There’s something to be said for the visceral feelings that are evoked by something like the UFC. While boxing and other similar sports are similarly physical, the UFC and MMA in general goes to a level that is unlike anything else in the mainstream. Broken bones, flowing blood and swollen faces are all relatively common occurrences as fighters beat the ever-loving shit out of each other in pursuit of a win and eventually a championship. This visceral action is something that EA has done a great job of recreating in UFC 4, while also smoothing out the onboarding experience for new players.
If you’ve played UFC 3 before, UFC 4 is likely to be instantly familiar to you, as the gameplay has stayed relatively the same since that game’s release. Where the game has been changed up is in the clinches, with them now feeling more unique than they did in past games. They’ve been integrated into the striking system, allowing them to be more free-flowing experiences than in the past. The other big change you might notice, is the grapple assist. Now, you can control your ground systems simply by using the left analogue stick, making the system much friendlier than in the past. Both are welcome additions, while not being ground breaking.
Fighting is an incredibly complex thing, so it makes sense that UFC 4’s fighting systems are similarly complex. Combos, blocks, modifiers for shifting your kicks and punches, clinching, ground grappling, positioning and movements are constantly on your mind when you’re in the ring. It can feel a bit overwhelming at points, which is why the game’s tutorialisation of its systems is so important. If it’s lacking, newer players will leave the game frustrated, while if it’s too in your face than experienced players will leave the game frustrated. This is something that is completely on point with UFC 4, as the game opens with a series of tutorials layered in to story to start you off. You’ll learn about a particular type of fighting, such as strikes or grappling, before moving into a fight that helps reinforce those learnings. This repeats a few times, teaching you the basics of the game, before spitting you out into the main menu. From there, continued engagement with the Career mode will continue to teach your and reinforce your understanding of the game’s systems. It really is quite well done.
Outside of those teachings, the Career mode itself quickly becomes repetitive. What it amounts to is accepting a fight offer, spending weeks before it in training and then having your fight. Rinse and repeat. There are some tiny story beats told via social media posts that you sometimes have the option to respond to, but in reality, it amounts to not much of anything and was quite forgettable. The most engaging part of the Career mode comes in those training segments, as you spend points training to earn evolution points to increase your fighter’s stats or fighting against opponents to learn new techniques. That progression is coupled with new technique evolutions, where your fighting techniques will get stronger the more you use them. Simply fighting and progressing my customer fighter with the goal of becoming an unstoppable force was really what kept me going.
Fighting really is the name of the game, so it’s good that fighting in UFC 4 feels fantastic. Strikes have a real weight behind them that makes them feel satisfying, while grapples look and feel suffocating. Screen and sound effects kick in with the heaviest of your hits, signalling their severity as you land them (or take them). Positioning and zone control is crucial, as is blocking, giving the game a real strategic lean that makes it all the more fun to play. Stamina control is also imperative, discouraging simply wailing on your opponents as your maximum stamina is decreased quickly by depleting the bar. Knowing when to be patient and when to press your opponent is paramount, so you can land the perfect roundhouse kick to dispatch your opponent.
Outside of the Career mode, your time will be spent with the game’s various other game modes. You have Blitz Battles, a quickfire six-round online tournament with rotating rulesets, Knockout Mode, Stand and Bang, plus plenty of freedom for customer fights and events. There’s plenty to do, which helps give the game some more replayability, especially if you’re looking to compete online against other players.
Visually, UFC 4 doesn’t set the world on fire, but it’s still a pretty good looking game. Major fighters are rendered well and are detailed, while some of the fighters occasionally look a little goofy, as is the case in just about every sports game out there. Octagons themselves look well-detailed and the crowds look pretty good as well, but that’s to be expected given the relatively small area that needs to be generated at any one time. Animations all seemed to flow well, helping to enhance the gameplay. Also, while there are always plenty of GIFs and videos going around of wild physics glitches and the like from this type of game, I didn’t really come across any weird glitches or bugs during my time with the game, which was certainly appreciated.
Overall, UFC 4 is an evolution, as opposed to a revolution. It’s new features, like the new clinch system, help make the gameplay more enjoyable without changing too much, while the tutorialisation present in Career mode helps to onboard newer players. A bit more story or complexity in that Career mode would have gone a long way, without much to truly entice you to continue engaging with it. If you’re a fan of the UFC, this is the game for you, but otherwise, it’s unlucky to sway you.
UFC 4 was reviewed on an Xbox One X with a review code provided by the publisher. For more information, check out the official website.
- Fighting systems feel engaging - Plenty of modes to try out - Tutorials are done really well
- Not many changes from its predecessor - Career mode is repetitive and shallow