UFC 5 review – A flashy but all too predictable gameplan

Brad Norton
UFC 5 cinematicEA Sports

Although UFC 5 certainly packs a punch in terms of visual fidelity as a current-gen exclusive, an overall lack of new innovations has this year’s release feeling more like a Stockton slap than a full-fledged knockout.

It’s been over three years since the last UFC title from EA Sports hit store shelves, and while the sport itself has evolved a great deal in that period, the same can’t exactly be said for the video game series.

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While ditching last-gen hardware and pivoting to an M rating definitely helps UFC 5 stand out from earlier entries, it’s fundamentally still very much the same experience. An identical roster to previous entries, the same hit-and-miss online component, along with a lack of new modes and gameplay features, all have this year’s entry struggling to make an impact.

If you were hoping for a championship-winning pivot in round 5 like Leon Edwards, you might be sorely disappointed here. UFC 5 is a solid contender, just not one leaving us blown away like a head-kick knockout.

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UFC 5 – Key details

  • Price (Standard Edition): $69.99 USD | £69.99 GBP | $109.95
  • Developer: EA Sports
  • Release date: October 27, 2023
  • Platforms: Xbox Series X | S & PS5

UFC 5 trailer

Round 1: A few upgrades step into the cage

Let’s start the fight by laying out what’s actually new in UFC 5. Naturally, the first thing you’ll notice is the improved visuals. Thanks to the shift to EA’s Frostbite engine, the series has genuinely never looked better.

Be it the finer details on individual character models or the spectacle of enormous arenas, it’s all a much more polished presentation than in previous years. Even if plenty of assets have been reused from earlier titles.

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Taking the bold step to abandon the past-gen console install base and focus exclusively on current hardware is a risk for any title, let alone a sports game with widespread appeal. One that could be leaving millions of dollars on the table in doing so. But it’s a bold step that’s paid dividends as UFC 5 is without a doubt the best-looking MMA game to date.

UFC 5 gameplayEA Sports
As it should be, UFC 5 is the best-looking MMA game to date.

Adding to the presentation this year is a new KO replay feature. Score a devastating knockout over your opponent and rather than the traditional replays of yesteryear, we now have a custom system in place to spotlight the brutality in a new way. 

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Fading out the background noise, dimming lights in the crowd, and giving us camera angles you just can’t get in real life, this new addition is a fantastic step forward in making your every move feel all the more important. At least, that’s the case when it works. Given the often hilariously over-the-top ragdoll animations, KO replays can be more of an amusement than anything.

It is worth noting, however, that this replay feature does feel like a first draft. Occasionally the odd knockout would awkwardly send the camera out of frame, or get caught behind the cage, missing key parts of the victory. This is hopefully something that can be ironed out in the weeks and months to come.

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Also fresh in UFC 5 is the addition of doctor stoppages. Receive a nasty cut over your eye or have your face swell like McGregor’s foot, to the size of a balloon, and there’s a chance the doctor might halt the action and step into the cage.

Much like in the real world, docs can stop fights altogether if a fighter is deemed unfit to continue. Yet while this was quite a big focus in the marketing this year, it seems exceedingly rare in practice. 

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Through roughly 20 hours of play, we’ve seen the doctor just a handful of times, and even then, the fight is very rarely stopped. So don’t expect this feature to be a game changer by any stretch. Though after the chaos of UFC 294, perhaps that’s a good thing.

UFC 5 gameplayEA Sports
Doctors haven’t stopped a fight through 20 hours. Even for some of the game’s crazier matchups. Yes that’s Dana White beating Bruce Buffer.

Last but not least, we get to the most important and the most impressive new innovation in UFC 5. The violence. Making the ‘Just Bleed’ gods happy, UFC games are finally a violent delight once again.

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Thanks to some complex tech under the hood, there are now thousands of possible damage combinations to radically alter the state of any fight. Cuts can appear all over the face in a far more realistic manner than before, while the body and legs can both bruise and swell if targeted appropriately.

Sustain a wound of any kind and it can change the course of a fight. A cut on the opponent’s nose could become a key target, for instance. And in focusing on that specific area, you can reduce the stamina of your rival, making it harder for them to breathe through the bloody wounds.

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Similarly, focusing damage on the lead leg of your opponent might limit their movement, making them slower to react as the fight goes on.

