EA Sports UFC
The story of EA Sports and the UFC is an interesting one. It began with a war as the UFC license was held by THQ, and their Yuke’s-crafted games showed that MMA games could be both big-sellers and receive critical acclaim. EA wanted a piece of that action, so they made EA Sports MMA and made a deal with Randy Couture that sent shockwaves throughout MMA since he was a UFC-contracted fighter. They also secured the rights to the top heavyweight in the game with Fedor Emelanenko, and used the Strikeforce license to add more credibility to the project. This all led to a lot of vitriol in interviews with Dana White and it was just a nightmare, with guys being threatened with black-listing if they appeared in the EA game. Fast forward a few years though, and THQ is on the ropes and in need of quick cash. They sell off the UFC license to EA and then things get interesting. Yuke’s won’t be used for the game, and EA opted to develop the game internally. Given how definitive the final UFC game under THQ was, this was a bit disheartening.
Sure, EA MMA was a really good game and did some things better than any other game – but it still felt like a second-rate game with its generic-looking gear and truncated walkouts. There were a lot of rough edges with the gameplay as well, but it was largely satisfying and had the best chokeout submission system to date. The final UFC Yuke’s title was easily the definitive MMA experience in gaming form. The last UFC game had UFC, PRIDE, and authentic rosters and presentation for each. It also had event creation features and even enabled you to have open weight fights if you so desired. EA MMA lacked the official PRIDE moniker, but had a Japanese white-ringed promotion of its own creation alongside a circular cage and a variety of rule sets to tinker with.
EA’s first UFC game features no PRIDE move of any kind, no event creation, only an Octagon to fight in with one set of rules to follow, and no open weight fights. Fortunately, some fighters can be used in multiple weight classes, but not many can. Feature-wise, this is a very lean game with one offline and online fights and a career mode. There are also a wide variety of tutorial modes available, including the basic playable tutorial from the demo, one that guides you through advanced techniques, and another one that takes you through a lot of combos like in the career mode.
Fighter creation returns and bears more of a resemblance to EA MMA than any UFC game. This means that customization options are quite a bit more limited both visually and with regards to movesets. You’ve got a variety of styles to focus on, and that will change your available move possibilities for a given position, but there simply aren’t many moves in this game. Suplexes are fewer in number than prior UFC games and seem less devastating here than they did before, while ground elbows from a full mount are still fairly vile. Movesets for real-life fighters are a bit wonky as well. Jon Jones, as evidenced in the demo, has numerous things he’s never done before – like the Showtime kick off the cage and a cartwheel kick. The unrealistic movesets really stick out like a sore thumb since giving tons of fighters the Showtime kick takes away from how special Anthony Pettis is. HE IS THE ONLY GUY WHO HAS DONE THE MOVE. There should be zero other fighters in this game who have it in their moveset. The goal of a game simulating a sport is to simulate the sports – how can you do that when the fighters themselves aren’t represented accurately?
Created fighter-sharing and fighter-specific moves got EA into a bit of trouble with UFC before with EA MMA, so now they’ve learned from their mistake…when there is no real competition to get in trouble with, by nixing the fighter share feature. That means that while you can make a character based on someone who isn’t in the game (including Randy Couture, who continues his streak of not being in a UFC game), you can’t share the creation. The visual tools are so limited that you really can’t make an all-star roster of folks who aren’t in the game, and the limited call names for fighters and their nicknames hurt the authenticity of created fighters as well. Both EA MMA and all of Yuke’s games had a ton of them, so it’s really disappointing to see this fall so short in that regard. What’s worse is that this game marks the debut of female fighters in a UFC game and yet you can’t create them – which also means, you can’t play career mode as a woman.
The core gameplay is a bit more involved than any MMA game before, which is both good and bad. You’ve now got the ability to do power takedowns by pressing in both L buttons, which you can then control with the right stick. This gives you a more damaging takedown, but it’s a short-range strategy. Basic takedowns continue the usual one L trigger approach and will put you in an advantageous position – just not as much of one as before. A couple of new ground positions have been added, but everything kind of feels similar to EA MMA because you can’t attack with any limb on the ground like you could there. Then, if your opponent had your back, you could at least throw some shots to defend yourself. Now, you just need to move the right stick around to hopefully avoid taking too much damage in that position.
