Games about the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in general have a very up and down past. Due to it being a very niche area of the Fighting genre, some games have been well received, while others have been completely slated. UFC 2009: Undisputed is looking to change that, as it comes to the floor with a new team that it hopes will lead it to the Heavyweight title.
UFC 2009: Undisputed is the first game in the franchise to be produced by the team of THQ and Yuke's. However, it's not the first foray into MMA by THQ, as they've produced some Pride Fighting games in the past. Yuke's are also known by many for their work on the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) games, but a UFC game is a completely different proposition and it's a challenge they've tackled head on.
Probably the most prominent aspect of the game is its attempt to really bring the player into what the UFC is all about. Dana White, the president of the UFC, greets players with an ultimatum as soon as the game loads up and this helps set the scene; the UFC isn't just all fun and games. To back this up, the roster of fighters available is extremely extensive and huge effort has been taken to make all the fighters as realistic as possible, in both looks and moves.
Fighters sweat, bleed, tire and get completely bruised and battered. The engine is fantastic at really drawing the player into the experience and it really helps make the combat seem all the more real. When a big right-hand connects and the opponent's face gets cut open it really adds a sense of achievement, in a slightly sadistic way. Likewise, as the fight progresses, the fighters start to perspire and look visibly battered.
Under all the crisp graphics is an extensive system, which emphasises that there's definitely more than one way to win in UFC 2009. Obviously the most common victory is the straight knockout (KO), which can actually be achieved with the first punch of a fight. However, there are also submission moves, decisions and total knockouts (TKO). Knockouts can only be performed by hitting the opponent in the head, and each strike will increase the damage accumulated. The higher the damage, the higher probability the opponent will either be rocked, or knocked out. However, the opponent can also be rocked from consistent damage to the body and both can lead a successful way to victory.
Submission moves and knockouts from the floor require a lot more skill to achieve, as they require knowledge of the ground combat system. While the standing combat is much more similar to a typical fighting game, the ground combat will probably be a completely new experience for most players. It's a constant struggle for power, with each fighter trying to gain the upper hand to either launch a powerful offensive, or try and escape from a sticky situation. While striking moves can be performed, often this scenario revolves around using the right analogue stick to jostle for position or block an opponents transition attempts. While it may be an accurate depiction of the UFC, it does sometimes get a bit monotonous and boring.
One of the main problems is that it relies too heavily on the analogue stick. Rotating the stick in a quarter circle performs an easier transition attempt, while rotating the stick in a third circle performs a more difficult transition, with a lower success rate. The distinction between the two isn't that great though and sometimes if the wrong one is performed it will result in a more negative position than the one held before performing the action.
As well as the typical Exhibition mode, where a host of UFC fighters can be pitted against each other, there is also Career Mode. This allows players to create their own UFC fighter and work their way up the ladder to the top of the UFC. It seems a bit over bearing at first, but in essence it's actually relatively simple, perhaps too simple. There are essentially only a handful of things that can actually be performed during Career Mode; fighting, sparring, training, attending camps and promotional work. It seems novel doing these things at the start of the mode, but after a while it all becomes routine and some things, like promotional work are a bit redundant. Taking a week out of training to attend a photo shoot with minimal reward isn't exactly appealing, even if it does give an insight into the life of a UFC star.
The sparring involves squaring off against an AI opponent for a set amount of time. Attribute points are then awarded based on how successful the player is in the fight. It makes sense that progression should be based on performance, but this doesn't translate well over to the other mode, attending training camps. These are designed to allow players to unlock new moves, and learn about their chosen fighting styles. It's a nice idea, but it's not implemented that effectively. The player is given a set number of tasks they need to perform in a given time limit, which can range from hitting the AI a certain amount of times, to performing takedowns. This is where the problems arise though, as it's difficult to perform takedowns when the AI decides to lie on the floor for a few minutes. There is also limited instruction for the ground combat tasks and the game assumes that players know which position half mount is, and how they can get there.
The Career Mode is a nice idea, but it seems poory executed and its duration just serves to highlight its lack of depth. One good thing though, is that upon completion of the Career Mode, the fighter that was created then retires and becomes available for use in the Exhibition Mode, and for fighting Online. There's nothing like beating real opponents with a fighter that's been raised from the ground up. However, there are a few flaws which prevent the Online Mode from really achieving its potential. The first of which is lag. Any gamer who plays fighting games online will know that lag is a killer, and with the timing required for ground combat it can sometimes mean the fight is over before it even begins. This is compounded by the fact people can just leave matches while they're taking part or finished, and the result will then be void.
Overall, UFC 2009: Undisputed is a great advert for the UFC. It highlights the good aspects of the UFC and what it's all about, while trying to educate users in the sport's history. Commentary that's included during Career Mode from huge UFC matches in the past and the Classic Matches mode really help new players to get caught right up to speed with some of the sport's most famous fights.
In short, UFC 2009 offers an extremely visceral fighting experience and any fan of technical fighters should feel right at home with this game. It has a lot of depth on offer for those who want it; even if there are a few points which are holding it back.