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EA Sports UFC 4

Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: Aug. 14, 2020

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PS4 Review - 'EA Sports UFC 4'

by Redmond Carolipio on Aug. 17, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

In EA Sports UFC 4, the fighter you become is shaped by your fight style, your achievements, and your personality.

Buy EA Sports UFC 4

I feel terrible for my UFC 4 training partners. These poor souls have suffered every method of fistic torture imaginable. They have been knocked out cold. Their limbs have been bent into unfamiliar shapes. They have been on the business end of my ever-expanding arsenal of Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) chokes — ooh, let's try the "Peruvian necktie" — all for the cause of helping me craft my fighter into one of the greatest performers within the Octagon. Perhaps they'd have been spared all this pain if it weren't so fun and easy to do it.

Combat sports games, especially ones dealing with mixed martial arts, have always felt especially tricky to execute because of the potentially untenable balance between intuitive mechanics and replicating the energy of the sport. While team sports games offer a visual cocktail of macro-viewed, controlled chaos mixed with geometrical harmony, combat sports titles must pull everything closer, so the challenges aren't only ones of harmony, but of symmetry within an intimate space. UFC 4 not only understands this, but it has also made it so that even the newest, most casual fans can understand it while taking an entertaining surface tour of the MMA universe. EA really could have called this game UFC 4 Everyone.


Most of my journey took place within the Career mode, which asks you to create a fighter from scratch and build them into an elite fighter and possibly "greatest of all time." I liked the bits of storytelling at the start, where you link up with Coach Davis, a former UFC fighter who got into coaching after an injury shelved his fighting career. The mode starts with you on the amateur circuit, getting your ass handed to you by a more experienced fighter. Davis sees something in you, and he recruits you to train at his gym. After that, you learn how to navigate the grind of becoming a UFC fighter. In my case, my path would take me through winning a couple of amateur fights, getting noticed by the UFC and fighting on "Dana White's Contender Series" to win a UFC contract, and then working my way up. It's pretty standard career/franchise mode stuff, but the grind of crafting and building my fighter completely sucked me in.

Whenever you accept fight offers, you have a set number of weeks to train yourself while also handling some of the outside stuff, like posting to social media or hyping up your fight. As you train, you earn evolution points to spend on all manner of attributes that range from how hard you hit to how solid your defense on your back is. You also have a limited number of training points to spend during each week, so it's on you if you want to spend more time sparring one week, hyping the next week, or inviting another fighter to train with you; it's your call. It was this mix of logistics and agency that gave me a sense of ownership of my fighter and how I wanted her to be built. I decided I wanted her bread and butter to be striking, and then build up her wrestling and BJJ skills so she wouldn't be useless when someone takes her down.

That's where my gallant sparring partners came in. Each of them specialized in something, and each training session with them came with a goal that would lead to extra evolution points. Once that goal was met, the session became freeform, with me being able to work on every facet of my fighter's attack — and attack I did.

I was a little stunned by the in-print intricacy of the striking system at first, but like most striking systems, it takes a little while to learn. Once you do, it starts feeling more fluid, and you feel a little more like you know what you're doing. I learned and loved the pressure-based nature of several of the moves, so a simple tap of one of the face buttons leads to a roundhouse kick, while a hard push-down/short hold of the same button might lead to a different kind of kick. It takes into account the nuance of actual striking: tapping to land something wide open versus throwing with intent to damage. With the right stick and trigger buttons, you block and move your head, which can lead to more sophisticated things like feints and head movement to create leverage for hooks and uppercuts, which is an essential skill for shorter fighters. All of this contributes to a better on-screen product both against AI and online players.


Then there's the grappling, which has long been the most elusive aspect to nail for any game and any designers since the dawn of MMA fighting games. Previous UFC installments featured a system that involved mastery of a web of fatigue management, thumbstick movements, shoulder-button presses at the right moments and then a minigame that featured you chasing colored meters either a circle or a meter at the bottom of the screen if it was a joint lock.

That system still exists in UFC 4, but EA has also streamlined the experience with an optional new "grapple assist" feature that essentially turns the left thumbstick into the nexus point for your ground game, to the point where the HUD basically tells you to point in a direction to do something favorable, whether it's to get up or move into a position where you can strike or move into any kind of general submission. It's a great entry-level way for players to learn the way of the ground without feeling overwhelmed by all the options available with each position. You don't have to worry about whether you want to trigger an omoplata or Americana or whatever; you just know that you're whipping out a submission and can learn the specifics later. It takes the "fear" some might have of engaging in grappling and encourages newer players to dive right in.

All of this complements a visual package and atmosphere that are easily the best-looking and -sounding iteration of the UFC to date. Most of the character models appear exquisitely done, and the commentary team of Jon Anik and Daniel Cormier is a fun listen during fights. However, I do feel there were some missed opportunities. There were times the commentary didn't track to what I was doing, especially in quicker finishes, as if they were trying to catch up with what just happened. I also would have liked to see the addition of the commentator-reaction camera to huge or sudden knockouts.


I also think a ball or two was dropped in capitalizing on the drama of walkouts, which are a massive part of the UFC experience. For a couple of fighters, the cinematics were timed strangely: UFC women's bantamweight Holly Holm likes to run out to the Octagon, but the camera only caught her run for a split second (so we barely saw her) before shifting to another shot. The game captures her signature frantic back-and-forth pacing during fighter introductions, though. That kind of inconsistency can be distracting for UFC fans and sports fans who love detail in this era of sports gaming, where pieces of everyone's personality gets digitally immortalized.

For whatever reason, UFC 4 also doesn't seem to fully capitalize on (and there are probably unavoidable causes beyond my understanding for this) the amount of voices and color commentary available within the UFC world. Jon Anik and Cormier are great, but what happens when you use Cormier, one of the greatest fighters in the UFC, to compete? Cormier the commentator suspends reality and does a little fourth-wall-breaking, referring to himself as if he's watching a clone of himself in the Octagon. It's tongue-in-cheek fun at first, but weird every time after. This would have been a moment to use a stable of other voices to add to the experience: Joe Rogan, Michael Bisping, Paul Felder or even other fighters or MMA voices to use as guests, much like what the NBA 2K series has done.

I enjoy how the game doesn't take itself too seriously, as evidenced by the Kumite and backyard fighting backgrounds. The Kumite is breathlessly cheesy entertainment, with '80s-style synth tunes in the background and an over-the-top voice blurting out things like "LEG SHOT" in lieu of commentary … which, now that I think about it, it probably would have been awesome to hear Anik and DC at the Kumite. The backyard mode has its share of charm as well, with stereo music playing as you fight in a makeshift fence arena.

Even after achieving "G.O.A.T." status, I have a hard time peeling away from UFC 4. After hours and hours of play, I still feel like there's a lot more to learn about the fighting systems and all the moves that can branch out from each ground position. It's addicting to tinker around with it or map out a new career for another created fighter, messing around with building (or burning) bridges with either fighters to see how his or her path maps out. Whether you want a little action distraction or want to get lost in what the MMA world has to offer, UFC 4 has it. Just remember to apologize to your training partners in advance.

Score: 8.4/10



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