Swaying is a bit harder to do in this game than before, while darting around the cage is nearly impossible to do here despite it being a breeze in EA MMA. Strikes seem a bit lacking in impact as well, and submissions aren’t quite as devastating now as the were before either. Like EA MMA, there’s a robotic feeling to things like high kicks and punches and it hurts the ability to get hyped about a fight while in it. Sure, when you’re rocked, you get excited because you need to rebound, but otherwise, there isn’t much to get excited about in strike battles due to how wooden a lot of the animations look.
Ground movement is a bit easier here than in any MMA game outside of Undisputed 3, which kept things to a simpler up and down motion instead of complicated quarter-circle motions. Now, those are back and that can lead to some skin irritation on the PS4 since the rubberized sticks will be getting a workout. There’s really no perfect pad to play this with because the bumpers play a large part in modifying strikes, and yet they’re a bit tougher to hit on the Xbox One – so you can’t quite use them as easily as you could on the 360 pad. Of the two, I definitely prefer playing on the PS4 pad although you may want to wear a gaming glove or something to avoid hurting your thumbs on the PS4’s sticks.
The cage felt like a valuable tool in both EA MMA and the final Undisputed game, where you could wall-walk and escape a bad position much easier. EA MMA really nailed the sensation of pinning someone against the cage and bloodying them up with shots. Sadly, the cage isn’t used much here. Sure, you can now do the Showtime kick and other cage-involving attacks, but it feels a bit like a superfluous addition to the game than a true game-changer. The last UFC game had wall-walking, which you can’t do now, and that means you’ve got fewer ways to accumulate damage during a fight. This game does feature the ability to bounce enemies off the cage, but the animation for it always appear to be missing a few frames and doesn’t look good even if it does result in some highlight reel-worthy finishes.
Speaking of highlight reels, you can save those once again – but for online fights only. There’s no option to save one-on-one fights, which EA MMA did so well and the final Yuke’s-made UFC game did well too. EA MMA was the only game that allowed you to slow things down and change camera angles on the fly to relive your knockout shots right after a fight and it really drove home the brutality of the battle. Now, you just get a slow-mo shot after a couple of replays in the post-fight video and that’s it. It’s very underwhelming, and is yet another feature that seems half-baked despite it being done so well before.
The submission system is something EA didn’t reveal for the longest time, and it was a bit worrisome. This is the first game with a whole new fighting engine, and submissions need to be done really well in a game because they’re a crucial element of MMA. EA MMA featured two submission systems with a button tap setup for joint locks and a stick/rumble setup for chokes. The choke system replicated passing out, which was really immersive and added to the panic of being in a hold. The Yuke’s UFC games had a stick spinning system, which was a bit cheap, but tinkered with in their final game to work pretty well. All of the setups in the last-gen MMA games were far better than the DC/PS2-era MMA games where you just hot a couple of buttons to lock on a submission for an instant win or instant escape. EA UFC features a multi-stage setup that is quite difficult to explain.
An Octagon pops up on-screen during a submission, and you need to use the left stick to move around the gates if you’re the victim, and move the right stick around if you’re applying it. Your goal if you’re doing the move is to fill one of the four sections with a stick movement, while the person in the hold needs to block it with their own stick movement. This system is certainly functional for all submission types, but isn’t anywhere near as rewarding as prior systems and the screen-filling graphics take away from the move being done.
It’s a very timing-centric system, and that means it really suffers online. In this early stage of the game’s availability, and with a relatively small fanbase on it, the amount of lag on display was a killer. Simply trying to block and parry strikes is nearly impossible since the timing window for that is so precise, and that same issue creeps into the submissions as well. This is the most lag-filled game I’ve played on a next-gen system, and reminded me of the days of trying to play an SNK fighter on the original Xbox Live setup. Otherwise, the colored-belt ranking system from EA MMA has been retained, but the revolutionary weekly sponsored cards haven’t. In their place are tournaments that we had no luck getting into prior to this review. If they wind up being a game-changer, we’ll update the text to reflect that.
