EA Sports UFC 4 review: Hyper-realism and a deeper career mode makes UFC 4 a winner

Return to the octagon.

Ufc 4
(Image: © EA Sports)

After the release of EA Sports UFC 3 and its lukewarm reaction, the fighting franchise seemed ready to take a step back and focus on fixing things behind the scenes. After nearly two years off, EA Vancouver is back with UFC 4, a new entry in the series, and with hopes to fix many of the things that went wrong in 2018. This time around, a simplified approach to how players fight and the inclusion of some modern-day game modes make for a surprisingly fun game, and a stellar building block for the future of the series.

What you'll love about EA Sports UFC 4

For fans of the fighting game genre, the UFC franchise can be a tough thing to get behind. Not only have the last couple of games remained similar enough to not warrant extreme attention, but the sport of UFC itself doesn't change often enough to properly convey in a sports video game. However, after nearly two years off from their last release, EA Vancouver is back with UFC 4, and aiming to give fans a UFC game that keeps them sticking around, while also making newcomers to the sport and game feel welcome.

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DeveloperEA Vancouver
PublisherEA Sports
PlayersSingle-Player, Local/Online Multiplayer
PlatformsXbox, PlayStation 4

One of the biggest aspects of any sports game is in its presentation, and UFC 4 passes the test with flying colors. While Joe Rogan's voice may not be in the game anymore, the commentary for fights and broadcast-style match the real-life aspects of UFC perfectly. Pre-fight walk-ins, social media posts of weigh-ins, and breaks in between rounds all feel like you're watching a real fight, which is something that every sports game should strive to achieve.

In terms of actual gameplay, UFC 4 hasn't changed a whole lot, but some things are a bit easier. Fighting is still done with a series of button presses, and you'll still be able to string together various combos to land some killer kicks and punches on your opponents. The stand-up game of the UFC games has always been some of the best, and that's no different in UFC 4, as the striking seems to be on par with that of its real-life counterpart. While fighting may seem easy at face value, learning the intricacies of each fighter or mastering your own bag of moves takes some time, leaving a ton of replay value there for folks who love to get into the ring and train.

Battling it out in the Octagon is one thing, but UFC 4 isn't just about that type of fighting. EA Vancouver spent a ton of revamping many of the modes found in UFC 4 and came back with a few new modes, including a re-tooled Online World Championships and the brand new Blitz Battles. The Online World Championship mode has seen a bit of a change, with players getting a bit more flair to their online belts with each win they get. There's also a relegation system involved, so if you start failing, you'll be dropped down in your division.

Ufc 4

Source: EA Sports (Image credit: Source: EA Sports)

As for Blitz Battles, this might be UFC 4's best mode to date. Similar to modes found in games like Madden NFL 21, Blitz Battles are smaller, bite-sized fights that pit players against each other in 1-minute matches. Each battle has its own rotating set of rules, ranging from boxing only to MMA style fighting. Either you knock out or submit your opponent, or the fight goes to a decision. If you win, you'll advance deeper into the tournament, and if you don't, you're free to join another one immediately. The goal of Blitz Battles seems to be keeping players engaged and always involved in a match, and it worked flawlessly. Not only does it result in a ton of chaotic fights, but it also forces you to think differently each time you step into a match, which makes you a better fighter overall.

UFC's Knockout Mode has also gone through a bit of a makeover, turning it more into something you'd see out of Mortal Kombat. Players meet in the new Kumite arena, and battles are filled with old school, classic sound effects as you try to beat each other up. It might not be for everyone, but it is a nice change of pace from the hyper-realism found elsewhere in the game, and it's always funny hearing players punch each other to the sound of thunder crashing.

UFC 4 also comes packed with a new and improved career mode. Right at the start of the game, you'll be asked to make an avatar for your fighter, and customization is fairly deep. You can choose between various presets or completely build your player to be as realistic (or unique looking) as possible, and then you'll be thrust into this game's version of a campaign. The career mode centers around your character rising in the ranks to become one of the greatest UFC fighters ever. While this isn't exactly different from the past games, UFC 4 incorporates some key aspects to break up the mundane aspects of the mode.

