Royce Gracie started his Ultimate Fighting Championship career with a streak of 11 consecutive submission victories that spanned the first four UFC events. In fact, he's still the only UFC fighter to notch double-digit tapout wins. In the modern world of EA Sports UFC, however, Dave “The Destroyer” Russo (renamed so because the announcers can't say “Rudden”) more than doubled Gracie's record over the course of his MMA career with 27 submissions against trained mixed martial artists. While some of that success is likely due to the limitless talent possess by the ruggedly handsome fighter, it's also a byproduct of EA Sports UFC's rookie missteps. As gorgeous as it looks, it's not a revolution in the same vein that Fight Night Round 3 was, as imbalanced single-player combat and an overall deficit of content keep this combatant from reaching its true potential.
If there's one area where EA's haymaker-throwing franchises share a common bond, it's that EA Sports UFC continues the tradition of being a launch window graphical showpiece. Nearly every single one of EA Sports UFC's fighters (nearing 100 in number) is recreated with stunning accuracy. When you consider the amount of ill-conceived tattoos and instances of unkempt facial hair permeating the Ultimate Fighting Championship, it's a pretty impressive feat. The fighters also animate pretty well. Fists and feet hit with the appropriate amount of impact; sometimes you'll score a punch to the face so hard that it opens a cut in the direct area of contact and sends a shockwave rippling all the way down the poor recipient's neck.
Sometimes, though, you'll misread a situation and limply kick the other guy's shoulder or even worse, catch limbs as your concurrent strikes collide. Add in the various ways to avoid strikes altogether (swaying, parrying, and straight-up dodging) and it's pretty impressive how the stand-up game resembles the real thing, warts and all. It would be nice if there was a more robust replay functionality on par with THQ's UFC Undisputed 3 or 2K's WWE series so that we could capture the combat outside of the pre-selected post-round clips, which are sometimes duds.
EA Sports UFC's grappling deserves some credit; when you're playing against a friend, it's better than any MMA game before it. Stand-up clinches are more than just stalemates (in fact, you can nail some pretty devastating strikes), and when you're on the ground, transitions are balanced enough so there's plenty of movement, yet escaping from a disadvantageous position is far from a cakewalk. However, given the complexity of the ground game, a few issues arise.
Mixed-Gender Martial Arts
While EA deserves some commendation for including seven female fighters (a pretty decent amount, given the relative newness of UFC's women's division), it's a little sad that you won't be able to utilize them anywhere outside of exhibitions. You can't create new fighters to bolster the ranks, and as a result, you won't be able to progress through the career mode. It's odd because you can see the goings-on for every weight class outside of your fighter's, and the cards are populated with matches for every division, but the lack of bouts featuring Ronda Rousey and company are sorely absent.
Regardless if you're playing against the AI or a human opponent, defending against strikes is far too difficult (even in situations like standard mount and guard positions, where both fists are free, you can't block opponent strikes).The struggle between tightening and escaping from a submission is represented well via a brief thumbstick-driven minigame; it works just fine with an unpredictable human opponent. That said, AI opponents will often make bad moves on defense, resulting in quick tap-outs. Short of pitting a relatively inexperienced grappler against a submission expert on the highest difficulty level, getting an opponent to tap within two rounds and less than a half-dozen attempts was pretty simple. When the rest of the combat works so well, it's a shame that “desperately attempt a takedown and cheaply attempt a submission” can be used to escape from disadvantageous situations.
Outside of standard bouts, where you pit UFC stars or created fighters in 3-or 5-round matches within their weight class, EA Sports UFC features a somewhat shallow career mode. Here, you take your combatant from the qualifying stages of The Ultimate Fighter all the way to a potential Hall of Fame retirement. In between bouts, you take part in three training mini-games that buff your fighter, either through additional attribute points or new moves. You even get words of encouragement and inspiration via video messages from top UFC stars and trainers. But outside of getting more sponsors, moves, and butts in the seats, there isn't much of a feeling of progression in the career mode.
Once you finish The Ultimate Fighter, you're put on pay-per-view events where your introduction stays the same until you're given a walking entrance during a title shot match. It feels too light, especially when contrasted to previous UFC games where you'd start out in the minor leagues, fight on non-numbered UFC events, and progress to the big shows themselves. It also would have been nice for previous bouts to be mentioned; part of the excitement of watching UFC events on TV is seeing rematches between closely-matched rivals whose history together plays a prominent role.
The fact that career mode is a bit underwhelming is accentuated by the fact that there's really no other modes of substance to invest your time into. Where previous UFC games would deliver additional leagues to fight in or classic matches to recreate, all EA Sports UFC brings to the table is standard bouts, some enjoyable training mini-games, and a career mode that mixes the two.
EA Sports UFC has plenty of talent; it's looks amazing and plays fantastically when you're staging fights with friends. However, when you decide to go it alone, the gaps in AI skill and the dearth of additional content becomes problematic. The next time EA accompanies UFC to the ring, we could see a championship effort. This time, unfortunately, it settles for being pretty good.
This game was reviewed on PS4.