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'EA Sports UFC' a respectable 1st round for EA.

Byline: Derrik J. Lang

LOS ANGELES -- After the closure of ''UFC Undisputed'' publisher THQ, it's been a few years since gamers have been able to set foot in the virtual octagon of the most famous mixed martial arts brand. The ability to grapple with a video game controller is back, this time from an entirely new game publisher for the latest generation of consoles.

''EA Sports UFC'' (1/2 -- EA Sports, for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, $59.99) marks the first UFC game from Electronic Arts, which has long dominated the sports genre with series like "Madden NFL,'' "FIFA'' and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour,'' though it's not their first jab at a MMA game. They released the awkward "EA Sports MMA'' in 2010.

This time, EA has both the cachet of the UFC and the power of next-generation consoles on its side.

The mostly robust roster of almost 100 fighters in "EA Sports UFC'' features such vets as Anderson Silva and female fighters like Ronda Rousey. Bruce Lee is included as an unlockable player. The artists at developer EA Canada have meticulously recreated the scrappers -- right down to their tattoos, body hair and cauliflowered ears.

A similar level of detail is also available in the game's career mode, where players can create custom fighters from scratch, adding such tidbits as nicknames, hometowns and moves before taking them from "The Ultimate Fighter'' reality TV competition to a possible six-figure contract and eventually all the way to the UFC Hall of Fame.

With seemingly spontaneous commentary coming from Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, and fighters' flesh deteriorating as bouts progress, the audio-visual presentation of "EA Sports UFC'' is fluidly flawless. The game's controls -- much like the actual sport of MMA -- are equally accurate. They require precision, not floundering.

However, "EA Sports UFC'' isn't a total knockout.

While it lends itself to the game's realism, there's a steep learning curve for navigating among striking, clinching, wrestling and grappling, which relies on an odd octagon-shaped mini-game where quick flicks of the thumb sticks block submissions. It's unfortunate there wasn't a smarter solution -- or smarter virtual opponents.

The artificial intelligence of the challengers is often a cinch to overcome, making the game feel more like a fantasy than a simulation. It only truly feels alive when played against other humans, either in-person or online. After coaching a few fighters from rookies to retirees, there's little reason to replay the career mode.

Sure, for MMA devotees, "EA Sports UFC'' is a must. Despite some daffy responses from the computer-controlled opponents and a too-nimble career mode, EA Sports has laid a striking foundation for a new sports series, but more casual fighting fans will want to wait for "Super Smash Bros.''
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Lang, Derrik J.
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jun 23, 2014
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