So here we are, friends, fighting game enthusiasts and those that fall into the “other” category. About four years ago around this time, we were fawning over the EA MMA screenshots and videos trickling out of E3, and while many loved EA’s initial foray into MMA. It died a slow death, didn’t it? UFC 3 dropped a few months before the official funeral of EA MMA in 2012, which means we haven’t had a proper new MMA game release for 2.5 years. Man. That’s the second longest break between MMA games since Tito Ortiz was on top of the world. For what it’s worth, this is the first UFC videogame to not have Tito Ortiz featured. I don’t know what that means, I don’t even really care, I never used Tito or would use Tito outside of a random selection, I guess I just wanted to get all #SportsFact in the opening paragraph on your ass.
Let’s get right down to it: this review is for those of us that played EA MMA until the servers shut down, and those of us that played UFC even though the servers might as well have been shut down. You know who you are, and you know what you’re looking for here. You’ve probably already bought the game, or you’re on the fence, because you know that if this game is what you want it to be, it likely involves purchasing a brand new system along with it. I’m here to say that EA UFC very well could be.
Full disclosure: you know MiddleEasy was featured in EA MMA, and I had a hell of a lot of fun covering UFC 2010 and UFC 3 back in the day. I’m not one to take sides on the EA MMA vs. UFC 3 thing, as they’re two different monsters. EA MMA had an incredible online mode that saw hudreds if not thousands of hours of play out of our community. Solid gameplay in EA MMA met undeniable innovation in the online sector. Where EA MMA left of UFC 3 picked up with the most complete UFC and thus MMA experience ever in UFC 3. They were different, no doubt, and each game had its ups and downs, but each game also had redeeming factors that kept you coming back.
Does EA UFC live up to its predecessors? Is it what we’ve always wanted? Well, no game is going to live up to our expectations, but TLDR; we’ve played a lot of great MMA games over the last half-decade, and EA UFC is no doubt the next step in their lineage.
EA UFC feels like EA MMA and UFC Undisputed 3 got together after a healthy amount of TRT was injected into wherever TRT goes. The controls are basically a refined and more robust/intuitive/advanced versions on the feet, and almost exactly the same on the ground. Despite the strikes being on the pad instead of the much-loved analog striking, combos flow well and the speed of a good striking battle feels like EA MMA. So yeah, think EA MMA, with better striking and a vanilla ground game. What we have is a brilliant foundation that will lead to some great games in the future. I haven’t had this much fun standing and banging since EA MMA or Fight Night: Champions, which this team was behind. Every phase of the stand up works exactly as it should. Parrying, dodging and putting combos together feels like a downright simulation. Rest assured, you can button mash, but someone with an iota of fight IQ will be able to pick you apart like your name was Diego Sanchez.
Jabbing has never felt so good. In fact, a 1-1-2 has never felt so good. I can regularly put together 4-5 hit combos and confidently say that I don’t miss the analog striking. It’s too bad there’s only a handful of takedown animations, the animations themselves freak out at times, sending the models twitching and flying around the Octagon. You only go against the cage in one fashion, with your back put to it in a specific clinch mode, and for all the brilliance of the striking, you can see how EA Vancouver has a boxing pedigree, with some real work to do with two fighters interacting in a cage.
The ground game is basically EA MMA 2. You can try to spam headshots, but spamming bodyshots to drain the stamina of your foes has been removed. You advance position via quarter circles on the analog like UFC 3, with familiar and tight responses. The much-questioned submission system is confusing as hell, but with much practice, I think I’ve got it down, and I hope to sub many people before they understand the process on launch day.
I played the game on Xbox One, which had it’s issues after a lengthy install. The game randomly stutters every 20-30 seconds then doesn’t at all, there’s slowdown and the menus feel like molasses. I have the distinct feeling EA UFC doesn’t perform like this on PS4. The presentation is incredible, and EA has produced some of the best highlights and videos showcasing UFC fighters ever. But for every moment that exudes perfection or high production value, there is an aspect of the game that feels rushed and incomplete.
The career mode might as well be EA MMA with less diversity. That’s not a good thing, as that game was as bare-bones as it can get. EA UFC opens with you attempting to fight your way into the TUF house. You make it or you don’t then you begin your EA UFC career in earnest. The way your career is handled is pretty interesting, as you try to avoid damage that can cut short your career. My first playthrough was a labor. Between each fight, you have to train in 3 minigames which I loathed, but you realize halfway through that you truly are training for a fight, and what they teach you in these minigames are applicable strategies and techniques for fights. X Y X, for example is a prime Vitor Belfort on Wanderlei Silva. You have greater punching speed when using proper combos and getting your hips into it. Nick Diaz will jab you the **** up, and playing as Anthony Pettis lets you tap into your inner Octagon ninja. The game doesn’t feel as fast as the demo between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson, even at lighter weight classes, which is good. It’s less rock ’em, sock ’em than UFC 3, which is great, and it all feels very… Fight Night. Which is awesome.
I hated the training sessions in the beginning, but it came to me around my 20th match when I finally figured out how to submit someone while on the mats in my gym. These weren’t mindless minigames, I was being trained how to fight, and it felt so good.
