On starting EA Sports UFC 5, I’m thrown into a fight as Jon Jones, busted open with the doctor checking on him. We’re allowed to continue, and before I know it, the tutorial pop-ups start. With how long it had been since my last UFC game, being thrown into the deep end like this felt a little rough. Nevertheless, victory is obtained and then…nothing?
From there, it’s straight to the menu to engage in the new Fight Contracts, start a new Career from the bottom to make it in the UFC and become champion, engage in quick fights (with Backyard Fights and Kumites available) or battle online. Thankfully, there is a mode for learning the ins and outs of the game, but as you quickly discover, especially if you’re coming from EA Sports UFC 4, UFC 5 doesn’t feel like a big step up.
"Hilariously, after a few fights, your initial knockout from the Backyard Brawl is noticed by UFC owner Dana White, and it’s off to the Contender’s Series."
Let’s start with Career Mode, which sees you selecting a type of fighter, customizing their appearance, social media handle, stances, weight class and more. You can choose from multiple presets and adjust hairstyles, skin tone, eyebrows, different body styles and then tattoos, with several layers available. This will look very familiar to fans of the previous game because most of them carry over wholesale. Separating official gear and the Apex Kit for other cosmetic items is fine, but even as far as character creators go, the available options are serviceable. Nothing extraordinary, nothing terrible – just fine.
Your career starts in a Backyard Brawl, which doesn’t feel completely sanctioned, and after Coach Davis rags on you for doing those gigs, you train for legit fights. The interactions with Davis are acceptable, at times typical, but again, nothing special. I could do less with Davis calling me a “social media sensation.” Were there no other names available? Do nicknames serve no purpose?
Hilariously, after a few fights, your initial knockout from the Backyard Brawl is noticed by UFC owner Dana White, and it’s off to the Contender’s Series. This is where Career Mode opens up, as you accept (or deny, but only once) fights, spar with partners in different aspects of Mixed Martial Arts, hype a fight or learn new moves from more established fighters. You can also spend those Fighter Evolution Points to increase various stats like Kick Power, Kick Speed, Blocking, Takedown Defense, and so on. Moves evolve based on how much you use them, which allows for fully developing your style.
"Scoring those KOs and technical knockouts feels pretty good, especially with the new cinematic replays."
As a Kickboxer, I decided to try and beat most opponents with whatever kicks were in my arsenal, ground game be damned (famous last words, I know). However, as you encounter a greater variety of opponents, from Wrestlers to Boxers, you quickly find yourself clinched, taken down and submitted if the fundamentals aren’t solid. Still, scoring those KOs and technical knockouts feels pretty good, especially with the new cinematic replays.
After joining the UFC, you can start taunting opponents on social media to gain rivals and generate hype for fights, take on sponsors, predict how a match will end (and in what round), and build connections with other fighters to learn their moves. Keep up the training routine lest your fitness plummet and max stamina drop to almost nothing in a long fight.
Sparring with partners can lead to injury, which you must pay for or rest the week (which means skipping necessary activities). While you could go with a punching bag, your move evolution is slower, so there’s always some incentive for sparring. It would have been nice to have other activities, maybe some mini-games to break the monotony, but alas. At least there’s some incentive for sparring over simulating, since completing optional challenges gives bonus Evolution Points.
"At the very least, submissions feel dangerous as you desperately look for ways to escape, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the ground and pound options are utterly lacking."
EA Sports UFC 5 makes several changes to controls from the previous game. It’s been a while since I played the last game, but even then, some of these feel too convoluted. L2 + Square and X for a single-leg takedown? Square and Circle for a spin, then a face button to execute a spinning attack (which offers the chance to feint but still)? Throw in some more complex moves, like a Lead Body Side Kick, and things can get a little dicey.
It’s doable, mind you, but still hilariously awkward. As far as the actual feel goes, the striking feels weighty, but still relatively responsive (even though some hits seem like they shouldn’t connect). Also, sometimes the one-two combos feel a bit slow between hits, with the snappiness sometimes feeling like it’s not quite there.
Managing stamina and targeting body parts, backing off to defend yourself while being aware of your position in the cage, is key. At times, I would have to change strategies, from kicking my opponent into oblivion to playing for time to recover. The difficulty of opponents also feels just right. They look for ways to counter your game plan, adapting while leaning into their strengths. It encourages a holistic approach to training in every aspect if only to become more familiar with each situation and find ways to survive.
As far as the ground game goes, there’s a new Grapple Assist for choosing the best option on the ground, but you can still use Legacy Controls, which is recommended. Being able to flow between submissions feels better, even if it’s odd to see opponents escape clinched-in submissions so easily. At the very least, submissions feel dangerous as you desperately look for ways to escape, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, the ground and pound options are utterly lacking.
"Aside from Career Mode, there are the Fight Contracts, which essentially give you a set number of fights weekly to complete for UFC Coins (used to purchase gear, backgrounds and other cosmetics)"
When it comes to the presentation and visuals, they’re mostly on point (though announcer Bruce Buffer not listing a fighter’s height, weight and accomplishments beforehand feels wrong). Animations are relatively smooth, though there is very occasionally a bit of jank, and the camera sometimes gets a little wonky when backed into a corner, swinging wildly as it tries to find an anchor. The attention to detail in certain aspects, like the sweat on fighters’ skin and the new Authentic Damage system resulting in realistic cuts, is good. It doesn’t feel like a big jump over UFC 4, but your mileage may vary.
Authentic Damage isn’t just a cosmetic feature – it affects fights. Injuries can affect your overall performance (which means adjusting on the fly), and there are even doctor stoppages. If a fighter’s face is swollen on the left side, targeting that area has a chance of causing the doctor to step in and stop the fight. A neat concept – the problem is that the doc walks in and walks out continuously until finally deciding whether the fight should stop. It affects the flow and can get more annoying than realistic.
Aside from Career Mode, there are the Fight Contracts, which essentially give you a set number of fights weekly to complete for UFC Coins (used to purchase gear, backgrounds and other cosmetics). You can attempt each match three times, and your win/loss record tracks throughout. It’s a neat feature, even if some matches feel a bit unbalanced in difficulty.
"It’s essentially an improved version of the fourth game with some intriguing new systems and mechanics, even if some (like doctor stoppage) could be better."
One match saw my opponent reading through my intentions incredibly well, but another went down quickly after blocking a few too many punches with his face. Strangely enough, Fight Picks, which allows for making predictions for the main card of actual UFC events to earn coins, is completely missing with little explanation. Online options include quick matches, an Online Career, and Blitz Battles, but I couldn’t try them out.
Overall, I didn’t mind EA Sports UFC 5. It’s essentially an improved version of the fourth game with some intriguing new systems and mechanics, even if some (like doctor stoppage) could be better. The visuals are good, even if the presentation lacks in some key areas, and the gameplay feels fun, especially if you can get into the new submissions system.
However, it just doesn’t feel like enough, especially three years after the last game, especially in Career Mode, character customization and so on. It’s not an awful game, but with how much has changed with the UFC over the years, EA Sports seems like it’s hesitating to take the next big step.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.
Solid presentation that captures the atmosphere of UFC. Fighters look good with decent animations and details. Career Mode is made even better with quality of life improvements. Combat is mostly on point with improved submissions and balanced AI. Authentic Damage adds more strategy to fights, and doctor stoppages enhance the realism.
No full introductions by Bruce Buffer. Some hits don't feel like they should register, and there's a distinct lack of snappiness. Career Mode can get monotonous with its lack of additional activities. Ground and pound is pretty dismal. Doctor stoppages can get excessive. Not much of a jump forward from EA Sports UFC 4.