Mixed Martial Arts video games have had a checkered past. The EA Sports UFC series goes back nearly a decade now to 2014, but enthusiasts will know that the bones of that game started in 2009 with the UFC Undisputed Series, which laid the groundwork for EA Sports UFC 5.
I’ve been playing it somewhat religiously since it came out. In 2009, I was 15, and MMA was in a boom period. It felt like a perfect storm.
EA Sports UFC has always been a challenging game to nail down; it’s selling itself as a part fighting game—copying the same base controls as Tekken where a face button controls a specific limb—but also tries to do the EA Sports brand proud and by being a sports sim. The reality is somewhere in the middle, and EA Sports UFC feels like reheated fast food instead of a new, fresh item.
- Release Date: October 27, 2023
- Platform: Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5
- Price: $69.99
- Developer/Publisher: EA Vancouver/ Elctronic Arts
Blood, Sweat, and Salty Gamer Tears
When I examine an iterative game like EA Sports UFC 5, I look at what the game is putting the focus on. This time around, the focus is clearly on upping the presentation. With the Frostbite engine, which is a first for the EA Sports UFC franchise, you have an increased focus on facial tech, making fighters look more in line with the level of detail you expect with a 2K Sports title.
EA takes this extra fidelity and chooses to deform those lovely shiny faces by allowing a sometimes unsettling amount of blood and bruising to form around the face and body; cuts will turn into full-on gashes that will bleed profusely, and the referee will stop the fight if needed.
When you land a knockout blow, a slow cinematic camera, ala Fight Night, will allow you to savor your victory. All of this sounds great in theory, but it’s far too easy to spam strikes and have a fight stopped by the second round.
As we step into the cage to talk about gameplay, I need to address something. I do not view EA Sports UFC 5 as a fighting game, but instead, I think of it as an arena fighter ala Dragonball Xenoverse. Yes, there are health bars and a block button, but you can’t translate fighting game mechanics into this game. In most fighting games, blocking attacks will eventually guarantee you some kind of advantage, but in UFC 5, blocking does very little except against the biggest blows. It’s far too easy for someone with a high punch speed to elbow you three or four times in a row and eat through your block in seconds.
The one significant change to the gameplay is that the submission system has been reworked; now, instead of chasing different makers in minigames, you’re trying to use your Stamina to wear down a submission bar, and once that bar is depleted, the fight is over, which in motion means that while there are fewer submissions than the other games, but grappling now has an explicit endpoint. When you get matched up with someone willing to grapple you, UFC 5 hits highs that I haven’t seen in this series.
An Unfair Fight
The issue is that the UFC community isn’t here for it. It’s prevalent just to see players you play online stick to stand up exclusively; some players choose to quit when they are taken down, and some others will send you nasty messages. And the sad reality is that online play is all that EA Sports UFC 5 has to offer. The single-player career in UFC 5 is a near copy-paste of the system from three years ago, except that you can sim training camps you’ve already done.
This will save you time in the long run but only serves to point out how lifeless the mode can feel when the short load times mean you could clear an entire pre-fight camp in about 90 seconds if you happen to get the same drills again. I hope EA Sports understands that MMA is already primed for a story, as seen in Breaking Point in F1 23.
Online career mode in UFC 5 fairs slightly better only because it feels like a genuine attempt to be different; you start from the same base you do in an Offline Career, except you continuously earn evolution points based on how many rounds you survive, and you get a slight boost if you win the fight. Your fighter has a limited number of points to spend on upgrades, but once they hit the limit, they can prestige, earning them even more points to collect this time.
Maxing things out doesn’t guarantee you’ll KO the opponent in 30 seconds; it just helps you keep pace. As much as I get frustrated at the core design of this game, I did manage to fight over 200 online Career Mode fights during this review period just based on the “one more turn’ principle. Fights can last anywhere from 20 seconds to 10-15 minutes if you find yourself in a full five-round title fight; again, it’s you being at the mercy of whoever you’re fighting.
One of the most significant issues I have with EA Sports UFC 5 is that the developer, EA Vancouver, keeps making slight changes to the controls that only make it more challenging to do things. Between UFC 3 and UFC 4, they changed the controls for takedowns, and now, they’ve changed how you do spinning attacks. It’s inexcusable that there are zero customizable control options. As well as no true training mode, frame data is nowhere to be found, and there’s minimal opportunity to learn.
If EA Sports UFC came out every year, I wouldn’t feel as pessimistic about UFC 5, but after a three-year wait, this is only a serviceable attempt at best; you will only have as much fun as the people you match up with want to. Too many legacy issues are glued onto this game, and it’s such a shame that EA Vancouver doesn’t have any desire to do anything other than this odd half-live service deal with outfits.
6 / 10
|+ New submissions freshen up a dry mechanic|
|– Career Mode is lifeless and a wasted opportunity.|
|– The spammy nature of striking means some fights end too quickly|
|– Limited tutorials and no rebinds mean many disabled players are locked out.|
Gamepur received a PlayStation 5 code for the purpose of this review.