EA Sports UFC – Review

Title   EA Sports UFC
Developer  EA Canada
Publisher  EA Sports
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Genre  Fighting, Sports
Release Date  June 17, 2014

Having dabbled with the sport of MMA in the not-so-well-received EA Sports MMA, it came as little surprise that EA would eventually wrestle the biggest franchise in the sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, from the cold, dead hands of THQ who had released several UFC titles, the last of which – UFC Undisputed 3 – was a very detailed and accomplished simulation of the sport.

However, while EA may not have the experience and attention to detail that THQ had, they do have a lot of fucking cash to throw at a project and so where UFC Undisputed 3 was a game for the hardcore UFC fan, EA Sports UFC is more of a mass-market, casual affair. It’s not just a gentle introduction for the fight-curious gamer out there, but also for EA themselves as their plan here is to get the fundamentals down and pad it out with the typical EA flair and flash. After all, FIFA was considered daft and arcadey in the ’90s but pretty much simulates every single aspect of the sport these days.

With that in mind, hardcore UFC fans can’t expect too much from this game but for you newbies out there desperate to play something… anything… on their new console, here’s how it all works. MMA, or mixed martial arts, is a combination of striking and grappling (think boxing but you can kick people, throw them, or strangle them on the floor,  among other things) and the UFC are the Premier League/NFL/NHL/NBA of the sport. That is to say, they are the biggest promotion out there and have all the best fighters and biggest events.

EA Sports UFC‘s main single player mode is Career Mode. You create a fighter, basically you if you worked out every day, give them a move set (everyone is well-rounded in all aspects but MMA fighters usually favour certain aspects of fighting over others, so you may know your Ps and Qs on the ground, for example, but you’re more about kicking folks in the thigh until their leg falls off) and send them off to learn to fight.

The tutorial mode shows you how to move around in the Octagon (the UFC’s cage that acts as a boxing ring), throw strikes (punches, kicks, elbows,  and knees), how to clinch (grab hold of your opponent), use and defend takedowns, and ultimately how to submit someone on the ground (either choking them or hyper-extending a limb until they tap out). It’s a lot to take in all at once but the game revisits elements of the tutorial for training in between fights. If you try to skip it, Dana White (the president of the UFC) tells you off via a short video. It’s a nice detail.

The Ultimate Fighter is the UFC’s reality TV show that usually has sixteen alpha males living in a house together and fighting until there are two left. This means you fight once to get into the house, twice while you are there and if you make the finale, that’s held at a proper UFC show in an arena somewhere. You win that and you’re in the UFC for real.

At this point not much changes. You’re in a sequence now where you have a fight, work through three training sessions, assign skill points, buy new moves, and attract new sponsors (for the sole purpose it seems of putting their logo on your shorts) before doing it all again. In Undisputed 3, getting new moves involved you going to certain gyms. If you wanted to learn Anderson Silva’s devastating front kick, you would go to Black House (his gym) and learn it there. Simply picking it from a list feels a little underwhelming. You can also add extra attributes (better striking, grappling, or physical boosts) by pressing the Options button (on PS4) but it doesn’t explain that very well. The good thing about all this though is that you’ll have forgotten how to defend takedowns or how to submit people so it’s good that various lessons come back after fights, although it is odd that training just gives you skill points to use as you wish. You’d think that working on submission defence would improve that stat directly. But what do I know?

You’ll continue to work your way up the rankings, climbing each UFC card’s billing until you fight for a title. After that it’s a case of carrying on as you were and defending the belt until it’s time to retire. They can’t do much with the formula but this is fairly bare-boned, which is why EA have used their considerable influence with the UFC to get fighters to speak to you via video cutscenes all the time. Some of them are fairly comfortable with the camera but with many of the fighters, it just feels odd and awkward when they are talking into a camera and saying ‘great fight, kid. I’ll call you later‘ or whatever.

