The sport of mixed martial arts is a fickle and ever-changing entity. The strategies and skills that won you a championship a few years ago could lead to a losing streak today. UFC 4 takes the lessons of the athletes it describes seriously, building on the solid foundations of UFC 3 in some places, while returning to the drawing board and completely revamping its approach in other. The result is another worthy outing to wrap the title belt around her waist. The timeless concept of two fighters hitting, kicking and fighting for victory has never been depicted so realistically as in UFC 4. With its improved control system, tweaking strikes to make them heavier or flashier is as easy as holding the facial pimple longer. . Getting up and punching with your opponent continues to be an edge-of-your-seat experience, with progressive and localized damage throughout combat, as well as the potential for flash knockouts with well-timed strikes; I jumped off my couch in shock as Conor McGregor finished my championship run with a left counter-center. If you prefer to sort things out on the pitch, the grappling system is also improved. Hooking up with your opponent and shooting for eliminations now feels like a natural extension of the stand-up experience, factoring in locomotion to determine success. Once on the ground, the new Grapple Assist system lets you select the desired outcome and the game does the rest. While this option is handy for casual players, I quickly changed the controls back to the legacy scheme as I like to control exactly the positions I take on the pitch. Perhaps the most welcome improvement is the addition of new Submission mini-games. The old system is replaced with two intuitive sequences where the attacker has to cover the defender’s bar while the action takes place behind the overlaid UI. With two different mini-games to complete depending on whether you’re in Joint Manipulation or Strangled Submission, the processes are different and do a great job of blending player skills, fighter attributes, and fatigue to determine the outcome. Offline offerings include one-off traditional MMA, Stand and Bang, and Knockout fights (with a new health bar system that mirrors that of traditional fighting games), as well as custom events and tournaments. However, the destination for offline play is career mode. This year’s career starts off more cinematic, as you work closely with your head coach to learn how to fight, score victories, and make the leap to the professional circuit. Once you are finally in the big show, the main goal is to win a championship on your way to becoming the greatest of all time. Fighting through the ranks is more exciting than ever, as fighters more faithfully mimic the behavior of their real-life counterparts, making each opponent feel unique; Khabib Nurmagomedov’s pressure fights make you feel like suffocating, as Justin Gaethje introduces his wildfire fighting approach to the Octagon. Planning for these contrasting styles is important up front, and UFC 4 is revising its training camp system to give you more options. You can spend your time watching your opponent’s tape to learn their moves and tendencies, promote your fight through social media and public appearances, or work out at the gym. Training is now less menu-driven with combat serving as the focus, which I much prefer to the repetitive system from the last game. I love how the movements of your fighters evolve based on your use, while you can complement the rest of your skills by inviting other athletes to train with you or by manually upgrading your attributes through points of skill you gain at the gym. Much of the dissemination of your fighter’s name goes through social media interactions. Some of them involve answering commentator Jon Anik’s questions, while others are fighters in your division calling you. I like being able to respond to it in a respectful or provocative way to build relationships and rivalries, but I’m disappointed with how the system seems to fall apart once you get to the top of your division; when you are champion you should have more athletes pulling their shot with you, not radio silence. In the online sequel, Blitz Battles remains the star. This mode gives you a fast-paced 64-player tournament with rules like a one-minute fight or a best of three match in Knockout mode. I love that if I lose in these get-in-get-out tournaments, I can just come back to another one in the hope of a better result. Whether you want to challenge the best in the world online or just claim your throne in career mode, this is a terrific next step for EA Sports’ MMA franchise. UFC 4 is effectively evolving its gameplay and career mode, giving you more than enough reasons to return to the Octagon.