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UFC 5 Review: Knockout Gameplay Crowns A New Champion

The fight game is back, and our UFC 5 review will tell you whether it's time to step into the virtual octagon.
UFC 5 Review: Knockout Gameplay Crowns A New Champion

There's only one video game choice for MMA fans, but UFC 5 has refined the franchise more than ever before. With a brand new impact system combined with several small gameplay adjustments, it's never been a better time to hit the octagon.

Whether you're looking to spend your time offline or wanna prove yourself against the world, our UFC 5 review will break down all the top game modes from the latest release. For returning veterans and new players alike, there's a lot to love about UFC 5.

UFC 5 Review: Gameplay has never looked or felt this good

UFC 5 Review

On the surface, especially if you just see a short clip, it can feel like UFC 5 is pretty similar to the UFC 4 release from three years ago. The overall look and feel doesn't appear revelatory, but once the action gets rolling it doesn't take long to realize they've finally cracked the code on fluid realistic fighting.

One of the most crucial additions this year is the Real Impact System, and this system uses eight different face regions around the eyes, brows, and forehead that can individually be affected but cuts, swelling, and bruising. Just like in a real UFC fight, a small bit of damage will start to worsen significantly with consecutive strikes. If you get cut on the brow, continued damage can cause it to blur your vision and make strikes from that side significantly more deadly.

To go along with the fact that progressive cuts can now become an issue, you could even run into doctor's checks and stoppages where fights get stopped if your injury is too bad. This pairs with a refined striking system featuring new animations and some simplification of several moves in the UFC 5 controls including uppercuts, overhands, and spin attacks. Speaking of refinement, the new Grapple Assist feature is a godsend that removes minigames and makes the fluidity of ground transitions better than they've ever been.

UFC 5 Gameplay

That upgrade pairs with Seamless Submissions, a streamlined system with more fluid counters and a new submission health meter below the stamina gauge to indicate when a tapout looks most likely. Once you're accustomed to moving from position to position and stamina management, you'll find yourself going for submissions significantly more often even with fighters who don't have ideal submission attributes. For players who preferred the more intricate Legacy Grapple Controls and wish for a little extra control, those are still available in settings.

All of these aspects come together for a fantastic UFC 5 gameplay experience that's only amplified by the best presentation and visuals in franchise history. Taking full advantage of next gen capabilities, UFC 5 looks crisper and cleaner than any other installment and really brings the big fight feel when it's appropriate.

If you quite simply just wanna jump into the action right away, Fight Now and Fight Contracts are a great way to continue trying different fighters and styles across the UFC 5 roster. There's also going to be a new Fight Week mode debuting the week of November 6 (ahead of Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic at UFC 295) where you'll able to make predictions and participate in special challenges and contracts themed around the upcoming event.

Single Player Career Mode vs. Online Career Mode

UFC 5 Offline Career Mode Single Player

The place you're most likely to spend the bulk of your UFC 5 time is Career Mode, but there are two different ways to do that this year. For players who prefer an experience with some story and the slow grind towards the top, the offline single player Career Mode gets an entirely new tutorial and onboarding system along with a much better interface.

The story in UFC 5 isn't particularly complex, but it does have new falvor this year as former UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina Shevchenko joins with longtime franchise character Coach Davis as the primary characters with speaking roles that you'll interact with. You'll do a mix of several tasks during the training camp between each fight including making connections with other fighters to learn their moves, promoting your next fight to build the hype, studying tape to learn about your next opponent, or doing sparring sessions which you now have the option to simulate (though you'll miss out on some Evolution Points that way).

One thing that became clear after a few stints in Career Mode is that changing the difficulty and game style will massively alter your experience. If you go with the Stand and Bang or Knockout, especially on lower difficulties, you're likely to find yourself just blasting through opponents. If you want to focus on striking and hitting unique exciting knockouts, these two game styles are ideal. For players that want something a bit more in line with all the different flavors UFC 5 has to offer, Competetive (the default game style) and the ultra-realistic Simulation option are the ways to go.

If you're absolutely dominant, you'll find yourself fighting in Dana White's Contender Series before moving right to the UFC and working your way to the title. However, if you don't get early finishes and struggle in your first fights, you'll head to the WFA (World Fighting Alliance) and take the slow road up to the UFC. If you feel like things are getting a bit repetetive in Career Mode, try a new save with a different game style and higher difficulty to shake things up. 

UFC 5 Review Online Career Mode

As for Online Career, players will have the option of creating four different active fighters across different divisions. You can customize and upgrade each fighter individually, and the speed of online matchmaking is definitely helped by having fighters active across several weight classes. There's still a little bit of lag and occasional delay online, but it was never bad enough to ruin the experience.

Ultimately, which Career Mode is the right fit for you will depend entirely on if you prefer facing the AI or playing other fighters online. You can prove yourself and try to climb rankings against the best around the world, or you can keep the game entirely offline and build your fighter's legacy one week at a time. 

Creation Suite is decent, but it needs so much more

UFC 5 Review Custom Fighter Creation Suite

If there's a core weakness to UFC 5, it's the creation suite used to make custom fighters for Career Mode. They've covered all the basics as you can create a custom male or female fighter before adjusting various aspects of their appearance, choosing a fighting style and some animations, and setting up their basic name and hometown information.

They've got a pretty good array of actual spoken name options, as several last names and a good bunch of nicknames are available to have Bruce Buffer use when introducing your character before each fight. Unfortunately, the quantity of options and quality of how some aspects appear just isn't quite where it needs to be.

UFC 5 definitely needs better looking hair for custom fighters, more clothing choices, more varied appearance presets, more available adjustments to body size and shape, and more tattoo options. While I was able to put together a few unique fighters to enjoy, including one fairly solid replica of a television character, in the end the creation suite just left me wanting more.

If EA Sports could come anywhere close to the Creation Suite available in WWE 2K23, especially if it had an online Community Creations system, this might be the greatest fighting game of all time. Sadly, UFC 5 doesn't have that benefit. We could see improvements down the line with new tattoo and clothing drops via post-launch updates, but it seems unlikely a community creations upgrade and sweeping change will be possible until UFC 6 shows up in a handful of years.

UFC 5 Review Rating & Verdict

UFC 5 Review Rating Verdict

It's been a relatively strong few years for many sports games, as several have managed to move past their (sometimes self-imposed) limitations from the last generation of consoles and really make something special again. That's how UFC 5 feels after hours of testing it out on Xbox Series X|S. Every big cinematic replay of an exciting knockout and hard-earned submission victory feels special.

For players who enjoyed UFC 4, do yourself a favor and at the very least check out the UFC 5 trial via EA Play or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Ultimately, if you enjoy the new gameplay system, you're going to get a lot of fun out of UFC 5. If you try it and still don't care for the grappling system, and the Stand and Bang game style that eliminates it isn't enough for you, then this isn't your game.

If you're a new player, even if you're not normally a big UFC fan or feel behind, there's enough to enjoy without needing a whole backlog of UFC history in your mind. Wrestling fans can get excited for names like Paige VanZant and Dan Severn, longtime boxing fans get to try out Muhammad Ali, action movie fans get several Bruce Lee variants, and anyone paying attention to anything in the late 2000s can take Bahamian street fighting icon Kimbo Slice into the octagon and give him the career he deserved.

There's still room for improvement in this franchise when it comes to the Creation Suite, and additional stories in the offline Career Mode could give players even more to engage with, but these hits never drag down the overall experience. It already feels fair to say this may be the best MMA fighting game of all time, and UFC 5 could hold that title for years to come.

UFC 5 Rating: 9 out of 10