EA Sports UFC 4 preview: The evolution of MMA

Mixed martial arts have changed drastically since UFC 3, and EA Sports UFC 4 looks to keep pace with major improvements across the board.

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By the time EA Sports UFC 4 releases, it will have been two and a half years since EA Sports UFC 3. Connor McGregor sits proudly on the cover of that game, the runaway superstar of that era who cast such a large shadow nobody else could stand out.

Times have changed, though. McGregor is retired (again), and new superstars have emerged to lead MMA forward. In UFC 4, cover athletes Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal and Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya lead the way, and developer EA Vancouver looks to ride this wave with major presentation and gameplay overhauls in UFC 4.

So, you wanna be a fighter?

The best and worst parts about previous UFC games was anyone could play, but the gap between the truly skilled and average player was huge. Those who mastered grappling and submissions dominated the rest. Perfecting the tiny details of those systems was more than the casual fan could be bothered with.

With UFC 4, EA Vancouver aims to make the systems more accessible to casual players, while still allowing those truly gifted video game face punchers to shine. This starts with dynamic striking controls with tap or hold button inputs, allowing players to throw quick strikes with a tap and more damaging strikes with a hold.

Both the clinch and takedown systems now utilize EA’s RPM (Real Player Motion Technology) to determine how a situation plays out. Use locomotion to press or escape the clinch or drive your opponent towards the cage to complete a takedown. These new gameplay systems are backed up by a wide range of new transition animations for clinching, and new trips, throws, and powerful slams for takedowns. It paints a promising picture that some of the more clunky gameplay systems from past UFC games will be more fluid and accessible to the average player.

Get your jiu-jitsu on

If you played enough UFC 3, there were probably times you found yourself in a submission attempt from your opponent and you just set the controller down. You were doomed. You knew you were facing someone who was skilled in submissions. The Damien Maia of video game MMA if you will. You had little chance to defend the submission, and even less chance to get up, assuming you remembered the controls to do so.

EA Vancouver looks to simplify both the grappling and submission systems with a grappling assist feature and two mini games for submissions, one for joints and one for chokes. With grappling assist, players can utilize the left stick to get up, attempt a submission, or engage in ground and pound. These new grapple control settings include a full grapple assist mode, a hybrid mode, and the legacy controls. Skilled players can keep doing what they did in previous iterations of the game, but casual players can utilize a simpler control scheme that makes the entire grappling experience less intimidating.

With submissions, there will be simpler mechanics that depend on keeping pace with your opponent’s movements instead of flicking the left stick in eight different directions within five seconds. The old way of performing or escaping submissions used to be frantic and twitchy, whereas the new system appears to flow naturally and allow for fluid movements to lock something in or defend. As someone who found the grappling and submission mini-games frustrating in past UFC titles, this is a change I’m excited for.

Look good while doing it

Guess who the most popular fighter was in EA Sports UFC 3? You’re thinking McGregor, but it wasn’t. The most popular fighter was the one you created, and EA Vancouver is using this information to give players more options for their fighter via their universal avatar system. This system makes your created fighter available in all weight classes, meaning if you’re fighting at 135 pounds and want to take on Daniel Cormier at heavyweight, your created fighter can scale to that weight class. No need to make a new one.

Since this created fighter can follow you anywhere, there’s a laundry list of new customization options, including new hairstyles, facial hair, tattoos, shorts, tops, gloves, and accessories. All these items, which have no impact on gameplay, will be unlockable through gameplay progression through your connected player profile that allows you to earn in-game rewards in any mode. Microtransactions are there if you choose to use them, but we were told that virtually everything was unlockable through gameplay. You can even step away from Reebok with your apparel, but only with your created fighter. Who’s ready to wear some Pride gear?

The presentation overhaul continues with the new fighting environments players can enjoy. We all know that Kimbo Slice made backyard brawling famous, but UFC 4 co-cover athlete, Jorge Masvidal, has recently returned it to the spotlight. The BMF (Baddest Motherf*cker) champ started in back yards, and now you can brawl there too. This is in addition to the Kumite, an environment that pays homage to cinematic lore of MMA and combat sports, and the UFC Apex center where events have been held recently due to the ongoing pandemic. Unfortunately, we don’t get a Fight Island at launch, but we do get an Action Avenue location meant to showcase the early stages of an MMA career.

When the action begins, wherever you choose to partake in it, expect to find a new camera angle that’s lower than it was in UFC 3, as well as something EA Vancouver is called high impact movements. When you deliver a fight changing shot, expect to see and hear the devastation in slow motion, down to the ripples on a fighters face when they get cracked.

To round out what I would say are across-the-board presentation improvements, Daniel Cormier will step in for Joe Rogan and sit alongside Jon Anik in the broadcast booth. Rogan’s commentary has been widely criticized throughout the series, but it appears those challenges are a thing of the past. As someone who watches a metric butt load of MMA, if Cormier and Anik bring even a sliver of their chemistry to UFC 4, we’re all in for a treat.

Backyard brawling

As mentioned, the most popular fighter in UFC 3 was your created character. Well, the most popular mode was the career mode. Thankfully, it appears this mode has received a lot of love and should once again be a fan favorite.

Career mode will now feature a fighter evolution system that sees your moves improve in real time. If you throw a punch in an actual fight, you’ll earn progression that improves that punch, just like you would in training, which now includes a new sparring system that awards evolution points and upgrades attributes. These core changes will be complemented by the ability to watch tape, decline fighter offers and face the wrath of Dana White, and a social media system that will help you develop rivalries and build connections. There will even be a full WFA (World Fighting Alliance) league that players can start in.

Other game modes will make their return as well, including Fight Now for online and couch co-op play. Fight now itself has four modes, including MMA, Stand & Bang, KO Mode, and Custom Fight Now. There will also be an Online World Championship mode. These are all good, but I suspect the most popular new mode will be Blitz Battles.

Blitz Battles will consist of a 64-player tournament that can be played with different rule sets, like MMA, Stand & Bang, KO Mode, and Dirty Boxing. These are short fights where only one person can remain. You win six fights in a row, and you’re the Blitz Battles champion. Honestly, it reminds me of Ones from NHL 20, and that’s not a bad thing in theory.

The final round

I’ve enjoyed every UFC game from EA Sports over the last several years. Like most of you, I primarily used my created fighter in career mode, often avoiding the online play because I had no desire to invest in the convoluted grappling and submission systems. Watching UFC 4 gameplay, though, I’m filled with hope and excitement that we’re about to get our hands on what could potentially be the best MMA game ever released. Time will tell, but everything I saw and outlined here today seemed like a step forward.

EA Sports UFC 4 will release on August 14, 2020 for the PS4 and Xbox One. 

Managing Editor

Bill, who is also known as Rumpo, is a lifelong gamer and Toronto Maple Leafs fan. He is known for his guide writing and, unsettlingly enough, enjoys grinding out in-depth collectible articles. Tweet him @RumpoPlays if you have a question or comment about one of his guides.

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