With effectively countless variations, no two fights feel exactly the same now. Replay value feels just like it did in the Undisputed days where anything can happen at any moment to change the course of a fight.

Round 2: Playing it safe

Beyond the few changes and improvements listed above, UFC 5 is very much near-identical to what you’ve played before. The same modes and mostly the same mechanics, albeit with slightly different control schemes. 

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Having blitzed through a Career Mode run in a single day, we can say with certainty it’s the exact same Career Mode from previous years, just with the most insignificant of adjustments. A handful of brief, instantly forgettable cutscenes, the same fight week menus balancing promotion with training, and the same path to the title then GOAT status.

There’s nothing new here to write home about and certainly nothing to grab your attention despite the game’s premium price tag. Another largely formulaic single-player experience.

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With five games in the series now, it feels time to finally push things forward and shake up the formula. Where’s the GM/Matchmaker sim letting us control the cards and live a life in the shoes of a UFC exec? Where’s the showcase mode letting us relive the greatest moments of a Hall of Famer’s career like in the WWE2K games? There’s plenty of room for innovation, but once again, UFC 5 sticks to the same old formula with little innovation this time around.

Even the Online Career Mode is as bland as can be. Simply offering a new matchmaking tool as you play with your own custom fighters and evolve their skills. Not exactly the most enticing hook.

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Becoming the GOAT is nearly identical in UFC 5 to in previous years.

Also rather peculiar is this year’s roster. While we’ll never begrudge developers for re-using assets, especially assets as time-consuming to make as entire new fighter models, movesets, winning animations, and the like, UFC 5’s roster is identical to what fans have grown accustomed to in recent entries, just with a handful of new character models dropped in.

In particular, a few questionable inclusions almost feel somewhat overlooked. Why is ONE Champion Demetrious Johnson still in the mix when Mighty Mouse hasn’t been on the UFC roster since 2018? Why is Mike Perry still here when he’s essentially the face of a rival company in Bare Knuckle FC? And Ben Askren too, is one of the more bizarre members of the UFC 5 roster given his trajectory since the UFC days.

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While you can argue in favor of their legacy, it’s nonetheless an odd look having them involved while more fresh faces fall short of making the cut. Plenty of ranked UFC fighters sitting in the top 15 have been left out, making us question exactly what took three years to get this iteration out the door.

Round 3: Same old hit-and-miss online play

Similar to offline play, online feels it has barely been improved in UFC 5. With much of the same returning features and with it, the same quirks, you’d be forgiven for mistaking this year’s new release with any previous UFC title from EA.

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Still the biggest gripe here is the game’s matchmaking system. At least as an Australian, being matched up with fellow Aussies for fair fights is a rarity. More often than not you’re dropped into high-ping situations and in a game where every moment matters and reaction timing is everything, it doesn’t exactly lead to the most thrilling experience.

This leads to not only a rough time on the feet, but a grueling time on the mat as well. Being unable to counter transitions means you’re effectively defenseless on the ground, suffering at the will of your opponent.

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Bizarrely, even when testing private matches between fellow Aussie staff here at Dexerto, we still noticed choppiness in these online matches, with ping sitting at 50+ despite our close proximity.

It’s also worth noting how matchmaking can often just fail altogether as well. Given the number of playlists and modes splitting the community up, it can occasionally be difficult if not impossible to find a specific matchup. This was most noticeable in the game’s Blitz mode where, after winning a few rounds, we were left stuck with no other option but to abandon our run as the game failed to match us with another competitor time and time again.

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Muhammad Ali in UFC 5EA Sports
Even UFC 5’s pre-order bonuses enter the cage with animations ripped directly from existing fighters on the roster.

Coming across more like an update for a previous title than a full-fledged new release in its own right, UFC 5 does little to justify its premium price tag. While a handful of flashy presentation improvements keep the experience fresh for a few hours, there’s not a great deal to keep you around in the long run.

The Verdict – 2/5

If this is what three years of development amounts to, perhaps it is time for EA to go back to their corner, sit on the stool for a while longer, and enter the next round with a different gameplan.

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About The Author

Brad Norton is the Australian Managing Editor at Dexerto. He graduated from Swinburne University with a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and has been working full-time in the field for the past six years at the likes of Gamurs Group and now Dexerto. He loves all things single-player gaming (with Uncharted a personal favorite) but has a history on the competitive side having previously run Oceanic esports org Mindfreak. You can contact Brad at brad.norton@dexerto.com