Over the past year or so mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity, making now the perfect time for a new UFC game from EA Sports.

The UFC's recent successes (UFC 196 was apparently the biggest PPV in the company's history) are largely down to the enormous popularity of EA Sports UFC 2's two cover stars: Ronda Rousey and featherweight champion Conor McGregor. We'll talk about them, and the EA cover star curse later.

So, what is EA Sports UFC 2?

EA acquired the license to make UFC games in 2012, taking the reins from THQ. The games, like EA Sports juggernauts Fifa and Madden, hope to offer a realistic representation of the real sport, with authentic fighters, believable production values and, for its players, a semblance of what it must be like to compete.

This means a career mode that sees you fighting up the ranks, and the ability to play online and off as a range of fighters from the real world. EA Sports' first punt came in 2012 and yielded mixed results, but a debut attempt was always going to be difficult. The problem for EA has been the previous three games from THQ, which set a high bench mark between 2009 and 2012.

What's new this time around?

The good news with EA Sports UFC 2 is that there are tons of new features, but more importantly the core mechanics have been improved. The fundamental problem with a lot of MMA games is how best to map the complicated nature of the sport onto a controller, and make those controls easy to understand and feel natural in action.

The THQ games got this spot on, but the first EA entry struggled: possibly out of a desire to not resemble the previous games too much. This new entry provides a much better control scheme, that has greatly improved the ground game in particular. Better animations also add more to the brutality and physicality of the game.

EA UFC 2 Michael Bisping Anderson Silva
Anderson Silver lands a right hook on Michael Bisping EA Sports

And the new features?

Everything from the first game is present and correct. The career mode is still largely the same, but there are new modes to make up for it. Potentially the biggest is UFC Ultimate Team – the MMA-flavoured version of EA Sports' incredibly successful micro-transaction-led game that has been huge for the Fifa and Madden franchises. In it the player creates up to five fighters and competes both online and in single player to acquire points to buy card packs, improve their fighters and win championships.

Knockout Mode removes the ground-game half of the sport to focus entirely on players fighting on their feet, kicking and punching their way to victory in Street Fighter-esque best-of-three match-ups. Players have a stock of health depleted by hits (with the option to also replenish them with blocks), leading to spectacular knockouts when all health has been drained. MMA purists might hate the premise, but we were big fans.

Players can also create their own fight cards, play out real life events and earn points by successfully predicting and acting out fight results. The creation suite has been improved (you can create female fighters this time) as well. Finally, there's practice mode, which offers players an in-depth opportunity to learn the game's controls and the basics of fighting. The best feature of this being how the game lends context to your moves – offering a greater appreciation for the nuance of the sport.

You were going to talk about McGregor and Rousey?

Yeah. Rousey was revealed as the first cover star back when the game was announced in November, and one day later she lost her bantamweight championship to Holly Holm in devastating fashion at UFC 193. McGregor was announced as the second cover star in December, but earlier this month lost for the first time at UFC 196 against Nate Diaz. It looks like a continuation of the Madden curse, which has affected an alarming number of athletes to grace the NFL-branded game's cover.

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