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.
The amount of MMA legends included in EA Sports UFC is pretty paltry. Part of the reasoning is the defection of former UFC stars to lower-key organizations like Bellator. Tito Ortiz is the prime example, and we hope EA can someday get the The Huntington Beach Bad Boy into the game.
Another MMA star who's found success in Bellator after frequent losses in UFC forced him out. Again, since WWE has included TNA talent in their games, we hope UFC realizes they can promote stars of their past without conceding marketshare.
One last Bellator employee to tout, Randy Couture hasn't actually even had a bout with America's second-biggest MMA company, instead acting as a coach on their reality show and as a part-time commentator. Needless to say, his legend was built in the Octagon, so the EA and UFC should celebrate that.
Without Ken Shamrock, we might not remember Royce Gracie or Tito Ortiz. "The World's Most Dangerous Man" had epic MMA feuds with both of those legends in between a memorable three-year run in the WWE.
Another fighter who's had success in the Octagon and the squared-circle, "The Beast" has amassed over 100 MMA victories and provided some of the most memorable early UFC bouts.
Brock Lesnar's current WWE contract seems open-ended enough that EA could potentially license him for their combat game--it would be worth it for the former UFC Heavyweight Champion and Undertaker streak-breaker.
Hughes is a Hall of Famer, a two-time Welterweight champion, and one of only two men to defeat the dominant Georges St-Pierre. He was also given an executive position within the UFC after his retirement last year. So is his absence due to a conflict of interest, or did he secretly have an acrimonious split from the company since then?
While Dillashaw probably already deserved a roster spot as an up-and-coming star within the UFC's Bantamweight division, his recent capture of the title in one of the biggest upsets in the company's history will probably expedite his inclusion within the game.
Hardy's fighting career may be over (and the uncertainty of his return probably affected his inclusion in the game), but he was one of the UFC's most popular fighters in the UK, win or lose, during his time in the Octagon. He did commentary for a UFC event last month, so he's obviously still in good graces with the company.
Extravagant tattoos are one thing; EA probably didn't have enough time and technology to accurately replicate Ebersole's fluctuating chest hair, which has taken the form of an arrow and the logo for frequent UFC advertiser Tapout.
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.