Let me preface this review by saying that not only am I a huge MMA fan in general but a pretty diehard fan of MMA games in general. So much so that I actually downloaded the EA Sports UFC demo on both XBOX One and PS4. XBOX One because it was available hours before it’s PS4 counterpart and I simply didn’t want to wait and PS4 because for this particular game that was my console of choice. I logged more hours into THQ’s Undisputed Series and EA Sports MMA on my 360 than any other individual games. Needless to say when the partnership with EA was first announced I was already anticipating an official release date confirmation, so much so that I literally checked every day before going to work and after work if anything had been announced. While the game would release a mere 2 1/2 years after the last installment in the Undisputed series, it seemed like a lot longer.
Of course being this hyped for a game is a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand you can be blinded by your excitement to the point of overlooking flaws, this is one reason why I wanted to take my time with the game before offering up a review. On the other it is also possible to be so hyped up for a particular game that it is impossible for a game to live up to said hype. So where does EA UFC fall? Good, bad, or somewhere in between?
The thing that may affect casual fans from enjoying a MMA game is if they don’t have an understanding of MMA. While you certainly can approach the game from a strikers only mindset, the harsh reality is that if you don’t take the time to learn all the aspects of MMA inside of the game, any player with at least an average skillset will more than likely take you down and beat you up. So while the game is made by the same people responsible for the Fight Night boxing series, how you play the game should be very different. You have to learn how to at the very least be proficient at applying/defending submissions and transitions on the ground as well as being able to take your opponent to the ground. The latter is very crucial in times where you get rocked and your best bet at survival is taking the fight to the ground. All of these are realistic aspects of Mixed Martial Arts and for the most part are simulated very well within the confines of the game.
In terms of modes you are giving your choice between exhibition fights; which allow you to have your choice of player vs player (couch co-op), player vs cpu or even cpu vs cpu if you are feeling so inclined. Much like the UFC nine weight classes are represented; Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight, Middleweight, Welterweight, Lightweight, Featherweight, Bantamweight, Women’s Bantamweight, Flyweight. You pick which weight class you want, the fighter you want, the arena you want, the round type (3, 5, championship) and whether you want the rounds to go by in real time or with an accelerated clock. Note that entrances are only available in 5 round fights, so you’ll have to select 5 round or championship fights to see entrances. This is done so to give such fights a main event feel to them.
Also available is a challenge mode which acts as a more advanced version of the beginning tutorial. While the tutorial is meant to teach you the basics, the challenge mode is meant to teach you all the more advanced techniques featured in the game. While completing the challenges prior to playing would be a bit of a chore I would strongly suggest taking the time to go through them at your own pace to learn some things you may have otherwise overlooked.
Next of course is online where you battle people of varying skill sets based on your abilities in either ranked or unranked competition. To be honest I haven’t spend time with the online portion just yet mainly because I wanted to check out the other features and honestly with games like this I’m more a play for fun type of person rather than caring about wins and losses. Unfortunately more times than not games like these become more about spamming than about trying to have fun so for me I usually only spend a very small percentage of my time with the online portion.
Lastly you have career mode. Career mode is pretty standard in terms of MMA game careers. You start out on the Ultimate Fighter with low tier skills and moves and through winning fights and training you build up your skills and moveset. After winning the Ultimate Fighter you go on to fight in the UFC. Your career will last 40 fights unless you allow your career damage meter to become too full too quick at which point I believe your career will end prematurely. Throughout your career various real life fighters send you videos wishing you luck or giving you advice. Again pretty standard in terms of combat game careers go. There are however two aspects that I feel EA dropped the ball a bit with career mode. One thing that THQ did in the Undisputed Series was allow you to pick from a selection of three fights during career. In EA UFC you have one choice then you train, rinse and repeat until your skills are maxed out basically at which point you can stop training if you want. Secondly there is nothing to do once your career is over and you have retired. While you can use your career fighter in exhibition, they don’t retain the skills that you accrued through your career making it almost pointless to do so. You also are unable to use your career fighter online which offers very little incentive for paying repeat visits to the mode upon completion.
This is truly an aspect in which EA really excelled with the game. When people ask why wasn’t the game on last gen systems, this is why. Every fighter looks stunningly real which great attention to detail. When you throw a punch or kick to the body you can see the ripples in their skin. When you consistently attack the same body part over and over, you will see the bruising. When battling for a submission you can see the veins bulging and the grimace as the competitors struggle. When you punch someone in the face with a big strike, you can see the sweat fly off. When there is a cut, the blood can trickle down from their face unto both fighters and the mat allowing for some real bloodbaths at times. However the blood will be gone from the mat in between rounds, but still a very effective system. Also hair actually moves like hair for a change.
