‘EA UFC 4’ review: Close, but not quite a knockout

‘EA UFC 4’ review: Close, but not quite a knockout

August 15, 2020

The fourth installment of EA Sports’ UFC series is yet another step in the right direction for a game that has the daunting task of making the complex sport of mixed martial arts both authentic for fans and enjoyably accessible for gamers.

“UFC 4” is far from perfect, but it certainly features improvements such as a beefed-up career mode and simplified striking controls. However, for each step forward, there’s another that doesn’t seem to go anywhere: The ground game, for example, remains a complicated and unenjoyable aspect of the game when compared to the standup.

The result is a game that is absolutely stellar — if it was a straightforward kickboxing game with a career mode. Otherwise, it falls short when trying to add the “mixed” part of mixed martial arts.

UFC 4: New modes, trailer, fighters — a guide to everything you need to know

The pros are noteworthy, as the striking improves upon what was a marginal uptick in enjoyability in “UFC 3.”

A lot of work went into making the fighters act and move more like their real-life counterparts. There’s a certain weightiness that can be felt when controlling a heavyweight such as Francis Ngannou that isn’t present when playing with a more nimble, fluid striker such as Israel Adesanya. The impact of Ngannou’s punches is evident, but he’s unable to race across the cage and throw speedy combinations like his smaller counterparts.

You also won’t find CPU-controlled fighters doing many things out of character. The player will be rewarded for emulating Conor McGregor’s sniper fighting style, whereas Khabib Nurmagomedov’s smothering wrestling is his calling card. Attempt to fight a style that isn’t in a fighter’s DNA, and you’ll be penalized for it.

The clinch game has also been overhauled to be more reflective of the standup, rather than a grappling minigame. It feels a lot more realistic and fluid as an extension of the standup game. Clinches require pressing a single button; to escape, you simply need to pull away. But with locomotion technology in play, it becomes a game of cat and mouse as you try to escape with your wits intact while your opponent can trap you against the cage and punish you with knees and punches.

Once the game hits the mat, what was once a smooth and fun striking game gets a lot more complicated. And that’s even with a new grapple assist that relies more on a simple move of the right joystick rather than multiple inputs to transition. If you want to get up, push the stick in the right direction. Your opponent can stop your transitions by moving the stick as well. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of rhyme or reason to escaping a takedown and changing positions, but it’s a lot more accessible than previous versions of the game.

The bigger issue is that the ground game still feels very robotic as fighters go from position to position. As much as EA Sports attempts to make it feel natural, it simply doesn’t. And the strikes on the ground lack the impact that is needed to really feel like you’re doing damage. Is it better than before? Sure. But it’s still a part of the game that is actively avoided by gamers more often than not.

Submissions have moved to a meter-based system reminiscent of “WWE 2K.” While it’s a great improvement, the ground game only makes you want to stick to the standup.

The commentary has been revamped with longtime commentator Joe Rogan being replaced with the team of Daniel Cormier and Jon Anik. You’ll immediately notice the duo clearly recorded their lines together, and their conversations feel a lot more natural than previous installments. Cormier is a joy with his genuine excitement and knowledge of the sport. That doesn’t prevent the game from repeating lines ad nauseam. But, again, it’s a step in the right direction.

Also included are two new venues: Kumite and Backyard.

The Kumite is inspired by “Bloodsport” and feels like a kickboxing and Mortal Kombat hybrid. There’s no commentary, but a looming voice barks at you when a significant strike lands. With the backdrop reminiscent of the 1988 film (with a nod and wink to “Kickboxer” as well), it feels right to hear “combo,” “staggered,” “huge punch” and “excellent” with an obnoxious voice.

Backyard fighting isn’t as nearly as fun, but the outdoor venue with sparse crowds and barking dogs is a fun departure from the Octagon.

“UFC 4’s” career mode has been given some additions to make it more interesting between fights. Rather than just train and fight, you can use social media to spark rivalries, make friends and stream sparring sessions where you destroy training partners. All of this enhances your fan base, which assists in contract negotiations.

The training itself is helpful when working through the nuances of the game. You’re given a task and, once you complete it, you can work on your other skills inside of the window. Be too aggressive and you can injure yourself or your training partner. Injure the latter and you won’t be able to spar in that discipline until the next training camp.

The relationships with fighters can feel a little arbitrary, but this year’s career mode has laid down the right foundation for the future of the game.

The graphics are fine, though nothing spectacular. There hasn’t been a great deal of improvement in fighter design and there’s something missing when it comes to knockdowns — fighters hit the canvas mostly in the same manner.

For MMA fans, “UFC 4” should be a welcome addition that takes some small, yet important steps in improving gameplay. It will get a lot of burn from players who enjoy the art of kickboxing. And something is needed while we continue to wait for the “Fight Night” series to come back.

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