Just like the landscape of the UFC has changed since 2018, so has the landscape of the EA Sports-developed series. More and more people are tuning in while longtime fans look for new experiences from the sport. UFC 3 was an enjoyable game in its own right, but lackluster modes and multiple hard-to-learn gameplay mechanics not only turned new players away, but kept current ones from sticking around. With UFC 4, EA Vancouver has finally broken through to provide an experience that every level of UFC fan will enjoy.
No Ultimate Team? No Problem
One of the biggest announcements to come out in the build up to the game’s launch was that there would be no Ultimate Team. The mode made its debut in the series in UFC 2, but, according to EA, wasn’t popular enough to justify keeping it.
Without Ultimate Team, EA Sports was able to focus on nearly every other area of the game. From multiple facets of gameplay to the career mode, UFC 4 has improved for the better. Before going deeper into things, know that nothing too major was added to replace the departing mode. Instead, as stated before, the developers did much more to other parts of UFC 4.
Before getting into career mode, EA Vancouver has done enough to make other modes worth playing. Fight Now, Knockout Mode, and Stand and Bang return making for some fun time killers for players. There’s also Custom Ev ents to allow you to create your own fight card along with a Tournament mode that allows you to set up a fun event to determine the best in a weightclass.
[Career Mode is] something you’ll want to take multiple fighters through.
Of course, everyone wants to know about the game’s career mode. Is it better than what UFC 3 had or another disappointment?
I can honestly say that for the first time in a UFC video game, I’ll be coming back to the career mode multiple times. To put it bluntly, the mode’s main objective is clear from the start: becoming the greatest fighter of all time.
Throughout the mode you feel that each element of your career matters to your success or shortcomings. Your decisions during training for a fight could see you build up a great relationship with some of the best fighters in the world, or see yourself burning bridges with everyone you meet. You can even go too hard in your training, and wind up injuring yourself and missing a fight altogether. If the injury is too much, it can become a permanent problem for your fighter, leading to skill loss.
The mode is similar to UFC 3’s in the way you decide to prepare for a fight, though it’s executed much better. From social media to streaming a sparring session, everything you do will showcase yourself to the UFC fanbase and other fighters. You will even see new fighters join the UFC during your career, giving you a real sense of time and progression outside of what you’re doing.
I’m not going to spoil too much of the mode for players, but, just know, that it’s something you’ll want to take multiple fighters through. My only real complaint about the mode is that Coach Davis — and coaching in general — doesn’t play a bigger part in the mode as you progress.
For those who enjoy the online fight more than sticking with the single player experience, UFC 4 has plenty for you.
The Online World Championships (OWC) are back with some changes to make it worth coming back to. The mode sees you try to rise in divisions by winning fights. The more you win, obviously, the higher your rank until you get to the point where you are winning championships. After winning a title, you start your defense where each successful defense sees a jewel added to the belt.
One of the new features to the OWC is the ability to use created fighters online which gives you a nice feeling of building up your own career. It’s one thing to take a real fighter through the gauntlet of online fighting, but doing it with your own fighter gives a sense of accomplishment that I didn’t get in UFC 3.
The new online mode in UFC 4 is Blitz Battles which, for better or worse, is a number of short tournaments. Each fight is a minute in length with various stipulations that require you to change your strategy each time.
Lastly, you can just do simple quick fights online against other players. What I loved about this is seeing the variety in fighters thanks to the new star-based rating system. The game hasn’t been out long, but I’ve already faced more variety of fighters online than at any point in UFC 3 or earlier.
We’ve touched on the changes to the modes, but what about the gameplay? After all, if the gameplay isn’t fun it’s not worth playing.
UFC 4 has done a tremendous job of making the game feel more fluid than any other, and that’s taking into consideration some hiccups that we’ll touch on later. Everything from the striking to the takedowns to transitions look better than UFC 3.
There is a new on-screen effect to signal when you’ve taken significant damage to a certain area. Taking a hard shot to the head that leaves you stunned will see the screen flash red while body damage will be a shade of blue. It’s bothersome at first, but you quickly get used to it within fights. Though, if you still aren’t a fan of it, it can easily be disabled in the settings.
Mercifully, the old quadrant-based submission system is gone. In its place is a chase-based system that many fans of the WWE 2K franchise will be familiar with.
The system, though similar, works two different ways depending on the submission. For chokes, you’ll use your left stick to either overlap or evade your opponents colored area. If on offense, you want to cover your opponents color to make them tap as the submission starts to lock in. Defensively, you just want to avoid long enough for your escape meter to fill up.
Whereas the old system was too difficult for a lot of players to learn and master, the new system is quickly mastered. It, admittedly, feels too easy to make your opponent submit in UFC 4. That said, in the multiplayer fights I took part it, the minigame was a far more enjoyable back-and-forth affair than anything the prior two games offered. It also wasn’t a feeling of dread if I had to defend against a submission.
