Having played every iteration of UFC and MMA games over the past decade or two, I had certain expectations going into EA’s UFC 4 and for the most part those expectations soon became reality. However the few tweaks and changes that are here could be potential game changers for the genre if it wasn’t for a few stumbling blocks which stop this being a first ballot hall of famer.
As always you can check out the video version of this review in the link below.
If you played 2018’s UFC 3 then you’ll be able to pick up UFC 4 with relative ease as although certain aspects of the gameplay have changed, there’s no overhaul here and the basics still remain the same. The most notable change comes with the ground game which has been simplified for newcomers and the results are a bit of a mixed bag. For the most part I massively prefer the more stripped back version of transitioning between submissions, ground & pound and getting back to your feet. Gone are the days of trying to understand what half guard and full guard means, instead you just follow the instructions to your desired result. Unfortunately getting to where you want to be feels completely 50/50 and the game never really explained what I was doing wrong when I couldn’t get back to my feet for an entire round.
There’s also a huge improvement to the clinch game. It now feels much more smooth and easier to figure out how to take advantage of and escape from clinch. The last and most impressive change comes with submissions which now resemble the WWE 2K take on implementing and defending submissions. Each player gets a blue or red section of the circle or semicircle and the player defending the submission simply avoids being caught in the attackers colour. It’s a system that works brilliantly for Somoa Joe and co and now fits in perfectly to the more realistic UFC 4. I for one can’t thank EA enough for stealing this mechanic because the previous submission systems in UFC games were often game breakers for me.
One of biggest compliments I have given UFC games over the years from the THQ days to the EA takeover is how visually stunning they are. It’ll come as zero surprise that UFC 4 continues the trend of near graphical perfection. However I couldn’t help but notice a few too many recycled animations this time round. Entrances are the biggest insult as they are literally identical to UFC 3 in every aspect from the fighters ring walk to the camera angle they’re filmed from. Sure it doesn’t really affect the actual game in any meaningful way but they could have at least tweaked some camera cuts to make it feel new and fresh.
One thing that does feel fresh is the addition of Daniel Cormier to the commentary team. Having the latest up to date commentary duo is always beneficial to giving a sports game a true to life feel and that’s exactly what we get here. I will say that I’ve already heard a few of the same lines repeated which is a slight bummer but definitely not uncommon in sports games, especially EA games.. Yes FIFA, I’m looking at you. Elsewhere the game’s audio is fantastic. Punches, kicks and takedowns all sound satisfying and the soundtrack is a nice mix of EA original tracks and big hits from a load of trendy acts I’ve never heard of but I’m sure will be exciting for most people, especially given all of these tracks are available to use for your created fighters entrance.
It’s also worth noting the addition of the new raw and gritty backyard arena and mortal Kombat inspired kumite arena. These look really cool and are a feast for the eyes but it’s a shame they’re nothing more than extra backgrounds for regular matches, it would have been cool to find a way to implement them into some kind of cool or whacky side story but oh well.
The career mode is the mode that can make or break a game like UFC 4 for me. The opening of UFC 4’s career mode starts very promising as you get the backstory of how you met your coach and how the two of you fought your way to a UFC contract by fighting in underground fights and also through the WFA if you don’t instantly impress Dana White early on. These underground fights act as a handy tutorial and the game pushes you down this career mode path as soon as you launch UFC 4. Even when you head back to the main menu your created fighter is always there, this led me to hope that the game would centre around an excellent and deep career mode. This wasn’t exactly the case as once you get to the UFC it quickly falls back into the UFC 3 habit of just accepting fight after fight while you train, promote and climb the rankings. As it stands I haven’t been skilled enough to get a title shot but I’m hoping when I do get there that we see the return of the cool cutscenes which soon abandoned the career mode once you get to the meat of the mode.
It is worth pointing out that you now have to manage your relationship with other fighters which is a really cool addition. If you choose to keep a particular fighter happy then you’ll get the option to invite them to your gym to learn their signature moves. On the other hand, if you choose to antagonize them and begin a feud then you’ll get a much higher fan hype level to the match if you ever fight them in the future. It’s nothing too revolutionary but it’s a fun little extra that helps add a bit of spice to a career mode that was in danger of getting a bit repetitive.
Other offline modes see the return of custom events where you can play through a fantasy UFC card or a real life PPV as well as a tournament mode. Neither of these modes have changed from UFC 3 but in fairness there was nothing wrong with them so this is more of a case of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.
I’m not usually the sort of player that ventures online too much but for the purpose of this review I gave it the good old college try. There are three options, you can play privately with a friend or try online competition that resembles the online divisions seen on FIFA. It wasn’t as straightforward as FIFA however as I was restricted to fighting as a featherweight and couldn’t quite figure out how the divisions worked. I did end up becoming a champion and gaining a gold trophy for defending it so I guess I did well? Still I never felt it was showcased well enough and I soon got bored. The third option comes in the form of blitz games. This was a lot of fun as fight types are switched on the fly but I found more often than not I couldn’t find an opponent in this mode so that was a shame.
I donned a giant smile when I noticed that UFC 3’s cash-grabbing micro-transaction filled Ultimate Team has been ditched. Good riddance. Now if FIFA could please follow in UFC’s footsteps and aim their attention to other offline modes then that would be great, thanks.
Sadly I did run into a few bugs and glitches despite the game being out for a little while now. In one career mode fight I got stuck up against the cage and couldn’t move as both characters froze and during one particular fight I lost all sound on punches and kicks. I also had an issue where entrance music wouldn’t play on any of my fighters walk outs during a created event. None of these are game breakers and could often be fixed by simply hitting restart, they did break immersion though so it’s worth pointing out.
Overall the gameplay isn’t drastically different to the impressive UFC 3 but the complicated ground game, clinch system and submissions mechanics have been simplified and results in the game being more accessible and for the most part a lot more enjoyable. There’s a few recycled visuals but given how impressive they look that gets a pass and the career mode is still far from perfect but has enough going on that I still find myself addicted. It’s so good in fact that we’ve started a career mode battle over on our YouTube channel linked in the video above. Truth be told, UFC 4 isn’t perfect, what it is though is the best MMA game we’ve ever had. Whether that’s a compliment to this game or a criticism of MMA games past I’ll leave for you to decide.
I give UFC 4