In 2005, EA Sports released Fight Night Round 3, a game I would argue as one of the looking games of that generation. It captured both the boxers and the arenas in stunning detail and continues to do so almost ten years later. Now EA Sports has the opportunity to once again set the stage on this current generation of consoles with EA Sports UFC, their first game under the UFC label.
You might be thinking, didn’t EA Sports put out an MMA (mixed martial arts) game recently? You would be correct. In October of 2010 they released their only MMA game EA Sports MMA to middling success. One of the games biggest drawbacks was its roster which was absent the majority of the bigger fighters (who are in the UFC) and instead using fighters from organizations like Strikeforce. After the closing of THQ however, EA grabbed the UFC license and has now released their first game under that label.
We can start with the fighting mechanics which consists of two very unique fighting systems. You’ve got the stand up game (punching and kicking) which feels a lot like the Fight Night franchise. The face buttons are your punch and kick buttons with your shoulder buttons being the modifiers. The stand up game is by far the most fun your going to have in the game. EA Sports has a long track record with the Fight Night brand and its carried over to their UFC game. The impact of both punch and kicks are intense. You don’t necessarily have to drained an opponent’s health to knock them out. Land a nice uppercut or knee to the face and your opponent will hit the mat or even be knocked out completely. This puts an even greater emphasis on the defensive game which has both light and heavy blocks. Hit the R2 button (on the PS4) and you will deflect a punch or kick. However if you hit the R2 button and either the high or low button and if you time it right you will fully block the oncoming assault. The one quirk to the system is that you cannot regain stamina if your holding the block button. I absolutely loved the stand up game.
The ground game which is why you come to a UFC game is fine but not nearly as satisfying. Taking down an opponent is easy, getting them to submit is another question altogether. The game has a pretty extensive tutorial when you boot it up which does a marginally good job of explaining how to submit your opponent. Get your opponent down on the ground and follow a set of directional button prompts in the shape of an octagon to try and submit your opponent. In probably 200 matches I’ve submitted maybe a half a dozen opponents and most of those were when I explicitly was going for the submission. I found it far easier to knock a guy out then to submit them. The system is a little wonky and felt far less satisfying then the stand up action.
EA Sports UFC has a career mode that has you start in the UFC Ultimate Fighter. For those that aren’t aware that’s a reality show that the UFC has been putting on since 2005. In short get a bunch of up and coming mixed martial artists in a tournament to see who will become the Ultimate Fighter and win a contract with the UFC. It’s a perfect carry over to the video game and works with fine results. Before each match you will have three random training events that will help upgrade your fighters level giving you experience points to put into your fighter. By the time I was on my second fight in the UFC proper (probably 6-7 fights in) I’d fully maxed out several categories. You definitely want to push the experience points in the areas you like to use. For me I vastly prefer the stand up game so my points went to punching, kicking, and stamina. Throughout the career both in the Ultimate Fighter and once you get into the UFC you will get these short twenty second video messages from UFC fighters as well as Dana White the president of UFC. These videos are awkward ways to try and push the career forward in what otherwise is a lengthy but uneventful career mode.
Outside of the career mode and exhibition the only other options you’ve got is to play the training games or take your skills online. Having played a handful of online games I can say that everything pre-release has ran great and had little to no problems with latency. In general a human opponent in the game is far more of a challenge and the online infrastructure looks ripe for a lot of great matches.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, EA Sports has a history of great looking fighting games. Even their first foray into MMA (EA Sports MMA) had pretty stellar visuals. So it’s no surprise that EA Sports UFC is a great looking game. It didn’t have the “this is next-gen” feel that Fight Night Round 3 had back in 2005 but its a great looking game. The fighter models are as good if not better then any sports game on the market to date. You can see a lot of time and love went into recreating each fighter down to even their pre-fight routines. The fighters look incredible. So too does everything UFC in this game. From the ring side announcer Bruce Buffer to the commentary duo of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, there is no mistaking this for anything but a UFC game.
The game isn’t without its visual faults though. There are times especially in the training sequences but also during a fight where the framerate will drop. Its not impactful to the game itself but its noticeable at least at the time of this review (with the launch patch installed). Its a small complaint but one that does rear its head up once in a while and takes away from the immersion. The replays are also a big problem for the game. The fighting moves just a bit too quick when watched in slow mode at the end of a round or a fight it shows some of the collision detection issues the game has.
EA Sports UFC is a very good start for what will undoubtedly be the start of a new franchise for EA Sports. There are some first game hiccups though that hold it back from the high praise much of the Fight Night franchise has received over the years. The career mode felt a little to by the numbers and lacked any real investment in your fighter. It became a rinse and repeat affair that left me wanting more. The UFC is rich with interesting and unique fighters and I didn’t think the career mode represented that at all. The fighting is solid but I still think the ground game needs some tweaks in order to make it up to par with the stand up game.
Its been a while since we’ve had a UFC game, so the good news is this is a pretty good UFC game. The bad news is there is still a good deal of room for improvement both in the career mode and on the mat. Regardless there is a ton of fun to be had in EA Sports UFC and if you’re a fan of the sport this game is a worthy pick up for your new console.