EA Sports UFC is the first Mixed Martial Arts titled released by EA since acquiring the UFC license from THQ. The last MMA game to be published by EA – EA Sports MMA – was released to mixed reviews in the 6-9 range. With that in mind, how did EA Canada do with their first attempt?

Let’s start with the graphics. Simply put, EA Sports UFC is a stunning game. EA Canada developed it exclusively for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, opting to leave the previous generation behind, and it shows. In-game Mixed Martial Artists perfectly resemble their real-life counterparts. Continued blows to a particular area leave nasty looking bruises. Broken skin oozes blood which smears across the canvas and the fighters inside the cage realistically. Big body and face strikes cause ripple effects on flabbier areas of skin. I could go on.

All of these visual treats are complimented by a wealth of other visual effects. These include beautiful lighting, good shadow effects, well-implemented motion blur,  and lifelike animations from the characters. For anyone interested, the game runs at 30 frames per second, and has a native resolution of 900p on both consoles. Don’t buy in to the people who say sub-1080p is bad, because the game is stunning.

Overall, EA Canada really nailed the attention to detail in their first UFC title, and it is absolutely one of the best looking games on the new consoles.

Yes, the game actually looks this good.

Yes, the game actually looks this good.

EA Sports UFC features a litany of great music that plays in the background while customising a character, browsing menus, after a fight and so on. Featuring hits such as “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons and “I’m Coming Home” by J. Cole, it’s always pleasing to the ears. But where the sound really counts is when you’re in the octagon. Commentators Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg provide great commentary and react to every strike or takedown attempt you make, and Bruce “The Veteran Voice of the Octagon” Buffer’s announcements of the competitors is top-notch. Finally, you hear every successful punch, kick, or ground slam. If you throw a strike that “rocks” your opponent into a near-unconscious state, you hear the impact to the point of almost feeling it. I even cringed a couple of times. Just like with the graphics, EA Canada’s attention to detail with the sound is commendable.

You're going to hear the impact of a strike like this. Try no to wince.

You’re going to hear the impact of a strike like this. Try not to wince.

The “story” of this game is found in the career mode. If you were looking for a deep MMA story of starting from the bottom and working your way to the top, you’re going to be disappointed. Yes you start from the bottom, competing in the Ultimate Fighter series to try and win a six-figure contract with the UFC. Then you gradually work your way up to the main card and earn a title shot. But there is no real essence to it. Other than video-messages from UFC Fighters or UFC President Dana White congratulating you on wins or winning streaks, there is nary a story to be found. MMA and WWE are two entirely different things, I know, but a story found in the season modes of old WWE games where your personal story varied depending on match outcomes would have been appreciated here. This might sound nitpicky, but I love a good story.

Still, contact from UFC fighters, and training with them, does help feel like you are an up and comer in the UFC. Don’t get me wrong, the career is a lot of fun to play as you work your way to the top, there is just no real story behind it. But can I really fault the game for that? I don’t think so. Sports games are very rarely about the story, but it’s worth mentioning for story-hungry gamers.

But the part that matters most in a sports game like UFC is the gameplay. Thankfully, EA Sports UFC is a blast to play.

In terms of content, you have a range of options. Choose a fighter and quickly jump into the octagon for a fight against a computer-controlled opponent, or connect a second controller and fight your friends. Invite a friend to a fight online, or play ranked or unranked matches against strangers online. Or, you can create a character and play through the aforementioned career.

Fights are all one-on-one, and boil down to striking, submission, clinches and takedowns. There is a lot more depth than it sounds, but that is the basic content of a match. You have to be smart. Keep your block up and parry where possible, strike only when they’re open, watch your stamina, and so on.

You can win in three ways. Knock your opponent out, lock in a submission hold and tap them out, or win via Technical Knock Out, where the referee will stop the fight when a combatant can no longer fight back. The feeling of knocking an opponent out or beating them to a point where the referee has to stop the fight takes skill, and is immensely satisfying. However, the submission system is flawed.

Nothing is more satisfying than throwing a big punch and taking a knock out victory.

Nothing is more satisfying than throwing a big punch and claiming a knock out victory.

Once you have worked yourself into a position on the ground, you can transition into a position to lock in a submission hold. Success depends on a variety of factors, such as the submission ratings of the respective fighters and the stamina level of each fighter. The person being submitted needs to move the right stick toward the edges of an octagon-shaped boundary, and the submitter must move their stick in the same direction to stop them moving. After a few seconds, the submitter can tighten the hold and reset the victim’s attempts at escaping. If the victim can get the stick to one of the boundaries, they will break out of the hold. If they can’t do it after a few tightens, they’ll tap out. It’s not a fun mini-game, and it’s far too easy for the submitter to anticipate how the victim will try to escape. This system is particularly frustrating when people spam it constantly in a multiplayer fight. It causes much frustration and is very one sided. Here’s hoping EA Canada fix this system for the next installment that they will undoubtedly make.

While it can be fun, the submission system is frustrating and needs to be fixed for next years instalment.

While it can be fun, the submission system is frustrating and needs to be fixed for the next installment.

One complaint that I’ve heard from people is that EA Sports UFC’s controls are too complicated, and are a barrier to entry. I admittedly thought the same after a few quick attempts in past MMA games and after trying the demo for this new game. Regardless, I decided to make the purchase, and I’m very happy that I did so. The tutorial gives you a good walkthrough of the controls, but due to their complicated nature, you’ll likely forget some. Luckily, between every career fight, you can partake in optional training to earn some XP to spend on your created fighter’s attributes. This training focuses on different controls, and the repetitive nature helps drill the controls into your mind. I initially thought that this repetitive training would be tedious, but it really helps you learn the ropes and is completely optional. If you can put in the time to learn the controls, you really will become the ultimate fighter, without actually getting punched in the face or having your arm broken. However, if you don’t have the time or patience to learn a complicated control set, this is not the game for you.

EA Sports UFC is a great first attempt at an MMA fighting game from EA Canada. The UFC license is obviously in good hands. The game features amazing visuals, top-notch sound and fun-but-occasionally-frustrating gameplay. There is plenty of content to play, and the online multiplayer will keep you engaged for hours as you try to keep your win-loss ratio positive. The game is full of many moments where you’ll be pressing the PS4’s Share button or yelling “Xbox, record that!” If someone tells you this game is only for hardcore UFC fans, don’t listen. I am not a big follower of the UFC, but I had a lot of fun with the game. EA Sports UFC is a solid first entry for EA Canada, a foundation which they can build upon for future installments. Sequels usually only get better, and considering this is already a great game, I for one am excited for future installments.

PS4 version of EA Sports UFC provided by EA for this review.

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