This Rookie’s Got Some Heart

HIGH Fighting is satisfying, as are choices in career mode.

LOW I swear I hit the right buttons!

WTF I’ve injured my training partner way too many times.

Sports fans are bombarded with EA’s annual releases year after year, some featuring less-than-stellar quality or a lack of innovation. This treadmill of iterations is taxing, both on the studios who need to crank them out and on the patience of fans. Thankfully, the biannual schedule for EA’s UFC series seems to be doing it some favors, if the the quality of this new entry is any indication.

It all begins in career mode. A former MMA fighter-turned-coach recounts his glory days at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). One awful injury later, he’s now scouting for talent in his own gym. He sees the potential in a rookie he claims has a “lot of heart.” This is the player’s custom-created character.

On my journey to be the champ, I was given the option of four basic fighting disciplines to master — boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, jiu jitsu and a balanced mode that encompasses a bit of everything. I chose the last one and went with a 22-year old heavyweight from Miami, Florida nicknamed Ghost Dog (because, of course) and a few short tutorials took me through the basics.

Each of the face buttons controls a different limb, and the triggers/bumpers modify the attacks. Right off the bat, the fighting feels damn good. Landing punches is satisfying as hell, and every devastating kick felt like a mini victory.

That fighting translates well into the abundance of modes present, specifically the online multiplayer. Servers were working at launch and jumping into a match was quick and painless, though I was getting my ass handed to me. The latest attraction, Blitz Battles, sees players competing in fights that change rules each round. It kept things interesting and enjoyable, but I focused most of my time in the expansive career mode.

Career mode isn’t just about beating up guys in an octagon — it’s about choice. As players work their way up the ranks, they’re presented with options on how they want their career to pan out. For example, players can choose to participate in an early fight attended by the president of the UFC, or to keep fighting in smaller matches. Both yield different rewards and risks — moving up the UFC allows players to earn some real money with a contract, but smaller fights help build a reputation among fighters.

I was surprised by how extensive the career mode was. Players are frequently offered a new fighter to challenge, and if they accept, they choose how many weeks they wish to prepare before the fight. A longer wait means more gym fees while preparing but it gave me more time to train and reach peak physical fitness before a big fight.

In fact, money management plays a large role here. Every in-game week grants players credits to be spent on things like gym rental and other activities. If a player wants to spar with fellow trainers, that’s 40 credits. If the player wants to promote the fight on social media, that’s 10 credits. Once the credits run out, the in-game week is over and a new one begins.

This was the part of my career mode that hooked me the most. I spent hours devising the optimal way to maintain my physical levels and audience hype, trying to become a great fighter while also interacting with fans and haters. I wasn’t expecting to have to balance these things, but I loved it. It added an extra layer that turned what would have been a simple fighting game into an engrossing sim. On the other hand, UFC 4 manages to make other aspects of the experience incredibly difficult or annoying.

For example, grappling an opponent and trying to subdue them puts players into a minigame involving meters — it never feels right for the context. In certain training modes, the combos I was pounding into a heavy bag didn’t seem to register, despite managing to perform the same combos during a real fight. I also wish the game was a bit clearer on how to execute certain combos, with regard to things like important positioning is before striking.

Also, UFC 4’s progression grated on my nerves. Earning cosmetic items takes an excruciating amount of time, thanks to gaining very little XP through play and everything feels ridiculously priced — it feels like everything to do with customization has been bottlenecked as a way to incentivize spending real-world money in the digital store.

In spite of sporadic issues with the controls and the monetization model, UFC 4 is a great fighter, even if one bases it solely on the expansive career mode. As I currently celebrate my first championship title and defending it, I wholeheartedly recommend this one, not only to fans of the sport, but to anyone looking for their next fighting game fix.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is published and developed by Electronic Arts. It is available on PS4 and XBO. This copy was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on PS4. Approximately 15 hours were spent in single-player and four in-game years were spent on one championship win. Two hours were spent in the online multiplayer.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T for Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive, Themes, and Violence. MMA matches can get fairly bloody in real life, so this game’s attempt to replicate that might not be appropriate for younger children. Also, this being a T-rated game, a lot of the songs are allowed to get away with words like b*tch, sh*t and d*mn. Parents beware.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present in the options menu.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers: It’s 2020 and I found a game where the cutscenes don’t feature subtitles. Sure, the cutscenes are few and far between and every other piece of information is delivered through in-game social media blurbs, text messages and tutorial pop-ups, but still.

Remappable Controls: No, the game does not offer remappable controls but there is a control diagram. The y-axis can’t be changed.

Cj Salcedo
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