Publisher:  Electronic Arts

Developer:  EA Canada

Platforms:  Xbox One, PS4

Release date:  Available Now

It’s been a long time coming but EA SPORTS finally ushers in a new era of sports with their first UFC game which is built exclusively for the new consoles. With the IGNITE Technology under the hood their next generation fighter promised to capture the athleticism, power, aggression, physiology and emotion of being a real UFC athlete. While not all of those goals were reached, EA did a pretty good job of replicating a complicated and violent sport.

When you first boot the game up it won’t take long for you to realize that this is one fine looking fighting game. Each fighter was created using HD scanning technology to deliver realism and accuracy and man do they look good. You’ll notice every scar, wrinkle and tattoo is faithful to each fighter. More importantly the fighters look good in motion and move about the octagon pretty smoothly. No two fights are ever the same and cuts, bleeding and bruising all happen realistically during a match. Fighters’ cuts will get worse as they take more damage and bruises will become more visible as the match goes on. Also if you decide to continue to attack a region that has been damaged you will see more detailed results, such as a kick to the abdomen crumbling a fighter over on the canvas or a leg kick causing a fighter to limp or even fall.

Before you get to head crack and break ribs in a real fight, EA Sports UFC thrusts you into a quick tutorial that runs through the very basic control mechanics. You won’t want to blow off any tutorials this game has to offer because the intricate system can get overwhelming if you’re new to the game. You’ll also learn very quickly that if you try to just stand and button mash, you’ll end up knocked out on the canvas more often than not. The emphasis on the ground game is critical here, but with everything assigned to two simple motions modified by the specific button you press, the barrier for entry is far lower than it once was when it comes to the control scheme. The button-for-limb face button controls are joined by all manner of modifiers, meaning almost every stick direction and shoulder button affects what type of punch, kick, knee or elbow you're throwing. UFC utilizes a dynamic environment that allows you to execute moves using the cage, including roundhouse kicks, superman punches, knees and other highlight techniques. Through the offensive targeting modifiers you can choose to strike high or low. The offensive attacks can be countered by blocking, parrying, slipping and dodging options. Holding the right trigger allows for basic block coverage but you will still take some damage. The longer you cover up the worse the damage becomes, so you’d be better off having some kind of counter attack ready. Pressing the right trigger in combination with the top or bottom face buttons will execute a high and low strong block respectively. These provide 100% protection from strikes but will leave one area open if you choose wrong. If you’re able to time a strong block perfectly you’ll be able to execute a parry which gives you an opportunity to counterstrike.

So how does all this translate inside the octagon? Well for the most part EA Sports UFC does a credible job of capturing the basics of the sport but it’s not without its issues. EA Sports UFC’s grappling is very good especially when playing against another user. While in clinches you can deliver some pretty brutal strikes and when you’re on the ground the transitions are balanced enough so there are never any static moments. However, given the complexity of the ground game, a few issues arise with the submission system which is represented by a thumbstick-driven minigame. Every submission battle is a series of stages both fighters must battle over and stages range from 3 to 5 depending on difficulty and position. Your goal is to get the defender to try and push out of their “gates” at every stage to escape the position. At what stage they escape dictates what position they end up in. The offensive attacker is trying to defend by countering defensive “gates” and looking for their window to advance. Once all stages have advanced, the opponent is submitted. The gate is represented by a graphic onscreen that displays the four quadrants that coordinates with the right thumbstick, indicating which direction you should move it. The theory behind the mechanic is fine but the problem is the disparity within the escape gate. Against another player, escaping is immensely easier than actually finishing the submission. However against the AI, opponents will often make bad moves on defense, resulting in quick tap-outs. As a result you can cheaply attempt a takedown and get a submission against the AI pretty easily. It will take some discipline on the gamer’s part to give the AI a fair fight and not just go for the easy submission.

Career mode wise, EA Sports UFC has somewhat of a bare bones package compared to many other sports games. The career mode sees you battling through the Ultimate Fighter TV show before progressing to the UFC itself. Complete with weak training mini-games (that progress your fighter) between fights, and bland messages from real UFC fighters the mode doesn’t really offer much to entice you to keep progressing through it. I would imagine the relatively short development cycle was partly responsible for this as getting the gameplay nailed was more of the focus. Here’s to hoping future iterations of UFC see a more fleshed out career mode.

The XXL Endgame

EA Sports UFC is a beautiful game in motion that embodies the strategy and fighting prowess needed to be an ultimate fighter. You’ll have a blast when you’re fighting against friends and it doesn’t get much better than landing a picture-perfect head kick in the fifth round of a title fight. While the questionable AI and lackluster career mode hold it back from being really great, there’s no denying that a solid foundation has been laid for it to be a championship contender in the future. —written by DJRhude (@DJRhude)


XXL Rating: L (Good)

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS4 version of EA Sports UFC, provided by EA.