UFC 5 Review - A Solid Shot to the Jaw
It’s funny how video games can make us all experts in sports. UFC is a prime example of that. For me, I have no interest in the real-life MMA scene. I have never really watched a match and outside of the sport’s biggest names like Connor McGregor and Rhonda Rousey I couldn’t tell you anyone involved. I don’t know the terminology, I don’t know the intricacies and I don’t know what to look for in a good fighter. Well, I didn’t know until video games came about at least. My first experience with UFC was EA Sports’ UFC 4, a fun title that gave me flashbacks to Fight Night (a game by the dame dev team and one I adored) and let me dip my toes into this new world of combat sports. I never became obsessed with the game like some did, but I did play a fair bit of the career mode. So when UFC 5 came about, I was certainly keen to jump back in and see if this is the way to further improve my education in the sport or if my love for UFC was a fleeting fancy.
The first thing that struck me just how familiar everything was, especially on the career side of things. It is clear this is an iterative sequel, not a revolutionary one. The career mode is virtually identical to what was offered in UFC 4 with players creating their own fighter to rise through the ranks and take the UFC crown. Fighters are required to book fights, manage sponsors, raise hype and train before each bout, so there is a fair bit of meta-management going on that can get a little repetitive after a while but is generally pretty harmless. There are a host of goals to aim for in a quest to become the GOAT (a term I blame the LeBron generation for.) Things like achieving a certain amount of knockouts, quick submissions and TKO victories. There is also a season pass that allows various cosmetic upgrades to be unlocked that have no effect on the gameplay at all. Basically, the career mode is solid, and competent but also a little safe and doesn’t really do anything that breaks the mould.
The gameplay, at first blush, also appears to be pretty similar to the last game. Most commands are the same and the moment-to-moment action appears to be identical, but dig a little deeper and returning players will notice significant improvements. The striking feels much the same, with a slight change to the way uppercuts are performed being the only noticeable difference. The ground and grapple game feels like where most of the work has gone and fair enough too. The striking was always excellent in previous games but the wrestling side of things felt super clunky at times and while UFC 5 still has instances of that, it is a much smoother and more satisfying grappling experience than the previous games. I actually enjoyed engaging in this manner, shifting through different holds and positions as I tried to gain the upper hand on my opponent. This is in stark contrast to the previous game where I did everything in my power to avoid getting into a grapple due to the clunky controls.
On the game mode side of things, in addition to the career mode, there are all the standard events you would expect for a game of this nature. Once again it isn’t shaking things up, just putting together a solid package. I can’t help but lament the lack of any sort of management mode though. It would be fantastic to be able to act as a UFC manager, setting up events and pay-per-views in a manner similar to the WWE games. It feels like a missed opportunity that this sort of thing hasn’t been included because it would have added to the longevity of the game significantly. The online portion is rock solid though, with the netcode seemingly stable and no issues with lag or input delay that I could discern. Often though, it is the simple things that are the best and in the case of UFC, the most fun I had was playing one-on-one on the couch with my 18-year-old son. An absolute blast and something that will never get old.
For the first time, UFC is using DICE’s Frostbite engine and despite that tech’s rocky history, things seem to have panned out here. The game is certainly a visual step up from the previous game with an impressive level of detail in all areas. Sometimes in slow-mo replays of knockouts, there is some clipping and oddites but generally, things look great. The level of detail in regard to blood and bruising is especially impressive and I can’t think of any game that has a more visually accurate system in place. It is hard not to wince and cringe as a stiff kick to the nose connects, blood exploding as a result. EA have really captured the visceral nature of the sport which is sure to keep UFC fans happy.
I do want to mention that, at this point in time, there doesn’t seem to be any egregious monetisation in the game. There is a season pass, as I said, but apart from that things seem to be on the level. No card packs, loot boxes or gambling-lite mechanics to be seen. I know I have mentioned this in previous reviews, but it really is a sad state of affairs that in this day and age the simple fact that a game doesn’t include predatory practices is something that should be celebrated. I just hope that this isn’t something that EA decides to add at a later date.
In a lot of ways, UFC 5 is a safe, iterative upgrade to the previous game that will be worth a purchase for fans and those who haven’t played since the rougher early entries in the franchise. It will also be a great jumping-in point for new players. UFC 5 really succeeds in giving players the visceral feel and impact of MMA fighting while providing a solid set of modes that will keep players engaged for a good amount of time. Sadly there are a few missed opportunities and I feel like more casual fans will drop off quickly as a result. There really isn’t anything broken with UFC 5 at all and really, its biggest sin is that it doesn’t push the boundaries at all. In the scheme of things that is going to be pretty forgivable, especially by UFC fans who have no other options for virtual cage action.
UFC 5 was reviewed on the Xbox Series X with code kindly supplied by EA Sports Australia