Basic ranked and unranked matches were readily available though, and most of my play sessions were riddled with lag. I did have a few without it though, and that showed that the game could work reasonably well online. Some folks have reported an entirely lag-free experience, but mine was definitely hampered by the problem more than I would have liked. When things work well, the game is fun online and I do enjoy gaining new belts with the XP earned from big wins. However, when you have a game that is so reliant on timing, lag is going to really hurt things, so you should keep that in mind before picking this up.
Whereas EA Sports MMA sent you around the world learning a variety of fighting styles before making it to the big leagues, EA Sports UFC sends you through the TUF house onto the UFC’s main roster to accomplish the same task. Like EA Sports MMA, you’ve got a lot of training drills to do that are graded – but unlike EA MMA, you can’t do really well and just skip the rest of the training if you’ve aced it before. This means that there’s a lot of busy work that adds up pretty quickly. Sure, towards the tail end of the career, you can safely skip the training since you’ll have maxed out your XP, but for about 70% of it, you can’t really do that. You can take a chance and skip some sessions to save time, but you’ll lose valuable skill points and wind up with an underpowered fighter doing so.
There are also some annoying issues with advice being given from both coaches and fighters in videos that take a while to load, and then bring up gameplay stopped>resumed notices on the screen due to the Share function on PS4. It’s a fairly minor annoyance in the grand scheme of things, but it is noteworthy. The switch from having voiceovers done from trainers to just showing clips hurts the presentation a lot. Bas Rutten and the other coaches did a fine job with their voiceovers, but with the video clips, everyone seems to have rushed through them. Demetrious Johnson’s in particular is just hilarious since he’s zooming through at a lightning-fast rate, while Faber’s are short and sweet and yet still have clear cuts in them. Urijah Hall has by far the most entertaining clips though, as he’s got a set of arcade cabinets behind him – including a Neo-Geo setup.
EA really nailed the career mode before, to the point where I not only enjoy going through it twice due to the branching paths, but even did that on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 because it’s so fun. This one takes some of that structure, but changes it in some ways that make sense on paper, but make it less fun to play through. Just like EA MMA, it’s got rankings to show your progress in the grand scheme of things – this is one area where the two year wait between UFC games was good since the UFC started with the official on-air rankings with the FOX TV deal and it makes this mode look more like the on-air product.
Visually, EA Sports UFC manages to make effective use of the next-gen hardware by enhancing the character models and their response to attacks. The models themselves are much smoother than before, with more realistic looks to things like body hair. Beards still look wonky though – Roy Nelson’s giant beard looked better in Undisputed 3 than it does here, almost appearing to be a cartoonish addition to him than an actual beard. The authenticity of roster is hurt a bit by so few sponsors being featured. This hurt EA MMA as well, and it makes nearly everyone’s gear look generic. It’s one thing for Demetrious Johnson to lack an Xbox sponsorship – I would expect that for a multi-platform release, but everyone lacks a lot of sponsors on their trunks and it hurts the authenticity of the experience. Even when Undisputed 3 had a PRIDE mode, they got as many real sponsors as they could and only threw in one new addition in Dodge that wouldn’t have been a PRIDE sponsor. It was a small thing, but the busy-looking ring was authentic and not having stuff all over the place would look weird – we’ve got the same kind of problem here but in reverse.
On the upside, the realism has been upped for damage modeling. Blows to the ribs cause the skin to ripple, which looks good and also a bit funny – like Dr. Hibbert tapping Homer’s belly until the fat stops jiggling. Shots to the legs will result in bruising, which was featured in EA MMA but obviously couldn’t be done quite as well. Punches and especially elbows to the head will result in cuts, which drip more blood than any UFC or MMA game before, but the effect winds up being a bit less impressive than before too. EA MMA had the best bloodshed covering character models, while Yuke’s UFC games had the nastiest-looking cuts. In this game, you can’t really see the cuts and while there’s a lot of bloodshed, it’s still not as impressive as EA MMA.