Clinch feels like an actual part of a fight…
The new ground-and-pound system does feel better, but it still lacks that impact that you see real fights have each week. Though, I don’t think it’s far off from being where I think it should be. In fact, a patch in the future could be enough to put it over the top.
Transitions on the ground are much easier to understand for new players as they simply tell you which way to move the thumbstick to try and stand up, submit an opponent, or get into the ground and pound. Once you get a feel for how the ground game works, you can either keep the simplified system or go to the old transition options from the past that give a bit more position control.
Clinch fighting didn’t come into play too much for me thanks to my fighting style, but when it did, it felt much better than any other game. It feels like an actual part of a fight rather than an unnecessary annoyance between standing up and taking the fight to the mat. You can chain together strikes and even throw your opponent in more ways just from the clinch alone.
For takedowns, they simply feel more powerful. Being able to pick someone up, run across the cage, and slam them hard into the mat is as satisfying a feeling in UFC 4 as you’ll find in any sort of fighting game.
More Than a Fresh Coat of Paint
Adding to the freshness of UFC 4 is a brand new broadcast team of play-by-play man Jon Anik and new color commentary Daniel Cormier. Joe Rogan and is bitter hatred for the video game process is out, and a better-sounding Cormier is in.
The calls of the action just feel more natural than at any point Rogan was involved, and that’s due to Anik and Cormier getting together for recording sessions, making the calls feel more conversational. Moments where Cormier talks about how a submission can be better executed during a fight give a feeling of watching an actual UFC card. There are some issues with repetitive lines in the same rounds during a fight, but nothing that has you wanting to turn the commentary off.
There are also new environments to fight in such as the backyard, UFC Apex, and Kumite battleground. Each have their own unique sound and feel to them that make them feel more than just a mapped area to fight in. Even the different arenas all have enough subtle changes in sound to make them feel separate from one another. It’s a smaller yet key touch to increase the immersion of the game.
There are 200+ fighters to pick from, making sure you never run out of options. As mentioned before, a new star-rating system offers a bit more insight into each fighter’s strengths and weaknesses. It may be a turnoff to some, but I like the idea of a more clear breakdown of fighters. I don’t like going online and facing Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, or Amanda Nunes every single time I step in the octagon. UFC 4 helps avoid that, and, so far, it’s done a good job of making online feel more unpredictable.
Hell, even the fighter selection screen with 3D models of fighters is nicely done. As a whole, it’s hard not to love the presentation of UFC 4.
While UFC 4 certainly has a lot going for it, there’s still quite a bit that either needs to be addressed in post-launch updates or when UFC 5 — should it happen — comes around. I say “should it happen” because UFC 4 is technically the last in the original four-game agreement between EA and UFC. That said, the agreement is expected to be extended for the next console generation.
Now, visually, UFC 4 looks good, but you can quickly tell that it’s in need of a graphical overhaul to stay current. The fighters, while more lifelike than in UFC 3, still look too much like plastic dolls.
Also, when creating a fighter, there’s plenty of options to make them stand out. There’s just small annoyances like your hometown having to be the same as someone already in the game. Cities like Charlotte and Buffalo aren’t available for selection, but Buffalo Grove, IL is. The soundtrack is also a bit disappointing. I don’t mean the songs you can pick for your fighter as a walkout track because there are hundreds of options, and there are some bangers. I mean the general soundtrack that has, like most sports games, given up on having a diverse selection of music in favor of one general genre.
In regards to actual gameplay, there are times where the collision detection is a bit inconsistent. You can throw a punch or kick that clearly looks like it made contact, but see no impact on your opponent. Some players may also find the ground game a bit too simple to master, but I found it to be a good balance.
Presentation wise, it’s hard to find many flaws. The one thing I don’t like, however, is the lack of a full replay suite. You can watch a replay of your fight highlights after it ends, but you can’t manipulate cameras, play speed, or do anything that fans have been accustomed to doing in other sports titles.
Overall, UFC 4 is a great swan song for the series this generation. Without question, it’s the best of the four EA Sports-developed UFC titles.
The overhauled Career Mode adds a much needed shot of life into the series, and the various gameplay changes — despite some flaws — do a good job of moving things forward. It’s also a game that’s much more welcoming to newcomers while still being deep enough for veterans to enjoy.
It’s a complete package for MMA fans, and may be looked at as the most well-rounded UFC game ever released. And, personally, UFC 4 is proof that sports games would be better suited going to an every-other-year release cycle.
UFC 4 is a great swan song for the series this generation, and is the best of the four EA Sports-developed UFC titles.