New to the game is the NPC Coach Davis, a former MMA fighter who acts as your in-game coach. His appearances mainly come via small cutscenes between fights and practices, and he'll help guide you through the early stages of your career as you take on amateur fights. A more in-depth rivalry system and decision-based mechanics are also incorporated into UFC 4's career mode, with players able to build relationships with fighters via the in-game social media or text message options present. All in all, UFC 4's career mode may not be the best of any sports title, but it's a huge step up from the more boring option offered up in UFC 3.

A simplified approach

Ufc 4

Source: EA Sports (Image credit: Source: EA Sports)

One of the biggest changes to UFC 4 seems to have focused on was making the game a bit more welcoming for newcomers. While a complex fighting system can still be found if you dig deep enough, players who are new to the series won't have anywhere close to the challenge getting used to things that they used to. UFC 4 comes packed with more tutorial options and allows for in-game popups, allowing you to get tips and tricks as you go through a fight. In the Octagon, gameplay has also been tweaked, starting with on the mat fighting.

In previous iterations of UFC, fights that occurred on the ground could be tweaked depending on a variety of analog stick movements, allowing players to change between getting up, trying to submit someone, or getting into a ground and pound session. While this still exists in UFC 4, the ways you do it are much simpler. Instead of having to memorize the older system, UFC 4 simply asks players to use the left analog stick to make decisions.

Pressing it up, left, or right will result in your fighting doing one of three things, with more options branching out from there. It's probably one of the single biggest changes to the game, and it's handled very well. In previous entries, taking fights to the ground used to result in some major moments of frustration on my end. Now, though, I'm able to maneuver through them with more ease, and can get back into the fight without losing or sacrificing too much stamina.

What you might not love about EA Sports UFC 4

Ufc 4

Source: EA Sports (Image credit: Source: EA Sports)

Many of the core functions and aspects of UFC 4 have changed for the better. There's still not a whole lot to do once you're deep into the game. Offline modes can offer some fun moments - especially in the new Stand & Bang outdoor fighting mode - but the predictability of the AI opponents and general receptiveness of the fights can get a bit boring. Thankfully, the online modes of UFC 4 offer various ways to change up the pace, but if you're someone who would rather not play against real people, you're stuck to a limited set of options.

Outside of the game modes, one of the more frustrating aspects of UFC 4 has to do with its gameplay. While the simplified fighting and general tuning of things has been very well done, the on the mat fighting - when you're on the ground with an opponent - still don't seem quite there. EA Vancouver has done a great job making it easier to get into and out of grapples, but locking someone into a submission or successfully taking someone to the ground just doesn't feel as satisfying as the stand-up fighting does. Luckily, EA Vancouver seems on the right track in this department, so this is more of a fixable problem than something that will hinder the game longterm.

Should you buy EA Sports UFC 4?

Ufc 4

Source: EA Sports (Image credit: Source: EA Sports)

With not many other fighting game options even available to players, UFC 4 almost becomes a must-buy regardless. Thankfully, though, the game offers more than enough improvements to warrant serious fans of the sport buying it, and even has enough for newcomers to the sport or fans just looking for a fun time to check out.

The tweaks to the various game modes and simplified approach to the fighting make for a much better experience than in years past. Blitz Battles and the new Knockout and Stand & Bang modes are also great additions that succeed in keeping things from getting too stale too fast. All in all, EA Vancouver has succeeded in taking a franchise that looked ready for a knockout and taking the right steps in getting back into the fight.

EA Sports UFC 4 retails for $60 and is available on Xbox and PlayStation 4.

Anthony J Nash

Anthony Nash has been writing about games and the gaming industry for nearly a decade. When he’s not writing about games, he’s usually playing them. You can find him on Twitter talking about games or sports at @_anthonynash.