EA UFC 2 is out this week, and even a few short hours worth of play reveals that it's a much, much better game than its predecessor (the improvement to the menus alone makes it at least twice as good). But as enjoyable an MMA sim as it is, the most welcome thing about UFC 2 is its Knockout Mode: a mixture of out-and-out brawling and point fighting which turns the game into something reminiscent of the secondary modes found in versions of EA's now-dormant boxing series.
There's no grappling or ground game in Knockout Mode, nor even rounds in the traditional sense. Instead, players pick their fighters and then brawl to a predetermined knockdown count: best of three, five, sudden death. Fighter health is governed by a visible health bar, split into segments: significant strikes remove these segments until your fighter is downed.
It's a simple idea, similar in principle to Fight Night Round 3's similarly-brutal KO mode, which removed the pretense of sweet science and instead allowed players to just throw haymakers to their heart's content. Both modes allow players to dispense with some of the more demanding elements of their respective games and get to what people really enjoy: smacking people's heads about in a frenzy of white hot violence.
In practice, however, EA UFC is slightly more tactical. Not because you can kick people in the shins as well as the head, although that is a consideration, but because the visible health bar and short 'rounds' lead to some surprisingly tense encounters: a single hard-hitting flurry can see you knocked out, meaning even low-health fighters have a punchers chance.
It's a great addition, one clearly meant to allow players to get on with the business of enjoying the game's striking and physics systems (cuts and bruises seem more pronounced here - one good shot will see the recipient busted comically open). And while you can obviously spend your time just head-kicking your way to glory like a RoboCroCop, there's enough of Fight Night's DNA in here to make it appealing to those who don't particularly care for rear naked chokes. Especially if, like real boxing, you've got a gentlemen's agreement to keep striking to punching and headbutting.
The sad thing is, of course, that despite UFC 2's best efforts, we're still no closer to an actual Fight Night sequel: in fact, we're probably closer to an Unravel sequel. Until then, however, if you want to hit people in the face with your fists while people watch on from seats which cost more than your car, then it's your best option (on current gen, at least.) Still not sure? It's on EA Access now.