One rear-naked chokehold I welcome

I need to preface everything I say here by pointing out that these hands-on impressions are based off a build meant more as a demonstration of the Ignite engine at work in EA Sports UFC than actual gameplay. What I saw had none of the bells and whistles the final product will feature—no life bars, no stamina meters, no character-select screen. It was as pre-alpha as it gets. What I played was but a brief introduction to the groundwork of a potentially revolutionary new fighter that’s due out in nine months.

Part of what makes a game like EA Sports UFC possible, according to creative director Brian Hayes, are the advances made via next-gen technology. The look and feel, after all, is a critical component to an authentic MMA videogame. The veins bulging out of the neck of a fighter trying to lock in an armbar. The subtle bruising that peppers bodies over the course of a fight. An eye swelling shut after a few too many blows to the head. The changes in face color as a fighter succumbs to a rear-naked chokehold. These are just a few examples of the minute details that developer EA Canada is smoothly pulling off with next-gen tech and their new engine.

In my brief hands-on time at Gamescom, I got a feel for how fighters moved around the octagon. There’s a weightiness there now, with each movement tying right into the next. The fighters didn’t float around their opponent. Instead, they confidently planted their feet and moved with precision with each push of the control stick. And though the ground, grapple, and submission maneuvers were disabled during the demo, the attacks I could pull off felt substantial: Each punch I threw felt like it had power behind it and did real damage. Superman punches off the cage, flying knees, and spinning heel kicks were all available to me, and each one made me feel like I was watching a close-up of a fighter during a legitimate UFC PPV.

Now, normally, I’ll take something so early in its iteration process with a grain of salt. Show a little skepticism. But, honestly, after what I saw, I can’t help but feel hopeful that this is the game UFC fans have been clamoring for over the past decade. If the care seen in the in-ring segments transfers to the gameplay options—ideally, create-a-fighter or career modes—then this is primed to be a surefire hit. If not, there’s still a solid foundation here for what could ultimately become one of EA Sports’ more popular franchises.