The UFC has been using the tagline “As real as it gets” for quite some time, and with each iteration on EA Sports UFC, we’ve gotten closer and closer. Overhauled to run exclusively on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and S, and running on the Frostbite engine, could UFC 5 finally be “as real as it gets”?
The game opens with one of the biggest improvements to the overall formula – John “Bones” Jones facing down a potential fight stoppage due to damage to his eye. The doctor is brought in, giving Jones just one last chance to stage a comeback, or face defeat. Facing Stipe Miocic, that might be a tall order. Rallying, I put down Stipe, adding a KO to my list of achievements and kicking off our review for EA Sports UFC 5. Let’s get it on!
As I mentioned, the game has moved to the Frostbite engine. That’s mostly great news. The fighters look great in the ring, the damage modeling is insanely detailed, and with the power of the PlayStation 5 and its NVMe drive, the load times are blisteringly fast. A number of improvements across the board, both mechanically and in terms of the gameplay loop have made their way into this iteration, making it easily the biggest jump we’ve seen from a sequel for this series. There are also a number of bafflingly odd things going on as well that I’ll touch on periodically throughout this review. We’ll start off, as I always do, with the career mode.
You can create a new fighter, or import a fighter from history, including some true blasts from the past like Matt Hughes, Dan Severn, and Kimbo Slice. Naturally, you’ll also find legends like Muhammad Ali, Iron Mike Tyson, and Bruce Lee in here, at least if you pre-ordered or nabbed the deluxe edition of the game. It’s here that we see our first oddity. Amidst the fantastic high resolution in-ring fighters are some of the lowest resolution icon pictures for the fighter selections. They did the ladies especially wrong, with some of their pictures looking like they are nabbed from the PS2 era for some reason. I don’t know what happened here, but wow. Some of the fighters in this list look like they were in a 5 round war and then stuffed through a funhouse mirror before they came in for their headshot capture.
Once you’ve chosen a fighter to use as a template, or created your own, you’ll move into customization. You can pick from five different styles, just like UFC 4, with each offering a perk that grants skill in a specific area (e.g. Kickboxers have “crazy legs” with roundhouse and switch kicks being faster for them), as well as balancing against stand-up, grappling, and overall health. Underneath each of these lies a wealth of subcategories like punch speed, head movement takedown defense, top game, clinch striking, cardio, and chin strength, just to scratch the surface. Each category grants a starting moveset across seven categories, with an eighth being combinations.
Picking the rest of my info is a simple menu navigation from here. Names, social media handles, first and last names (the roster of spoken names is even bigger than before), their hometown, and more define your fighter’s basics.
There are over 100 hairstyles to choose from, and some of them are flat out wild, with 36 facial hair choices to pick from as well. With the new engine, hair moves realistically, so fighters like Clay Guida can finally have his Captain Caveman hair in the ring.
Body types range from “I live in the gym” to “my gym is the kitchen pantry” with everything in between. The UFC continues to be home to the worst tattoos ever, with all sorts of awesome bad choices you can mix, match, combine, resize, and place using up to 100 layers this time around. Wanna put a sketchbook koi on your face? Do it up. Want a giant chicken from naval to eyebrow? Have at it. There’s even trash polka in here if you’re brave enough. A full array of shapes is in here as well for you “I can make Picasso from cylinders” types.
You’ll pick your style, from your walkout to your celebration, either mixing and matching or grabbing the signature of a fighter you know. Emotes continue to be earnable things, with common, uncommon, and epic, though I can’t say I used them much during my campaign. Your clothing is also earned with coins (more on that later), though with 9 hours in the career mode I barely earned enough coins to buy an ugly beige pair of pants, so don’t expect miracles here.
With everything picked out, Zoomy “Fast” Ferrari was born, getting my start the way Kimbo Slice did – backyard brawls. My first “opponent”, if you can call him that, went down in 21 seconds. For my efforts I picked up a grand in cash, and 238 very surprised fans. A few points went to my XP totals, as well as my daily and career goals. I also nabbed 500 punch card coins. Heading to the gym, apparently I was the hottest ticket in town. My now-voiced protagonist would begin his training road to the UFC starting today. Let’s hit the bags.
Completing challenges in sparring rewards me with Evolution Points that I can use to upgrade my attributes and purchase perks. I can skill up my BJJ, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling, or smack the leather around on the heavy bag. The bag does mean a 70% reduction on upgrading your skills, so that exercise is all about evolution points.
Sparring gets a major level up, with not only expecting you to block, dodge, slip, strike, and adjust, but also giving you a grade on the result. Doing it well, and achieving the subgoal (e.g. “Don’t get hit more than 5 times”) will result in additional evolution points. These points can upgrade your various skills, earn new moves, or be spent to help recover from injuries. In fact, let’s talk about injuries, since they come from the oddest place.
