The road to EA Sports UFC has been a long and winding one, to say the least. In fact, there was a time where UFC president Dana White declared that he was “at war” with Electronic Arts over their refusal to make a game and instead took the brand to THQ and Yukes.
While they were toiling away with the Undisputed franchise, EA partnered with rival promotion Strikeforce to make EA Sports MMA. Then, after both THQ and Strikeforce went under, Dana and EA both realized that there was money to be made from the two working together and thus, we ended up here in 2014 with EA Sports UFC.
In the world of mixed martial arts, the UFC is a big fish in a medium-sized pond. While the sport may still be growing worldwide, the promotion features its best talent and EA Sports has done a solid job of bringing that to the game. EA Sports UFC‘s roster essentially features every notable fighter that you could ever want. Everyone from heavyweight fan favorite Mark Hunt to women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, to the recently retired Chael Sonnen is included, contributing to a whopping total of 97 fighters. There are a couple of glaring omissions, though, with current men’s bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw and surging top 10 welterweight Matt Brown among the most obvious. Then again, it’s likely that they were held back in favour of a later release as DLC.
If there’s an explanation that makes the most sense for why the roster is smaller than the one included in UFC Undisputed 3, it’s that EA Sports put way more effort into making sure the fighters looked as realistic as possible. What I’m trying to say here is that EA Sports UFC may just be the most graphically impressive sports game I have ever seen in motion. The character models look as true to their real-life counterparts as possible, outside of a few specific fighters. EA Sports Canada, who also developed the Fight Night franchise, did an excellent job of simulating body deformation over the course of each fight, as bruises and cuts linger in a way that just wasn’t possible on last-gen consoles. While some of the animations can be a little wonky at times (particularly when someone gets knocked out), for the most part, they are wholly impressive, even when depicting something as uncommon as a capoeira kick.
While the graphics are remarkable, the sound effects and voice overs could have been handled better. When you are watching a UFC event in real-life, something you will always notice is when someone gets hit with a huge shot. You not only see the punch or kick hit, but you also hear it, even if you’re at home watching it. The strikes in EA Sports UFC lack that impact, as even if you nail your opponent with a devastating strike, it fails to accurately sound like it. The ground game is even worse in this regard, as the strikes sound about as forceful as a boop on the nose. The commentary provided by regulars Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg is relatively fine, even if what they say can be a little repetitive at times. Moreover, Bruce Buffer, who is usually such an enthusiastic announcer, sounds toned down here, which is disappointing because that man can elevate even the most unappealing of matches with his booming calls.
Every UFC fight starts out on foot, so it’s important that any game that hopes to depict the promotion nails its stand-up game. Taking a page from the book of the Undisputed franchise, EA plays it safe for the most part here, with strikes and modifiers being controlled via the face and shoulder buttons, respectively. The big change that EA Sports UFC brings is the fact that stronger kicks and punches can be thrown more easily and by just about every fighter. However, while being able to throw jumping roundhouse kicks and spinning back-fists repeatedly is indeed fun, it’s hardly a realistic depiction of the sport.
For instance, portly heavyweight Roy Nelson has never thrown a head kick, nor has talented Swedish fighter Alexander Gustafsson ever pushed off the cage with a strike; however, they can both do so here. And, since all of the fighters have similar attacks, none of them feel unique, which is a major disappointment. Granted, since anyone can throw these types of attacks at will, EA Canada has also made sure that blocking and parrying play a major role in the game. Figuring out the intricacies for both of these defensive techniques is important if you want to succeed online or against the harder A.I. opponents, as not only will you protect yourself better, but they are also effective for setting up powerful counter-attacks.
The ground game in EA Sports UFC is also quite similar to the ones found in the Undisputed franchise, with most of the actions being controlled via the analog stick. The learning curve is a little more harsh here, though, as being able to effectively nail takedowns and transition on the ground will take practice to fully master. The submission system has also changed, although I’m not sure if it was for the best. Instead of the wheel system used in the last game, players will now have to flick the analog stick in different directions in order to either break out of holds or further lock them on. It sounds easy in theory, but the game never really explains the system fully and it lacks the intensity of the previous iteration.
One of the more ballyhooed features for EA Sports UFC was the revamped career mode, which has prospective fighters going through The Ultimate Fighter reality show before getting a chance on the big stage. Things start out well enough here, as making your way through the no-names that litter the under-card of events is fun and will help bring up stats. After you win the title and max out your stats, though, there really isn’t anything else to do besides defend the belt against the same pool of opponents over and over again. It’s a disappointingly shallow career mode and prospective fighters are better off searching for stronger opposition online. At least with your online friends, you can trade a belt between each other and have it actually mean something.
As a fighting game, I really enjoyed my time with EA Sports UFC. The gameplay is fast and fluid and the graphics are some of the best we have ever seen. As much as I enjoyed the title, though, my mind keeps going back to the fact that it isn’t really that great of a depiction of the sport. The fighters are basically interchangeable with one another and the lack of an engaging career mode, or really any type of interesting single player mode, is a killer. Regardless, this remains a strong first effort from the team at EA Canada and with a little more polish, the potential is there for the franchise to develop into something special.
This review was based off the PlayStation 4 version of the title, which we were provided with.
While EA Sports UFC is a fun and gorgeous fighting game, it fails to be an accurate depiction of the sport it is trying to emulate.