After TUF, you make it into the UFC and there you stay on the undercard against fake fighters (something I love) until you move your way up the UFC hierarchy. Only when you break into the main cards do you fight the UFC’s stars, but that’s mostly due to the light roster. So… The roster. Let’s get into that now and come back to the career mode.
I get why the roster is so small. Each fighter truly looks and almost plays like how they fight in real life. Little mannerisms of each fighter come to life in EA UFC, from a twitch, shrug or how they move their feet in the Octagon. Playing against Anderson Silva felt like fighting Anderson Silva, and when you fight him on Pro difficulty, his mocking slips are downright scary. Still, I would take fighters #15-50 with template swaps if it meant getting them in the game alongside the random CAFs present by EA. Many fight fans will be pleased with the recreation of their favorite fighter, and we’ll have to use them in the tournament mode online, but let’s be real here: we all want to fight with our own created characters, right?
EA always says “it’s in the game.” Well, when it comes to online, you’re not really in the game. It’s a bummer. Sure, no one wants to fight 100 stat CAFs, but there has to be a better way to deal with the situation instead of outright banning them, right? That’s something to think about over these weeks.
So back to career mode. It’s pretty vapid. Between each fight you get UFC stars telling you how great you are mixed in with pep talks and training device. Dana White even pops in and… Well, I’m sorry, but I can’t get over how cheesy this was. It’s clear EA busted out the camera whenever a fighter was in their studio, told them to read from an outline a couple times and then rendered out the footage without much thought because some of these clips are downright painful. Ronda is looking down wondering what to say, Matt Hughes is clearly lost, looking directly into the camera like only a man who has drunk the blood of a fallen beast could, and Dana White over your fifteen-year career never once changes his shirt. Unless he wears that blue and red polo every time he calls you because he thinks it’s lucky. I dunno.
The Tesla Effect showed us that FMV still has a place in the gaming world, but EA UFC reminds us that it should be used sparingly in certain contexts, even when it’s a cheap and easy way to fill up a feature list and add production value to a rushed and stressful project. Hell, the guy who did the best acting (Mike Pyle) isn’t even in the game! Hopefully EA can do something better in the next go-around.
All in all, the career mode is just… There. You don’t have many options outside of train, fight, put points into your character, and CAFs themselves aren’t very diverse. The game has more nuance than EA MMA, but those expecting a suite of moves like UFC will be severely disappointed.
That isn’t to say the career isn’t fun, it is, it just isn’t as engrossing as any recent MMA game. It’s a lot like UFC 09 and 10, which kind of sucks.
But the gameplay, oh god the gameplay. It just feels so good. It’s the best any fighting game has ever felt I would say. The things we wanted out of EA MMA 2 are real here. Footwork feels right, you can firmly plant a foot on the ground, and create angles in order to blast your opponent into oblivion. It’s great.
After a tough match your character looks battered and bruised, maybe bloody, depending on if you got cut, and it all looks almost picture perfect. Almost disturbing. The game is visually next-gen, no doubt, which leads me to believe the best has yet to come by far. But when you get past the surface, there are some little annoyances. See the pattern? I could throw a high kick, and have my opponent shoot a double, but I won’t get taken down. The game will finish its animation, and the fight will continue on. It’s issues like these that pop up more often than not that remind us that this is the first game in the series. With that said, should we settle for that? I dunno.
So you’re having the combat sport-simulation of your life, you’re bleeding from your eye, your opponent’s eye is closed, and you can’t believe how visceral this match and game has become. Then the fight ends. It’s over. Your hammerfist from six inches off your opponent’s face knocks him out.
The damage is handled in a very unique ways in which you take damage, but the damage dissipates after avoiding strikes rather than having a damage meter build up with subsequent hits to the area. I like it a lot, and it works well, adding drama to the fight, but it’s lame that after getting knocked down a ‘flashing red’ head will go from the worst damage in the game, on the precipice of a knockout, to perfectly fine in the span of 3 seconds. There isn’t enough consistency. Hopefully a patch can fix this.
The ebb and flow of EA UFC never fails, and for as much refined perfection is served inside the cage, where the whole game matters most, the finale of the fights are the absolute worst part of EA UFC. Fights end out of nowhere, knockouts are anticlimactic, follow-up punches are nonexistent and most fights will end on an, “ohhhhh.” Instead of an, “ohhhh!”
This game is heartbreaking in that way. It’s almost there. The greatness is tangible, but so are the utter letdowns.
So now it’s time for me to sum up this entire experience. I’ve played the game non-stop since Thursday, and it’s Monday night now. You want to know – should I get EA UFC? Yes. Absolutely yes. The good outweighs the bad, and the foundation is there. Online play will absolutely be fun, but it will be barebones. For the fight enthusiast, this game is a must-have. The knock down, drag out battles of EA MMA are back, alive and spin-kicking, but don’t expect your world to be turned upside down.
Everyone who owns a next-gen system and is an MMA fan should own this EA UFC, but EA UFC is a unit mover, not a system seller.
I couldn’t stop playing, and I pretty much saw the sun come up until I lost a total BS split-decision to Frank Mir as Mark Hunt. Watch the action below. We’ll be streaming all day.