EA UFC 2 is one of the most realistic UFC games since THQ reinvigorated the MMA genre with UFC Undisputed back in 2009, and I'm still not sure if that's good or bad. On one hand I have to plan out each fight as if I were mapping out strategies for a real MMA fight — which will never happen in a million years — and that requires thought and quick decisions on when to strike and when to try a takedown. On the other hand I'm really bad at planning for MMA, preferring to just punch and kick the crap out of an opponent as opposed to clinching or going to the ground, and that approach gets me beaten up a lot.

It's a testament to EA UFC 2 that I have to go into as much depth as I do for each battle, especially considering the roster of over 250 fighters spanning ten weight classes. The list of names contains UFC stars both past and present with a few anomalies thrown in for variety — the pro wrestler turned MMA fighter CM Punk and two different versions of "Iron" Mike Tyson stand out. That amount of fighters means I can dream up any fantasy match I want then watch it play out on-screen. Conor MacGregor vs BJ Penn? Done with no issue, and that's super cool.

It's not entirely Realism City though, as there are plenty of times combatant physics don't match up with real life. In one fight I attempted a front kick to my opponent's chin knowing full well it wouldn't connect. It missed by a considerable amount, but somehow the physics of the game thought my foot was on her chin and made her slump over in defeat. There's no reason why that kick should have connected, but here I was celebrating bittersweet victory. In a game that preaches realism and authenticity, that's not a great look.

As I mentioned earlier the fighting system is incredibly deep, splitting the game up into each facet of the MMA experience flawlessly. Striking is my favorite, and pulling off big punches and kicks with simple joystick flicks and button presses feels natural on the controller. In one particular fight as Mirko Cro Cop I held back on the stick and the left bumper before pressing the kick button, and Cro Cop reared up and delivered a head kick that could have knocked my opponent's head clean off his body. It was a thing of beauty.

EA Sports

The grappling system confounds me, though I admit it's one of those "easy to learn, hard to master" ideas. When I'm on the ground I am asked to hold my joystick a certain direction, and if I hold it there long enough the position will change and i will have an advantage. Sometimes the meter I'm filling turns blue and I have to start over again, and I still don't have adequate reasons as to why that's happening. Submissions are a bit more clear, taking that joystick movement and making it simpler and easier to understand with the larger UI display suggesting which way I should point. I have yet to be submitted in my EA UFC 2 experience, and that's a stat I plan on keeping.

There are plenty of ways to play EA UFC 2, but outside of the normal single fight, career, and online modes — the last of which I was never able to connect before release, unfortunately — there are two really cool modes to look out for. The first is UFC Ultimate Team, a new mixed martial arts spin on the Ultimate Team structure that other sports have so carefully cultivated. Instead of opening packs of players for a team I'm opening techniques for my team of five created fighters to enjoy, Each card is specific to weight class, encouraging me to create five fighters in five separate weight classes for my Ultimate Team. The packs of perk cards are still a thing (damn you microtransactions) but that just makes Ultimate Team seen more authentic.

On the surface, EA UFC 2's Ultimate Team doesn't sound all that interesting, but it's actually an incredible idea and tons of fun. Building a stable of fighters and fitting them with multiple new moves is addictive, and offers some strategic customization. My team captain Frank "Hound Dog" Furter just added a spinning backfist to his repertoire thanks to this system, giving him one more weapon to use in the Octagon. EA UFC 2 was bound to receive some kind of Ultimate Team game, and this first attempt has turned out to be pretty great.

EA Sports

Better than Ultimate Team though is Knockout Mode, a game selection that strips away the grappling and clinching  aspects of the sport in favor of good ol' fashioned fisticuffs and should just be re-named "MMA Fencing." Two players will enter the octagon and the first to land five clean shots will win the round, with a best of three format deciding the final winner. It's basic, it's easy to understand and it can be brutal, but I've booted up this mode more than any other mode in the game since I've been playing.

I cannot understate how awesome this part of the game can be in a social gathering saying. It turns the established sport of MMA into some sort of kickboxing/fencing hybrid. creating more tension with every connected blow. I've played a ton of Knockout Mode both with all kinds of fighters on the card, and I don't find myself losing interest in the mode now or anytime soon.

I'm finding very few things wrong with EA UFC 2 as I continue to play, just a few minor issues that don't come close to ruining the game. It's a close-to-perfectly painted picture of the core MMA experience remixed into a tiny controller and super-realistic fighters on screen. Sometimes kicks that miss connect while kicks that don't miss aren't registered and no damage is done, but that's not a big deal. I really wanted to get online and drop gloves with some of the best of the world, but I'm hoping that gets ironed out by launch day. Most importantly the punches and kicks feel real, the grappling system is natural even if I'm bad at it, and there are plenty of ways for me to step into the octagon. It's not a perfect game, but EA UFC 2 is a punchy good time in the octagon when I'm looking for a fight.

This review was completed using a digital copy of EA UFC 2 provided by the publisher for Xbox One.