Back in 2012, THQ was in financial dire straits and basically pitched themselves all-in with UFC Undisputed 3. It was hoped that on the backs of this game, and titles like their WWE games, they could right the ship. The game was about as good as you could get, including the return of PRIDE Fighting mode, but the writing was on the wall for THQ.  By June of that year, they had closed the studio that produced the game, and Electronic Arts took over the license.

Electronic Arts are no strangers to the MMA game, having developed EA Sports MMA back in 2010. While it pulled fighters from different promotions, it was strongly influenced by the Strikeforce promotion, though then-Bellator champions like Lyman Good and Eddie Alvarez were in the game as well.  Unfortunately, while the game was well received (especially for its more user friendly nature than the UFC Undisputed 2009 and 2010 games), the market wasn’t quite there for another MMA title.

Call this the best of both worlds with the world’s preeminent sports game developer now looking after the world’s biggest MMA promotion.

Release Date: June 17th, 2014

Consoles: Xbox One / Playstation 4

Genre / Rating: Sports / T for Teen

It’s been two years in the making, and made its way onto the next gen consoles.  It also led to the temporary demise of the Fight Night series, for which I admit I was a huge fan.  The game was built on EA’s new IGNITE engine, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over time.

It should be noted first off that the game IS a dedicated UFC build and is 100% matches in the Octagon.  EA, to their credit, had probably included fighters that aren’t with the company anymore (like Jon Fitch or Jake Shields) in the original build, but have done well to keep things current at retail release. In all, fighters from every weight class are included here. You can play as nearly all of the current champions, and for the first time, can play as the women as well, including Canadians Sarah Kaufman and upcoming title contender Alexis Davis.

You can definitely tell that the game was built by the Fight Night team. The menus and character renderings scream Fight Night inspiration, and the game has a much darker aura and presence to it throughout, almost like Fight Night Champion had.  It’s almost funny just how dark the game does come off. It’s almost as though EA Sports UFC takes itself more seriously as an MMA accompaniment than the UFC itself does.

The in-ring presentation is perhaps the neatest aspect. One thing I noticed immediately in the demo was how well the light shading was throughout the Octagon, and how well the lighting was captured. EA has confirmed themselves that over 240 separate lighting pieces adorn the Octagon, and you’ll definitely notice it with each hit or move.   The battle damage aspect is something great as well. Your fighters now feel repeated targeted shots more, and carry the damage between rounds.  While the UFC Undisputed games would show the effect of repeated leg kicks or liver shots, you were likelier to recover better between rounds than you do in this game. That’s a definite step up.

The game presentation otherwise is great too. The Career Mode (which I’ll touch upon more) has a really cool basic layout for starting out, and having to qualify through the Ultimate Fighter. Even the Ultimate Fighter tournament fights are presented well. You hear individual voices yelling at you just like on the show, and can hear Dana White and the coaches mumbling to each other in the background.

What struck me right away while playing the game is just how similar it is mechanically to the UFC Undisputed series. The main controls are nearly the same, and while the striking techniques are a far bit more dynamic and verbose than the THQ games, I was really surprised to see this. I had honestly expected that the game would be a complete rebuild in that sense, and I wouldn’t have to flick 3 or 4 different commands for slams or takedowns.  I’m not really sure how I feel about that, but with so much going on, and so many possible commands, I’m not sure what else could have been done. Still, understand coming into this that if you didn’t like the Undisputed series’ control scheme, you definitely won’t like this game’s either.

Career mode is neat. In it, you take one of your previously created fighters and put them through the paces, and a season of the Ultimate Fighter.  Training is where you truly see the Fight Night inspiration on this title. The training session styles are similar where you fire combos or learn how to do certain techniques within a certain amount of time. From there, you get skill points to use toward building your fighter up, and head toward winning that six figure contract. You’ll be fighting a bunch of similar fresh faces, and even after you win the show itself, will start on undercards. Your fighter starts out with basic stats and slow development, but it really picks up once you begin fighting in the UFC itself. You gain points for your performance in-fight, and if you win any of the post-fight performance bonuses, you get even more. Along the way, you’ll gain XP as well to level up your fighter. This will help you unlock abilities and special attributes for your fighter.  It’s a really slow progression, however. Usually, the Ultimate Fighter winner gets placed right onto a main card, or a high prelim. You might find yourself fighting on prelim cards for a little while, and probably won’t fight some of the names in your division for a while.  Keep at it though. If you develop your fighter’s specialties well, you can progress pretty quickly if you know what you’re doing.

This game is very much more geared toward strategy as opposed to button mashing. Reaction time is much more accurate in this game, and you won’t be firing off 20-30 shots at full steam before your fighter slows down. In addition, the collision physics in this game as a noticeable improvement. Now, more than ever, fighters react better, and more realistically to the way they throw shots, or have them thrown.  It’s possible for fighters to throw kicks at once and for one to trip simply based on falling off-balance.  As can be with any collision detection-heavy games, there are minor clipping troubles there, but it’s nothing you haven’t experienced with sports games before. You might have the odd kick end errantly, or unrealistically, but those situations are few and far between.

Realism is one thing that was developed better than ever, and it’s done well.  Fighters show fatigue much better than just sweat dripping, and the odd skin abrasion. You can see veins popping, visible fatigue and tiring and weardown. Fighters look much more realistic than ever in-game, down to skin moles and marks.  There are slight clipping issues with some of oddities, but it is to be expected. Clay Guida’s hair, for example, will be problematic in games like this until the end of time.

