So, you wanna be a fighter? No, not really. It sounds kind of painful. But I do want an ultimate fighting simulator that lets me pretend to be one. Thankfully, last year the UFC franchise managed to sidestep the demise of THQ thanks to a timely intervention by EA. The mega-publisher knows its stuff when it comes to authentic and realistic sports games, so it was great to see them take on the UFC franchise and inject their sophisticated physics-based sporting magic.
I've brought physics up for a reason. From the eyes on preview that I saw today at EA's booth at E3, making the UFC as authentic as possible has been a real focus. The problems from the earlier versions were obvious. While fun, the game was really just two textured action figures groping each other before one of them collapsed in an unconscious heap. It was plasticine and uninspiring. No, that's not a description of my sex life - that's a problematic game that EA knew needed some serious tweaking.
And it's clear they have tweaked it. The first major innovation is in the game's facial animations. EA have spent a lot of time and effort making the UFC look at realistic as possible. Dean Richards, the General Manager on the title, showed me a still of EA's UFC as it compared to earlier iterations. The differences were stunning. Add to that full motion capture, EA doing 3D scans of every single UFC fighter on the current roster, and unique facial animations per model, and you have a truly impressive package.
The marketing catch cry of "prepare for the next gen" is being bombarded at journalists right now - but there's no denying the evidence. The Xbox One and the PS4 are going to totally change the visuals for sports titles and their processing power will expand what sports titles can do.
Graphically, UFC has one clear advantage over EA's other sports games - there is only ever two people on the screen at any one time. There's no need to render Messi and 10 other superstars, there are just two dudes beating the hell out of each other. Which means they can look pretty while they do it.
The second focus has been the careful attention to player movement and precision. Now, using EA's Ignite engine, the UFC fighters dance and parry around the Octagon with much more realism. In addition, EA have used the new technology on offer to make the UFC combat experience more real.
The combat mechanic is fairly similar to previous games - you punch other guys in the face, they try and punch you in the face. You straddle them on the ground and try to make them tap out, they try and do the same. Its sweaty and violent and physical. But now, gamers will be able to see that action manifest itself in much more prominent ways.
For example, Dean showed me how skin would discolour after being hit, or how blood rushed to a fighters head in a choke-hold. He also showed me how muscles and limbs would deform in real time to more authentically replicate the vice-like holds of UFC grapples. This deformation looks like it will improve the violence of the title as well.
Earlier, repeated face mashings would slowly transform your fighters face from chiselled visage to bloated mess. Now, damage and cuts appear much more organically and are located where the blows landed. There will be a limit on how violent EA's version of UFC will be - Dean said it was not going to be the bloodsport some of its real life matches can be - but these added features should make the game's viciousness much more believable.
The level of polish in the new physics design doesn't sound like it would have much of an impact, but it really does. In previous versions of the game a throw would be a clinical animation. Now, a throw is a physics based movement event, and that keeps you fully in the game.
EA have also given gamers the chance to be inventive. The cage has now been included into the modelling of the title and is a weapon in its own right. You can still push fighters up against its forgiving wires, but now pugilists can also leap off the cage or use it to their advantage. This adds more tactical depth to the UFC experience and means more bad-ass kicks and punches.
The submission mechanic has also been totally reworked. Gone is the button mashing mini game that was triggered when a submission move was locked in. Now, the process from position, to submission hold, to tap out is much more organic and connected.
However, don't expect new depth to the match-ups on offer. I asked Dean if you would be able to mix and match fighters in single match-ups - pitching the speed of a featherweight against the hulking machine of a heavyweight. Sadly, EA are sticking to the sporting straight and narrow and aren't going to be giving gamers that deep a level of freedom. He was also staying tight lipped about who would be included. The current roster is a safe bet - but beasts like Kimbo Slice are still unconfirmed.
It's clear from what I saw of UFC that EA are taking their tried and true approach to sport games and are tarting up the UFC. Out is the caricature, and in is realism, authenticity, and physics based gameplay. What all of this looks like it will add up to is a more engaging experience that puts you even closer to the centre of the fight. You might not want to be a fighter - but EA's spit and polish of the UFC series looks set to give you an engaging simulated opportunity to be one nonetheless.
Pros: UFC has moved from a beat-em up to a pure physics based sports game
Cons: EA are tight lipped about the fighters featured