Move animations are pretty solid for the most part, but strikes tend to lack a lot of visual impact. Blows land, and might knock people out, but they rarely feel like there’s a lot of force behind them. Jon Jones’ spinning back elbows in UFC Undisputed 3 felt violent, while they just feel like love taps here. The suplex animations have a bit more life to them, but the landing feels less impactful here than in prior UFC games too. Clipping is a very noticeable issue as you can find things like legs going through the abdomen of another fighter in the guard, which just looks weird. I also had fights where fingers appeared to disappear from gloves, and transition animations on the ground vary between smooth and terrifying. There are some movements where you’ll be in the guard trying to reposition and things just move far too quickly and it looks like there’s a ton of missing animation. You’ll go from one position to the next, but the transition isn’t smooth and doesn’t look correct to the eye.
The commentary was stellar in both EA MMA and every Yuke’s-created UFC game. With the former, you had Mauro Ranallo and Frank Shamrock talking organically over the action. The final UFC game featured realistic commentary from both Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg for UFC fights and Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros handling PRIDE, with Lenne Hardt doing her incredible ring announcements. Now, Rogan and Goldberg are here, but their commentary lacks life. Before, they’d joke around with each other and every fight felt different as a result. Each fight in EA Sports UFC starts with them saying the same thing. The fighters’ names are rattled off and their gear color is talked about. Like a lot of things in this game, it feels sterile and almost clinical. It’s a massive step down from what’s been used before and this is easily the worst commentary in an MMA game to date.
The sound effects aren’t so hot either. While the thwack of gloves and legs on flesh sounds fine, you never really feel the oomph of a full-force shot through just the sound effects. Controller vibration helps sell the shots, but the blows should sound more damaging than they do. EA MMA had a fantastic feature when you were rocked and you’d hear ringing and the screen would go weird – it was effective. Now, you just get a screen rocking and your character wobbling around like a zombie for a while. It comes off almost like a parody of a fight, and when you’re trying to replicate a serious sport, that kind of thing just shouldn’t happen.
It’s great to see female fighters in the game, but there are only a handful of fighters here. It would’ve been great to see all of the TUF competitors in the Rousey-Tate season featured here, or at least sign a deal with Invicta to put some of their fighters in to flesh out the thin female roster. UFC and Invicta have been friendly before, and hopefully with UFC Fight Pass now airing their shows, the next EA UFC game will feature either all of the roster or better yet, a separate Invicta mode to spread the word about that brand. EA UFC’s roster as a whole is the worst of any modern UFC game to date. A lot of that has due with fighters leaving and deals not being struck. It makes sense that the present-day Bellator fighters Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz wouldn’t be in, but there are only two legendary UFC fighters featured in Chuck Liddell and Royce Gracie. Dan Severn and his NWA World Title are prominently featured in the career mode’s TUF gym, but he isn’t in the game. While Brock has been in WWE for two years now, it still feels odd to play a UFC game without him, and the fighter creation tool doesn’t allow you create giant dudes like him in it without also making them lean. There are so many holes in the roster that it’s a real shame they can’t be at least reasonably filled-up by the creation tools.
EA Sports UFC is a disappointing game that may not be bad, but is not the best representation of either the UFC or MMA as a whole in a game. The two year wait for a new UFC game wasn’t quite worth it as the career mode is a step back from EA’s past MMA effort and the gameplay isn’t as rewarding or fun as Yuke’s UFC games. There’s far less to do here than in prior UFC games, and things like vastly-inferior commentary and a convoluted submission system only serve to make you appreciate how much better these things have been done before. Online play is too laggy to be of much use, and while it’s great to play as people that haven’t been in a UFC game before like Ronda Rousey or Glover Teixera, this game doesn’t really do them or anyone in it justice. It feels like a by-the-numbers MMA game, and lacks the high-quality gameplay of either EA MMA or any Yuke’s-made UFC game. Hopefully, many of the issues are just due to the game kind of being rushed out – they did only have two years to make it from the moment the license was acquired to the time of release. Much like EA MMA before it, this feels like a solid foundation for a better game to be built upon down the line. Still, for a $60 game, it’s hard to recommend it over the far less-expensive EA MMA or any UFC Undisputed game. It’s definitely worth a rental though, and future roster updates could fix some of the roster holes – unfortunately, EA hasn’t divulged just who will be in the free updates, so it’s impossible to tell how that will affect things.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Electronic Arts
This review is based on a retail copy of EA Sports UFC for the PlayStation 4 provided by Electronic Arts.