This fourth entry in EA's brutal mixed martial arts UFC licenced franchise is more about refining the gameplay than offering anything new. In fact, UFC 4 streamlines the game, removing the Ultimate Team mode that didn't make much sense in the game, anyway.
The game features 232 from the Woman's Strawweight all the way to Heavyweight. There are some changes from UFC 3, with 58 fighters having been removed. As I was playing the game was still adding fighters so those numbers may change.
As with previous games in the series, UFC 4is a rather complex affair. The use of a rapidly reducing stamina bar discourages the span hits that many players employ whilst learning the ropes. If you go in guns blazing, the bar is going to lower make any strikes too weak to matter.
The game requires careful timing and intimate knowledge of the button combos, especially the blocks. Sadly, it's been a while since I played the last game and I was forced to watch my poor avatar get pummelled for a couple of hours until the combos were etched into my mind.
The fighting has been refined since last time, of note is the clinch which is now instigated as a follow-up from a punch. The game also uses button holds for different strikes.
I found punching and kicking to be pretty easy to pick up, but the ground game is still a bit tricky for me. Fair play to EA Sports, though, for tackling the wrestling aspect of UFC and what must be a devilishly difficult bit to translate into meaningful gameplay.
UFC is a messy sport, with opponents getting absolutely pounded. There's split lips and bloodied eyes all around for most of the bouts. The sense of satisfaction, however, when you return a blocked punch with a devastating blow, should not be understated.
The career mode does a good job of introducing the multitude of moves and strikes to new players. The mode's slow pace may frustrate veterans- even if there have been some changes.
As well as the solo career there are some other modes that can also be enjoyed solo or with local multiplayer. Fight Now allows players to pick their fighters and venue for a standard UFC bout. Stand and bang has players fighting using just punches and kicks - no gripping or groundwork. Knockout Mode is more of a traditional fast-paced arcade-inspired fight. Custom Fight Now allows players to fine-tune their UFC fight.
The offline modes include a practice session, tutorials and a video training manual for perfecting your technique. The offline mode also allows players to set up their own fight cards and tournaments.
The brave may wish to chance their luck online. There are tournaments, blitz battle with custom rules and quick fights for players to prove themselves against real-life opponents.
All the usual venues like Madison Square and MGM are present. Additions for this year include a backyard octagon and the mystical, cavernous Kumite.
The game doesn't look that different from the last entry, and that's not really a bad thing. It still looks good. Fighter animations are smooth and look real enough. Presentation-wise, it is a bit toned down from the usual hyper-active, in-your-face EA Sports style.
UFC 4 does what it says on the tin, but not much more. It's a competent fighting game that does a good enough job to satisfy newcomers and UFC fans alike. It's not an easy game to pick up, but that gives it a bit more depth than your usual brawler. To succeed, players will need to invest the time getting to grips with the game's subtitles, which may be too much of a chore for some.