Electronic Arts has long had sports simulations of all kinds in a submission hold, with exclusive license agreements locking up years of virtual football and hockey. In the end, there really isn’t another publisher in the business willing to take on the risky proposition of developing, marketing, and shipping a sports game aside from 2K whose basketball sim pushes back on NBA Live and forced EA to cancel its lesser game for a few years in a row now. To make up for it, EA Sports landed the Ultimate Fighting Championship license following THQ’s break up ensuring no one else will make a UFC game with the fighters taking spots on cards every weekend.
You can take EA Sports UFC home for your PlayStation 4 today, but should you? For many fans, UFC acts as that one sport you either love and watch religiously or skip past while skimming through the premium channels on satellite TV. In translating mixed-martial arts to video games, EA needed to ensure that style, strength, and depth made it through and that each remain accessible to competitors who only want to pick up the controller for settling arguments with fellow fans. Thankfully, EA Sports UFC lays a strong base for future iterations.
Straight away in round one, EA Sports UFC knocks the sport’s presentation out with fantastic lighting and highly detailed fighter models that deform with every brutal blow. Even loading a quick exhibition match takes you through the motions with a roaring crowd, sweeping shots of the octagon, bright cage lights, and fighter announcements from Bruce Buffer. Fighters dance back and forth while their names are read, but once they enter battle they’ll typically bob and weave realistically. There are a few nits to pick in aliasing on some fighters with hair, but even tattoos and shorts look good in the new EA Sports Ignite engine which will eventually power all of the publisher’s sports games.
The DualShock 4’s face buttons control punches and kicks, while the shoulder buttons modify hits to account for greater reach or flying knees to exposed jaws. The right stick lets you enter a clinch, but you can also modify that to go straight into submission holds. Unfortunately for anyone without the patience to dig deep into a specific fighter’s style, you might feel like you’re more often than not hoping you’ll land a heavy blow that looks spectacular.
Thankfully, even button mashing results in some exciting and impactful hits for players of all skill levels. The fighters themselves do look a little silly throwing jab after jab before tossing in a kick for good measure, but EA Canada has demonstrated a knowing awareness that not every player will want to recreate fights so much as waste a few hours over beers with a friend. The depth is there, with environmental off-the-cage punches and kicks under the right circumstances, satisfying knock-outs, and some truly gruesome damage modeling.
In a mirror match, my Anderson Silva bloodied a computer-controlled Silva until his own face ran red down his chest and onto the mat. Hitting an opponents leg over and over again will cause him or her to limp, but on harder difficulties you won’t want to waste time going into a clinch and a submission hold or locking up and going for a few body blows to drain energy permanently before exploiting your opponent’s depleted stamina to go for a knock-out. Admittedly, it’s a little too easy to achieve first-round knock-outs on anything below normal difficulty.
Still, you have time to train up by taking a custom fighter through the Ultimate Fighter house in a single-player campaign that gives you a deep understanding of MMA and your character’s strengths and weaknesses. You’ll undoubtedly get more out of online competition where EA’s net code and servers remain full almost around the clock. I haven’t had a single issue getting into a match, though panicked ducking, blocking, and pawing at my opponent probably left me a less than desirable opponent.
Even less desirable? Downloadable content fighters in menus for nearly every game mode. If you didn’t know Bruce Lee would be playable in EA Sports UFC, you’ll know as soon as you launch the game because the publisher really wants you to invest in even more fighters. I understand the push to monetize the UFC fan base who’ll probably rabidly consume fighters as they become available, but I wish you weren’t pressed to spend more money within minutes of launching the game.
EA Sports UFC does a commendable job bringing the fight to next-generation console hardware (or is it current-gen yet?) despite a few nagging complaints and the obvious room for growth in future iterations of the game. Fans will be satisfied with the options and playability, which has proven a focus in nearly every corner of this virtual octagon. I actually had more fun button mashing, but stringing together a vicious wall of attacks will satisfy more intense gamers and UFC fanatics.
While less emphasis on DLC, a practice mode, and a better explanation of the submission game would have been helpful, EA Sports UFC gets a no-contest from this reviewer. It doesn’t hurt that there’s no other MMA game to compete against, much less on PlayStation 4, but the game’s presentation has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a fully loaded fight card. You’ll have to stop short of beating the virtual opponent in front of you to death, but bruises and blood will leave you feeling like your TV just fell on you and got the clinch in two moves.
Review copy provided by publisher. Also available on Xbox One. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.