EA Sports and the Ultimate Fighting Championship haven’t had a good relationship in the past, but the two have patched things up and come together to develop a fighting game of tremendous size. While EA Sports MMA showed promise, it failed to bring in a roster the masses knew about. Now that the publishing giant has the UFC license, they have endless potential to create something that will impress the millions of fans out there. Unfortunately, it’s an opportunity that was lost.
If you’re familiar with EA Sports MMA or even THQ’s UFC Undisputed series, you’ll have a decent grasp on the basic controls of the game, but it goes much deeper than that. Grappling and ground transitions are essential, especially online when most fighters just want to trade leather. While this has been billed as a simulator that replicates fighting in the octagon, that’s not necessarily the case. This is more of an arcade fighter than anything else as everything in this game is way easier to do than in reality. Reversing from your own closed guard into mount in one transition? It rarely happens in real life but is the simplest thing to do here. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun as the combat mechanics are very versatile and offers for a lot of variety. Whether you’re a muay thai fighter who likes to use his knees or a wrestler who grinds out all of his victories, EA Sports UFC has something for everyone.
There are some unfortunate issues here and there with gameplay, though. For example, I’ve lost count at the number of times I was stood up in the mount position, while posturing up and raining down hammerfists. In a sense, it shows that the referee has the ability to make a poor judgment call just like in real life, but there are issues such as these and weird glitches that plague the fighting game. Teleporting from guard to the clinch, having the camera stay in the corner at the beginning of a match, or being thrown across the ring, the list goes on. It feels unpolished in some spots and solid in others.
The problem with EA Sports UFC is that it’s very skimpy in terms of variety. There’s the standard player vs. player (or CPU) single fight mode, online competition and a lacking career campaign. There are also challenges but they equate to nothing more than slightly more advanced tutorials. Players are able to create their own fighter and bring them into the career mode which starts from The Ultimate Fighter TV show and moves up to an inevitable title shot. The problem here is that it feels dry. There’s progression in that, after each accomplishment or milestone, you’ll receive a pre-recorded video of a fighter, trainer or Dana White saying how awesome you were, but other than that, it doesn’t feel like you’re learning how to become a better fighter. This is because the three predetermined training sessions are generally repeated over and over again through the campaign and it gets old rather quickly. What is interesting is the career ending meter that fills up the more damage you take during fights. It encourages players to learn the mechanics or play it safe to ensure they have a lengthy and healthy career.
By far the best feature EA Sports UFC has going for it is its online mode, which, if players continue to support it, will ensure for enjoyable competition for months. There’s a Championships section that acts as a ranked branch, but it adds an interesting progress bar called Seasons which will level you up based on your performance between the different belts ranks. There are also three tournaments to participate in, but they aren’t anything too special other than moving up an invisible bracket. Unfortunately, the online isn’t without its faults as I’ve had numerous issues with quitters. There are some that think they can quickly exit when knocked out, but there are others who straight up pull the plug before they’re penalized and ultimately leave the winner with nothing. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a well-deserved win only for it to be stripped away right from your hands.
Another issue is how lazily the online component is structure. If you’re unfamiliar with the UFC, there are nine different weight classes, but going online, you are only able to play five of them. With the exception of Heavyweight and Women’s Bantamweight, all the weight classes have been combined into three. Middleweights are able to fight Light Heavyweights, Welterweights can take on Lightweights, and Featherweights can do battle against Flyweight and Bantamweights. It allows for some interesting combinations, such as seeing Anthony Pettis take on Georges St. Pierre or Jose Aldo battling Might Mouse Johnson, but it’s simply poorly implemented.
The roster is also something to bring up. There’s roughly 100 different fighters to choose from, a staggering amount, but there are some rather striking exclusions. The most notable is current Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw. Granted, he just won the title a month ago, but the fact he’s not in the game while someone such as Mike Easton is, is baffling. There’s also no sign of Tim Kennedy, Diego Sanchez, Matt Brown, Tyrone Woodley, Stipe Miocic and Dong Hyun Kim, just to name a few big draws. Even Mike Pyle makes an appearance in one of the video logs in the campaign, yet he’s not a playable character. I understand that there’s a cutoff point to how many fighters can be in the game, especially considering the UFC’s incredibly long roster, and EA has included most of the major stars, but there are some questionable selections.
There’s no way we can get through this review without talking about the visuals. EA Sports UFC is arguably one of the best looking games ever, at least in terms of character models. It is, in a sense, the Fight Night 3 of this generation, featuring some absolutely stunning fighters who bleed and bruise when struck. Almost the entire cast, from Anderson Silva to The Korean Zombie, have a certain uncanny valley aspect to them that will please visual fanatics. Even the created fighters, while not perfect, are more playable than most games.
EA Sports has been developing their first UFC game for some time now and, while they have shown they know their material, it’s unfortunately weighed down by shortcomings. On one hand, the mechanics are satisfying as timing counters and ground passes are down to precision. On the other hand, this is a light package that contains unpolished gameplay. It does come with 90-or-so fighters to choose from, but there’s not much outside of the lacking career mode and decent online component. EA Sports UFC ends up as a pretty, shallow arcade fighter that UFC fans may enjoy but wish there was more.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4