EA's UFC 2 is sort of a big deal. It's got Conor McGregor on the cover with Ronda Rousey for a start, and there's a bit of hometown pride on that score.
It’s also one of the more realistic games that you can get dedicated to the sport. The officially licensed game is in its second incarnation, and it’s still got a bit of a learning curve.
That's not to say that beginners should stay clear of this title. UFC 2 actively encourages players of all skill levels, easing you in with a bit of training, allowing you to build your skills before you step into the octagon.
The recent beta had a limited number of modes on offer, including skill challenges, ultimate team and online fight mode that pits you against other players. Enough to get a flavour of the game, but keeping back just enough to keep us hungry for the full version when it launches next month - and not just the Iron Mike appearance.
Skill challenges are mini games that help you get to grips with clinches or ground work; practice mode allows you free reign to make mistakes and hone your skills. A few rounds at this before you step into the one on one fights is advisable, unless you want to
The ultimate team concept isn't new to EA - it already exists for Fifa, for example - and allows you to custom build your own squad of up to five fighters, deciding everything from their hair cut to their body type. You can take those team members out to fight, taking them online or offline, earning coins as you go to spend on packs that add new dimensions to your team.
Getting to grips with the fighting system may be daunting for new players, but the game quickly brings you up to speed. the fighting isn’t just about brute force, although a bit of strength helps; strategy is just as important. if you try to go hell for leather on your opponent, you’ll find your stamina wears down fast, leaving you throwing ineffectual punches and kicks, and leaving yourself open to a takedown.
That’s usually where I ended up, after dominating a fight for most of the three or five rounds, only to be felled by a well timed punch or trapped in a hold I couldn’t escape from, despite the hints displayed on screen. But that’s UFC for you; it’s not always the strong fighters that prevail.
It's hard not to marvel at the level of realism that's in UFC 2. The facial models are realistic, fighters take damage when they're hit, even sweat sprays during the fights. You can feel the fatigue if you push it too hard, with the controls becoming sluggish. The entire experience was brilliant and screamingly frustrating all at once.
There are some kinks that need to be worked out - CM Punk’s 85 ‘placeholder’ rating springs to mind - but the beta is just that: pre-release code that hasn’t quite had some of the bugs knocked out. The game’s creative director promised that the ratings will reflect more of a real-world standing for fighters, which would put CM Punk way down the list.
UFC 2 is released on March 15th.