the action takes place on the ground. While ju-jitsu-style wrestling may be technically impressive, it lacks the visual flair of a punched nose and doesn’t translate easily to a control-pad. This is partially solved through the introduction of a floor-based mini-game in which players attempt to upgrade their position by reacting to on-screen prompts. It’s a kind of hyper-violent flow-chart that ends with someone having their arm pulled out of its socket.

Gameplay options are fairly limited – spoiler: it all happens inside a cage – with features including Career Mode, in which you can steer a grotesque projection of how you imagine yourself to look to UFC stardom, and a new stripped-back Knockout Mode that does away with floor-based combat.

UFC fans will lap it all up. Those without a personal investment in the sport will find a complex, sometimes niggly game with some frustratingly steep learning curves. Still, even Morrissey would take pleasure from finishing a bout with a flying knee to his opponent’s soon-to-be-broken jaw.

First published in City A.M.