First things first, if you don't like the trend of retail priced video games having microtransactions in them (that should be all of you), don't buy this game. UFC 2 introduces a new mode called Ultimate Team where players are tasked with creating a team of five fighters, one fighter from each weight class or four men and one woman. These created fighters can be buffed via packs of items that can be purchased with in-game currency or UFC points that can be purchased with real money—see the problem yet? In theory, someone with more money than brains could buy a bunch of packs, buff their team’s stats and grant them an unfair advantage in online play.
But wait, there's more! Each fighter has “fitness points” that deplete after each match and are restored via items found in item packs. To quote the game, "As fitness goes down, so does your stamina bar and your chances of victory." What a racket.
The microtransactions tarnish what is otherwise an all right game if you're willing to deal with a steep learning curve. This is my first UFC title, and although I've played plenty of boxing and wrestling titles in the past, I found myself having to play for a few hours before I could even beat the first opponent in career mode.
While there are skill challenges that are supposed to teach you to fight, they don't do a good job at giving players feedback on what they are doing right or wrong, which is something that could be said about the whole game. The new grappling system has on-screen prompts for what buttons can be pressed to do what moves, which, while useful, draw you out of the action. I even found myself pulling up the digital manual included with the game—the first time I've had to do that, ever—to look for more tips on how to play. The game teaches you the basic moves, however, it certainly doesn't teach you how to fight or any strategies at all. Unfortunately, neither does the manual, as it actually suggests looking up online guides on GameFAQs or buying a strategy guide if one is available. I can't make this stuff up.
Just to make sure I wasn't just misunderstanding how to play the game I had my boyfriend complete all the skill challenges and play the first match in career mode, the proverbial goomba from world 1-1 of Super Mario Bros., and he too lost.
Eventually, I got the hang of the fighting and started to breeze through career, perhaps a little too easily. I found my favourite fighting style was focused on throwing punches—I mean I was playing as Ronda Rousey—so I started to buff my punching stats with training between matches. I won every single fight in the first round via knockout, which was fun at first but far too easy and doesn't make sense considering the game offers “adaptive AI” that is supposed to scale the difficulty based on your performance. Instead of the difficulty scaling, I’d just instantly start the fight by throwing a flurry of punches, usually leading to a quick knockout within thirty seconds or less— the same amount of time it took to get from the menu to the actual fight. Once you learn how to fight, the AI stands no chance, even after manually switching to harder difficulties.
Aside from the two modes mentioned there is a ranked multiplayer mode where players can battle using stock fighters with no microtransactions in sight. Online battles work well enough as long as the connection is stable; otherwise, the slow, deliberate movement the game already promotes becomes unplayable. That said most all my matches were smooth. There is also a knockout mode for couch play where there is no stamina meter or grappling; instead there is a health meter for each player and no submissions.
Creating custom fighters isn’t all that fun as the options are somewhat limited, and somehow most of the fighters turn out looking like Neanderthals instead of modern day humans. Customization of characters’ faces offers lot of option to tweak, and there are a moderate amount of hair options, but the bodies are set shapes. Tattoos, however, are much deeper than anything else, allowing resizing and movement to pretty much wherever you’d like, with blank shapes available that allow for custom artwork to be made as well. I just went with a rooster in overalls on the lower back of my character, because nothing strikes fear into the hearts of opponents like that kind of demented art.
Microtransactions and the brutal learning curve make UFC 2 hard to recommend. If you're a UFC superfan looking for a casual experience where you can play as your favourite fighters for quick, frantic matches, this isn't the game for you. If you're the kind of person who loves simulations and doesn’t mind the game feeling slower paced than the real world fights maybe give this a play.