In point of fact, I have taken FAR more damage in training than I ever have in fights. My sparring partners aren’t out to train me, they are out to hurt me. We should be wearing gear, but for reasons I cannot fathom, we aren’t. As such, the further into your fight career you get, the more often you’ll either take an injury or three during a session, or accidentally break your partner. I’ll say it like I did in my UFC 4 review – we need the ability to raise up our gym, including getting better sparring partners. Or at least ones that can take a punch. Some training requirements are incredibly difficult because your training partner will simply crumble if you hit them with 5 Superman Punches.
Speaking of, I was super confused by a training requirement that asked me to do a superman punch. I hit the prompt over and over and over again with no punches happening. Could the superman punch prompt be wrong? It says L1 + X + Square, but that’s a face kick, every time, all day, every day. It turns out, since I hadn’t learned that strike from another fighter, or bought it in a move set upgrade, no matter how correct I was with my input, it didn’t count. Without that, I’d have to spend some of my precious fight camp points to refresh it away. Once I’d met up with another fighter to learn the skill, I could use it, but I wasted a lot of training time otherwise. This unfortunately happens with any move you don’t know, but you won’t know what’s missing till it bites you in the ass during training. A simple prompt, red exclamation mark, or something visible that advised that I hadn’t learned that move (or perhaps not having that as a training requirement until I’d learned it) would have been appreciated.
If you train then you know that injuries are a way of life. Whether it’s a turned ankle shooting in for a takedown, or a busted open orbital, eventually you are going to need some level of medical attention. Injuries slow down your fight prep, unless you mitigate them. Using the cash you’ve earned in fights, you can heal your injuries, reclaiming the lost training time. It’s not cheap though – a trip to a surgical center can run you $52,000, and a Sports Phisio Practitioner will run you another $40,000. Sometimes a simple ice pack is all that’s necessary, but those are 7 grand. And you thought the military was overspending!
Taking to the mat for training, the grappling system has been overhauled in a major way. Pressing the right stick in the indicated direction will attempt an escape, and holding R2 while pressing up on the right stick will defend. If you lose that exchange, your “Submission Resilience” meter will drop some. If it’s not depleted, you’ll be injured and perform a “desperate escape”. If that meter is depleted, however, you just got submitted. The more moves you have learned, the more options will appear, but you have to be patient with the stick movements as holding too early will just make the prompts disappear entirely. This is chess, so don’t move the stick too quickly or hold it there prematurely – it’ll take a little practice.
If you were a fan of the original grappling system, it’s here for you and called “Legacy”. The new system is simplified and frankly far more approachable, instead giving you choices when you are in the right position. When you attempt a submission or transition, you’ll indicate it with the direction press and then it’s a battle of your struggle versus the opponent. Short strikes, elbows, and other softening techniques go a long way. The career mode will teach you how to grapple, block, and most importantly for when you play a human opponent, how to survive when you’re injured. Flash knockouts are less common when you know how to slip, dodge, block, and recover.
Once you’ve got a few fights under your belt, you’ll be heading to Vegas to train at the new Performance Institute, giving you a chance to grab your shot in the Dana White’s Contender Series. Earning your first contract is really where your career starts.
Your first fight is going to be very low hype – that’s just how it is in the beginning. You’ll probably want to spend time in Fighter Evolution. Here you’ll slowly evolve your fighter to be, well, whatever you want them to be. Using points earned in training, you’ll evolve things like your punch speed, head movement, footwork, takedown defense, top game, and more. The points to raise them goes up as you increase them, and time will decay them. Injuries can be healed with Evolution Points, but that’s frankly the worst way to spend them – try to avoid that.
Unlike previous games, you can’t just dump all your time into a single wonder kick and call it a day. To progress anything to four stars, you’ll have to get everything else in that category to at least two. Rather than buying upgrades to your moves, however, you’ll need to actually use them. Landing 2000 jabs gets that to two stars, and so on. 30 perks give you a minor boost to things like how fast you can get up from bottom position, or to lower stamina while moving, but you can only pick two to start. Become a UFC signed fighter and you get a third. Ranked gets you a fourth, and that final slot is reserved when you earn a belt.
Before you fight, you’ll get the chance to prepare. Training caps can earn you additional evolution points, but can also tax your overall fitness. Completing challenges can give you the points you need for an edge, so study up. Watching a tape will reveal a game plan, showcasing what their top moves are, what attributes they have, or their tendencies. This is important for your counter-plan. Hype is similar to last time, with promotions, sponsorships, and connections allowing you to pick up additional cash if you can match the challenges presented, or just by hitting certain hype levels. Everything I trained for culminated in my UFC debut.
If you played UFC 4, then you can already see that the same tactics you used there won’t get you far here. After trying to engage in my usual headshot shenanigans, I realized that the fighter in front of me was faster and stronger than I was. Instead, I focused on disabling his speed, ultimately getting him to submit via leg strikes – a new feature for UFC 5. More importantly, I got a little bit of ground game time – not my normal fight style. That’ll serve me later when I face opponents who like to take the fight off the feet.