In terms of combat physics, those are much better too. You can get hurt and stunned by one hit, and your opponents can in fact jump on that immediately. While you can fight back, you cannot perform some actions in a stunned state, and are more vulnerable to KOs. Flash KOs are also really difficult to obtain, and you do have to work harder for your victories in this game than the others. The submission mini-game is pretty well done, though I recommend going into the tutorials to learn about it because it’s a bit confusing at first since it’s different from all the other games.

Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan are, well, Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. They’re about as active and verbal as they are on the actual broadcasts and keep the pace of the game going well. Just be careful you don’t do what I did though. I didn’t have the commentators for the first couple days I had the game, and couldn’t figure out what was going on to the point where I even uninstalled and reinstalled the game. EA finally recommended for me to check my MASTER sound settings and set back to stereo. The game is presented in 7.1 on the Xbox if you have it. I don’t any longer. I disconnected my surround sound before the baby was born and forgot to change my settings back to regular stereo (
and I’ve been basically reviewing solely on the Nintendo systems and PS4 since she was born.)  Oops!  That cleared things up nicely though.

Fight Night always wowed me with what I thought were the best sports gaming soundtracks.  Fight Night Round 4’s soundtrack will always remain the stuff legends are made of.  EA Sports UFC’s is a bit disappointing in that sense. While I like the inclusion of some tracks like Imagine Dragons’ Radioactive, the rest doesn’t quite seem to capture the essence of the UFC quite like Fight Night captured boxing. Still, there were a couple good “attention to detail” pieces. Don’t worry about your favorite Brazilian fighters, for example. There’s a Linkin Park track in there for them to walk out to!

If you’ve played previous installments, you can basically just grab the controller and go. You only have a few new controls to learn different from the Undisputed games, and those will come with the tutorial. Basic controls are all the same with the exception of the fact that cage sprinting is gone. Sprinting’s no loss though unless you liked to run full speed from the bell and throw a superman punch or flying knee. It’s fairly authentic though – Who has ever sprinted out of their corner full speed besides Brock Lesnar?

The roster size is a bit surprising though I admit. Somewhere along the line, a rumour was that there would be around 300-400 fighters in-game. I don’t know how, or where this rumour started, but everybody was quoting it as fact, and so it became this operative.  The roster isn’t close to 400. In fact, I’d say it’s closer to 100. EA to their credit never actually confirmed the roster size, so this belief wasn’t their fault at all.

There have been some fairly undue criticisms as of late as well in terms of fighter choices and the roster, as current Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw (who JUST won the title) isn’t in the game, and recent title contenders like Ali Bagautinov, and Raphael Assunciao aren’t either. This is basically the “Rome wasn’t built in a day” philosophy for me. Judging by the way the roster was compiled, I’m GUESSING the roster was finalized last May, and that’s when development has been ongoing full steam. If you go back to many of the UFC’s Top Ten lists, you’ll see most of the fighters appearing in-game were ranked in the top 10 back then.

 

As another reference point, Eddie Wineland has his mustache in the game (pictured at left above,) which he shaved before his title fight with Renan Barao last September. That again should tell you when the character modeling and roster building was likely finalized.

There are a few exceptions like fighters representing international markets, and also a few popular fighters. That’s why I’m assuming you see guys like Pat Barry, Conor McGregor or Pascal Krauss.  It’s also nice to see guys like Tarec Saffiedine in the game.  “The Sponge” was the final Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, but injuries sidelined him for nearly a year afterward, and his UFC debut wasn’t until around the time EA started to reveal the roster.

If your favorite fighter is missing, don’t worry. According to an article on Sherdog.com, however, it appears that there will be free roster updates made over time. This means you may soon hopefully see the likes of Dillashaw, or fighters that have made surges in the UFC like welterweights Dong Hyun Kim and Matt Brown. This is great news for UFC fans, and will definitely look to keep the pool fresh until the next game comes out. There’s also some neat flexibility options here where EA could always canvas social media for fan favourite fighters to make their way into the game. Topps has done this in the past and have signed fighters to autograph deals based on sheer demand and popularity outside of the cage.

(This is also where I’m going to ask EA politely to include my pals Pat “Bam Bam” Healy and Isaac “Too Cool for a Nickname” Vallie-Flagg to the mix in the future)

Closing things out here – Since this game is so mechanically similar to the the UFC Undisputed games, it may uncomfortably receive comparisons to them. It’s undeniable in this hobby. In that regard, unfortunately EA was fighting uphill even before they started. It’s difficult having to build a new game on a new engine from scratch and having it live up to its predecessors immediately.  Still, this game is hardly a “starter kit” for much bigger things. The game itself is already a good one, and you’ve seen the leaps and bounds EA can take from one year to the next with their games. Look how vast the NHL franchises have become.  The idea of building the most comprehensive experience possible is what EA is known for, and will probably be tasked to do with these series in future years. A game one year will be nothing like it is the next year. Hopefully this is the start of big things for the UFC and EA partnership.

 

Gameplay: 4 / 5

Graphics: 5 / 5

Sound: 3.5 / 5

Controls: 3.5 / 5

Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4 / 5

 

Overall Rating: 4 / 5 (80%)

EA Sports UFC is now available for your PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

 

Purchase EA Sports UFC now for your Xbox One

Purchase EA Sports UFC now for your Playstation 4