The best compliment I can pay UFC 5 is that it reminds me of Fight Night Round 3. When EA’s boxing sim landed on Xbox 360, the world reacted with astonished glee at its ground-breaking slow-motion KOs. Bloodied noses, crumpled jaws, smashed cheekbones: back in 2006, we’d never seen its like. Now imagine those same effects, upgraded for the PS5 and Xbox Series X era, and brought about not only through clenched fists – but also flying knees and roundhouse kicks. There you have UFC 5.
While its slo-mo KOs wow, the damage models here are far more accomplished than were possible seventeen years ago. In UFC 5, eight different regions of the face can suffer cuts, bruises and swelling, each with multiple levels of progression. EA insists that the end result is 64,000 damage possibilities for your fighter’s once-beautiful boat-race – sufficient that no two KO’s should ever look the same. Critically, these cues aren’t only visual. Suffer too much damage to an eye, or a busted nose, and the ringside doctor steps in to assess whether you can continue. In around 10% of cases, he’ll stop the fight. How that goes down with online players remains to be seen, but it’s a solid nod towards realism.
Being “as real is it gets” is one of three pillars EA is building UFC 5 around. As well as authentic damage, the team is seeking to make fighters and environments look exactly like the real thing. This is the series’ first installment on the Frostbite engine, triggering a frame rate upgrade to 60FPS – and there is a beautiful seamlessness to strikes, grapples and transitions. Strand-based hair is another innovation that will surely make its way to the likes of FC 24 over time – with individual curls and locks moving of their own accord.
All this blood and bruising adds up to a Mature (18+) rating, for the first time in series history. “MMA can be a visceral sport,” explains producer Nate McDonald. “A key aspect is really being able to see, hear and feel the impact of UFC 5. Cuts, bruising, swelling are all going to accumulate with realistic accuracy and greater true-to-sport realism. Damage is rendered in more detail, with greater potential severity than in previous iterations – and this impacts the gameplay meta. Plus blood pooling on the canvas, and transferring between fighters, stays present throughout the fight.”
Power and glory
The second pillar is an even more vital one: being true to authentic MMA, in gameplay terms. This sees EA trying to mirror the real thing where speed, power, impact and submissions are concerned. The latter element does away with mini-games, with you triggering submissions and counters using the left and right sticks. Without going hands-on its hard to see exactly how this works, but it’s certainly intriguing. What is clear from our first look is that there are a ton of new strike animations, such as ground-and-pound elbows and calf kicks. Reactions to these are driven by physics, with a real sense of heft when you land an accurate blow. At review stage, this is going to be where UFC 5 ultimately flies or falls.
Pillar three is focussed on immersing you in a live UFC world, via what EA calls Fight Week. The game’s main menu will always be tied into an upcoming real-life event, ushering you towards challenges based around it. For instance, daily fight contracts see you partake in bouts from the next pay-per-view card, with tangible rewards at stake. In an example given by EA, we could unlock alternate versions of Jon Jones based on his UFC 87 debut in 2008, Alexander Volkanovski in gear from his rugby league career, and Valentina Shevchenko in old-school kickboxer attire. Stats for these alter-egos also differ from their base models, meaning they’re worth putting in some Fight Week grind time.
Added to the Fight Week fun is a spin-off mini-game where you can predict what’ll occur in upcoming real-life fights. Not just the winners, either: but also the method of victory, and which round in which it occurs. High leaderboard placings then score rewards like currency to spend elsewhere in the game. It’s a clever way of keeping the community invested in real-life MMA, and ensuring that UFC 5 doesn’t exist in its own bubble. Should it prove popular, it’s another feature you can see being transported over to sequels for FC 24 and Madden 24.
Simulated spar days
What about career mode? This is where the Mature rating really stands out, as a familiar character returns – and now litters cut-scenes with motivational F-words. It feels very un-EA, and that should be welcomed. “We’ve added an all new introduction, which brings back Coach Davis to guide players through their UFC career,” says associate producer Raman Bassi. “There are all-new cinematics, locations, and a refined focus on on-boarding. There are upgraded training camps, which let players simulate sparring drills to reach peak fitness and get to the fights faster. Plus we’ve added social media. Users will receive requests from fans asking them to complete tasks during fights – complete those and you’ll get more hype, and fans for upcoming fights.”
Roster inclusions are currently tight-lipped, but standard edition cover stars Shevchenko and Volkanovski, and special edition frontman Israel Adesanya, can all be penciled in. Alex Padeda was also showcased regularly in our sneak peek. Rightly or wrongly, the pre-order bonuses are certain to have fans reaching for their wallet too. They see Russian MMA great Fedor Emilianenko appear in an EA game for the first time, along with boxing hall of famers Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson. Both were famed across the globe for packing an almighty punch. On this evidence, UFC 5’s bloodied knuckles are going to be just as hard-hitting as those two ring greats.