The crowd actually looks like a crowd as EA took the time to create an entire audience full of individual people rather than having cardboard cutouts of the same few people over and over again. While details like these aren’t hugely important to the overall enjoyment of the game, it still helps with the ability to fully immerse yourself into the game.
In fact my only graphic complaint so far is Dana White. Everyone else looks so good and detailed it is a bit jarring to see Dana White come out when awarding the belt to the champion. He not only looks very much like a video game rendering of Dana White but he just overall seems very robotic.
Whether it’s Bruce Buffer’s introductions or the sound of the crowd, the overall presentation feels very authentic. Even though the commentating borrowed some of it’s dialog from the THQ series there is plenty of new lines and interaction to make it feel like it’s own beast. There also seems to be more emotion in the commentating as Joe Rogan will do his trademark yelling at big moments in fights. The only negative would be Goldberg calling somebody the opponent rather than their real name. For example he may refer to you as BJ Penn’s opponent while you are on top of BJ Penn saying that BJ Penn’s opponent needs to be careful of BJ Penn’s submissions while on the ground. I understand you can only record so much commentating but it can be a little distracting at times.
One thing I don’t think gets enough credit is how the crowds at various venues act different. The biggest example I’ve seen so far is when fighting in Brazil the crowd is very much for their countrymen, especially seen during Junior Dos Santos and Renan Barao fights. You even get the classic “Vai morrer!” chants which means “You’re going to die.” I’ve also heard big pops for the Diaz brothers, Nate especially it would seem, as well as hearing the crowd cheer for big moments during the between round replays.
While not their official walkout songs, though Anderson Silva does come out to a remix of his DMX track “Ain’t No Sunshine”; EA has licensed several songs for use for fighter walkouts.
The cpu can be very aggressive to start a fight, and this has led to mixed thoughts on the realism of the game. I’ve found that it’s more of a case of the cpu wanted to make you fight in a wild and sloppy brawl thus making you make mistakes. If you defend yourself well and pick your shots the cpu will change it’s strategy a bit. While you can certainly relive Leonard Garcia versus Chan Sung Jung if you wish, the best approach is always a more refined and strategic one. Use your jabs to set up your combinations, work the body, throw leg kicks. In a way the experience you get from EA Sports UFC is going to depend on what you put into it. If you throw non-stop hooks and fight recklessly then the cpu will do the same and the game will seem less like a MMA simulation and more like rock-em sock-em robots and chances are win or lose your fights will be short. If you take a more strategy based approach the cpu will do the same and thus the fights will seem more authentic. Of course the higher the difficulty the more likely the cpu will parry your strikes and block your takedowns so the need for strategy becomes more of a necessary tool for survival.
The submissions can take a little get used to but overall is an easier system than THQ’s Undisputed games. When locking in a submission you move the right stick in the direction of your opponent to block their escape, when prompted you will use the left stick to tighten the submission further. After a few series, your opponent will submit if they are unable to escape. I will say that the looseness of the PS4’s analog sticks make submissions a lot easier on PS4 than on the XBOX One version in my opinion.
As is the case with most games that use collision detection there are some pretty hilarious videos of various glitches caused by it. However don’t let the videos deter you as they are hardly an indication of something that happens frequently. Truth be told in my several hours with the game I’ve only run into two minor instances of the collision detection acting awry.
There are a few small things I would like to have seen improved for the overall product. Touching gloves at the start of a fight, the universal show of respect is something that is a glaring omission when wanting to create a 100% realistic experience. Also seems like such an easy thing that it’s a bit of an odd thing to leave out. It also would have been nice to have more referee interaction especially when a fight is stopped. Instead the referee seemingly vanishes and doesn’t step in to stop a fight he simply calls it as being over. Small things but things nonetheless that would make the game even better.
Since picking up EA Sports UFC I’ve not played anything else, that alone sums how much fun I’m having with the game. In terms of sheer fun I feel it’s already lived up to what I wanted out of it and we aren’t even two weeks out from release.
While the roster of 99 is fairly robust there are some fairly big name guys and gals whom did not make the cut. While I know it simply isn’t feasible for everybody to make it in and there has to be some cut off, there is plenty of options for DLC out there. In terms of overall value I have no issues with paying for additional fighters but EA has said that that isn’t the route they plan on going. Instead they claim that they will release several free DLC packs throughout the life of the series, going on record to say that if they release a fighter currently in the UFC they will be free. The assumption being that you will only back for legends and former fighters. Whether this ends up being true remains to be seen but would certainly boost the overall value of the product with such support.
THE FINAL SAY
EA Sports isn’t perfect, but in a sport such as this it is very hard to create a 100% authentic simulation. Still it feels that there are way more hits than misses and the things that are missing from the final product are mostly minor. I also feel that EA Sports has managed to craft the best MMA simulation game to date and for a franchise that is only one entry old they have a very solid foundation built for their series.
EA Sports UFC gets a four out of five: GREAT.