The fighting itself is the most important thing here and EA have done an okay job at translating it to the game. Previous UFC games were very technical and had different movesets for each position you were in (there are several types of clinches or ground positions in the sport). EA Sports UFC does the same thing but has fewer positions and most of them use similar movesets. There’s some depth to it, but generally if you’ve been grabbed you want to quarter turn the right stick while mashing L3 and you might get up.

Submitting someone (or defending a submission) involves a QTE battle, as you’d expect. It’s not brilliant and not particularly efficient (it’s very easy to lose the submission, especially online) so it becomes quite a high-risk way to fight. Of course, all fights start standing up and the striking here is quite diverse and easy to control even if it lacks real dynamism. If Jon Jones (the current light heavyweight champ) hits you with a spinning heel kick clean on the side of the face, you’re going out cold. Here, it feels like you’ve been tapped with a jab. Eventually, the cumulative damage adds up, but if you step away for a while, the damage disappears.

When you do eventually knock someone out, the game engine fails to convey the crushing power of it like the old Fight Night games used to,  which is a shame as graphically everything else is handled well with some good solid visuals, smooth animation, and a minimal amount of clipping when all those limbs get entangled. The various fighters are all very recognisable, as you’d expect, although there is a slight cartoonish quality to them. Creating a fighter is a little underwhelming as there aren’t that many customisation options, and the movement of the characters can seem a little robotic with no real signs of fatigue during the fight. Blood and bruising feature as bouts continue, but it’s not like watching a championship UFC fight and watching people getting pulped.

Online play follows the usual EA template with your online career being based around seasons. This has little bearing on anything except to eventually match you up with better players. Of course, it’s only as strong as its community and the community is primarily the 14-to-34 male demographic – and therefore cunts – but I’ve had no slowdown at all. However, it seems like the majority of battles are mindless slugfests. Have a little bit of grapple knowledge and you’ll probably win.

The commentary by Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg is functional. They phone in a basic description of what’s happening in the fight but there’s very little colour commentary about the fighters or the way the fight is heading. It’s mostly just ‘WOW! Head kick!‘ and the like which is a shame. Likewise it’s missing some details, such as the ability to touch gloves at the start of a fight, or recovery, or gameplanning in the corners between rounds.

In some ways that’s symptomatic of all aspects of the game. UFC does enough to get by and thanks to the audio and video contributions by various UFC stars, it feels like a little more but this is entry-level UFC gaming. In the coming years I’m sure we’ll see regular additions to the series by EA and I imagine that two or three games from now, they’ll be flooding it with in-depth content and better fight mechanics. Until then, though, this is more of a gateway. If you want a realistic fighting game and are intrigued by the UFC as a whole, pick this up (although wait until it’s not fifty quid) but until then you may want to hold off for either a good price drop or next year’s iteration.

  • High quality graphics with recognisable fighters doing a convincing job of putting you in the Octagon.
  • Controls aren't too complicated and the game revisits aspects of the tutorial over and over until you get it.
  • Lots of UFC fighter cameos for a good, authentic UFC experience.
  • Suitable for MMA newbies.
  • Solid, if limited, online play
  • Fighting lacks a bit of impact at times. Even during KOs.
  • UFC Undisputed veterans will find it all a bit too basic.
  • Submission moves aren't that much fun to pull off.
  • Doesn't feel particularly next-gen.
  • A bit pricey.

They've had a couple of years and probably quite a few million dollars to make their entry into the UFC world, and while EA haven't delivered a disappointment, it's fair to say that EA Sports UFC is clearly a couple of iterations away from being definitive. For now though, it's not a bad game and by default is probably the best fighting game on the PS4 but you only get an easy ride once, EA. Next time bring your A-game.

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  1. Leslie Wonk says:

    But can you play as that woman that looks like a cross between Julia Stiles and grumpy cat?

  2. Richie Richie says:

    I wish your name really was Leslie Wonk, Suey.

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