One of my favorite parts of UFC 5 over its predecessor is that you are always learning. Win, lose, sparring, bag work – every punch, kick, throw, and lock you do earns you points towards your next evolution. Realize that you can overtrain, and you can take injuries that persist, so train carefully. Speaking of earning, the money you make on fights, much like the real thing, is probably going to be spent on recovery.
One of the primary complaints with UFC 4 was that you spent a very long time playing the same minigames and sparring rather than fighting. The challenges that you face, once you’ve completed them once, can then be simulated. You’ll earn full points, but if you keep doing it, that point value will start to diminish. You’ll have to refresh those skills eventually.
To help you as you fight, there are hints in the corner that warn you when you are low on stamina, have taken an especially bad shot, or when you’ve got a new target like a swollen eye or cut cheek. These are helpful when you are in trouble and overextended, especially at the beginning of your career when patience is probably not your strong suit.
I did run into more bizarre Havok engine physics bugs in this version than any three previous combined. I look forward to the hilarious montage videos ahead on this one as I’ve seen opponents turned into jelly pretzels after a fight more often than not.
In addition to our bone-challenged fighters, the camera can be problematic at times. It doesn’t get in the way, but sometimes it does get stuck on the edge of the cage, focuses on something in the background, and then swings back into the ring and onto the fighters after overcorrecting in the other direction. It happens a lot during a clinch exchange near the cage. Put your hands up when it does – the AI has NO problem bashing your face while you are struggling to see.
I ran into one severe and game-breaking bug. During a title defense, of all times, I landed a Superman Punch, got a promotion on that skill, and also triggered a doctor check on my opponent. When I came back from that check I had no control over my fighter. He just stood there, motionless, taking shot after shot. I had to restart the fight to not take an immediate loss, despite having my opponent all but destroyed.
Oddly, and I’m not sure if this is a bug, but the social media aspects of the game slow down dramatically after you get your belt. No more talking with fans, rarely talking opponents, and the rivalry system evaporates into thin air. In fact, I fought my rival and I fought and then did an immediate rematch, and I never saw him again. Not much of a rival, really.
There is one rule that is blatantly ignored in UFC 5 – striking a downed opponent. During sparring and during fights I had instances where I was able to knee a fighter to the head, even though they had one hand on the mat. In fact, during knee practice, it was practically a staple of the training process.
Outside of the extensive career mode, there are a number of additional opportunities to keep you busy. Fight Contracts offers a daily fight that, if you win, rewards you with coins. Your first attempt is free, and you can retry fights you lose for a fee, up to 3 attempts total. Thankfully, these come from the coins you earn, not the real-money ones.
Fight Now has five modes – Main Card which is a 3 round competitive fight. UFC Main Event is also a 5 round fight, but meant to simulate a title fight. UFC Championship is a chance to defend or challenge for a belt, and Backyard is “most damage wins” mode over five rounds. Kumite is a 25 minute non-stop battle, where decisions are counted as draws, and the special effects are straight out of a Van Damme movie, and with several levers to pull, including shutting off grappling. In these modes there are a metric ton of adjustments you can make including adjusting the clock speed, whether perks are enabled, stamina or health recovery on or off and how quickly, damage, grappling, recovery, and so much more to make the game play precisely how you want it to. There are also five difficulty levels to tinker with, from easy to legendary, so consider this your “jump in and just play” mode area. Better still, for the first time you can now bring your created fighter into these modes, or even online. Prepare for a lot of unicorn haired dudes with big swirly exaggerated beards.
Once you finish the leveling up path, you are able to prestige like you would in a Call of Duty game, unlocking a higher level cap and additional skills to add to your arsenal. Your fighter has a limited amount of fights in them, so expect that you’ll have to retire at some point, but it won’t be anytime soon.
With the game launching in EA Play, I’ve managed to get my head kicked in a few times online – there are some folks who are true scientists in pursuit of the sweet science. Patient, they’ve already grabbed onto the new submission system and are really taxing my fight game in a big way. The great news is that the problems I’m having are all about my skills, not connectivity.
If you are a UFC 4 veteran, then there’s a lot to like here as UFC 5 is decidedly similar, but with upgrades in the right areas. The movesets are mostly the same, though the ground game is a big improvement. The addition of fight stoppages for kicks, blood, swelling, and damage is a welcome one, though knockouts are still far more common than those reasons. The presentation of the fight game has taken a step in the right direction in the ring with the Frostbite engine, but a big step backwards outside of it with character portraits looking rather rough across the board. I’m happy to see EA work to get us back in the ring faster with the simulation system, but we still don’t have any way to address the shortcomings of our gym or its sparring partners. Together with the handful of odd bugs, UFC 5 is the very definition of a mixed bag.
Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming.
Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter.
Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 27 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
EA Sports UFC 5
Moving to Frostbite makes UFC 5 look better than ever in the ring. The new ground game system is a welcome addition, but some odd bugs and occasional presentation problems make UFC 5 a win, but by split decision.