With EA Sports UFC currently available to players on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One systems, friends all over the globe started trading punches for bragging rights. Just like the previous three installments of the franchise, there's little doubt the game will be fun, but can it shake that clunky feeling prevalent in UFC Undisputed titles? With EA Canada taking over development, hopes are high that this next generation only experience will be a knockout for both casual and hardcore MMA fans alike.
Fight of the night performance
When it comes to combat games, the mechanics are by far the most important aspect. Get it right and players will forgive some of the smaller issues. Get it wrong and not even the best cut man in the business will be able to stop the bleeding.
EA Sports UFC exceeds all expectations once the octagon door closes. Whether it's the striking mechanics, ground game or even tying up your opponent in the clinch, everything feels natural. Even when you transition from one aspect to the next, nothing feels choppy or out of place. Dive for a takedown just as your adversary throws a knee, and you'll find yourself waking up staring at the bright lights of the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino.
Out of all the fighting mechanics, the all-new submission game is by far the most impressive. Gone are the days of button mashing and spinning the analog sticks. The new system is made up of a mini-game that requires both skill and quick reflexes. While trying to tap out your opponent, you'll respond to their escape attempts by blocking in the direction indicated on the HUD. Miss that small window of opportunity, however, and you might end up reversed and on your back. If you make all the right moves and finish the submission, you'll force your opponent to give up or even choke them unconscious. It's a tense situation for all parties involved, allowing players to get lost in the moment and fully immersed in the action.
So you want to be an Ultimate Fighter
With the gameplay a clear win for EA Sports UFC, we had high hopes for the game modes to back up an already strong showing. For the most part it delivered, only suffering from a few minor setbacks.
The Career mode will require about 10 to 15 hours to complete, with a sizeable chunk of that spent in the menus or training for your next fight. The training is well done, teaching players new concepts as it gradually ups the difficulty throughout your career. Depending on whether or not you want a second crack at some of the drills, you can expect to spend about three to five minutes doing drills between each bout.
Where Career mode begins to slow down is in the menu navigation and even more frustrating fighter cameos. Simple tasks like editing your fighter and then returning to the gym can result in load times of 30 seconds or more. If they were few and far between it wouldn't be so much of an issue, but when it happens three or four times between fights, players will find themselves impatiently mashing buttons in a hopeless attempt to speed things up.
The other major drawback on your quest for a UFC title are the many fighter cameos that do nothing to enhance the game. You can expect fighters like Carlos Condit, Urijah Faber and Ronda Rousey to wish you luck and congratulate you after every single victory. At first it's sort of neat, but after trainer Mike Dolce gives you advice for the tenth time, then proceeds to corner your opponent, the novelty will wear off. PS4 users will find these video cut scenes especially frustrating due to nonstop reminders that gameplay recording has been paused, and again once it resumes.
As we eluded to earlier, all this is forgivable since the actual fights are so entertaining. Expect to see lifelike cuts and bruises, as well as actual UFC sponsors showing up on everything from walkout t-shirts to fight banners. In fact, players are able to fully customise their own music, look and sponsors based on the number of fans they accumulate throughout their career. While companies like Nike take up to one million fans to unlock, the fan favourite Dynamic Fastener can be had for a mere 30,000 supporters.
While the Career mode is an up and down experience that delivers more highs than lows, competing in online matches is a clear cut victory for EA Sports UFC. Players can choose to compete against friends, pummel random strangers in an unranked match or even compete in an online tournament against a few of the more hardcore players. Aside from having to deal with everyone trying to fight as Jon "Bones" Jones or Cain Velasquez, the action is the most intense the game has to offer, delivering a great deal of satisfaction when you hear your opponent moan and groan as they desperately try to escape a Kimura.
Sorry, T.J., you didn't make the cut
The game's roster, unfortunately, comes up short. While there's a total of nine different weight classes to choose from, some of the smaller divisions lack depth. This is especially true of the Women's Bantamweight class, featuring only seven total fighters to choose from or compete against. Especially puzzling is how current Men's Bantamweight champion, T.J. Dillashaw didn't make the cut, however relative unknown Mike Easton did. Although Dillashaw is likely to arrive at a future date, it's hard to understand why he wasn't part of the original release. In fact, it's difficult to wrap our heads around why there weren't more fighters on the roster to begin with.
Once again, however, the team at EA Canada seems to have made up for this by offering a few legends that will be a major selling point. Not only can players step into the octagon as Chuck Liddell or Forrest Griffin, they can also get their hands on Bruce Lee or Royce Gracie. Once you start kicking people in the face while playing as The Dragon, the rest of the roster's shortcomings don't seem like a big deal. Oh, and in case you're wondering, Bruce Lee is absolutely worth the trouble to unlock just because of the sounds he makes while throwing strikes. Royce Gracie, on the other hand, is no match for most of the opposition when it comes to the stand up game, but can submit just about anyone on the ground.
Post fight press conference
Overall, EA Sports UFC isn't without its problems, but the ones it has are overshadowed by excellent gameplay and fan favourite features. While you can expect to spend a bit more time than you would like in the menus, that is quickly forgotten when you axe kick someone in the face for that Knockout of the Night bonus.
Fans of mixed martial arts should consider this a must own title, while even casual players will find more than enough value to justify the purchase. Either way, if you have a PS4 or Xbox One, head out and pick up EA Sports UFC as soon as possible.
GAME's Verdict: 8/10
- Brilliantly executed submission mechanics.
- Training is both challenging and beneficial.
- Bruce Lee and Royce Gracie are great additions.
- Career mode load times are frustratingly slow.
- Some big names are missing from the roster.
- Pointless and redundant fighter cameos.