Get ready to step into the Octagon as 'UFC 2009 Undisputed' brings realistic MMA action to your living room. With a keen eye for detail and love of the sport, THQ has upped the ante with this installment adding tons of new moves and real UFC personalities. With such complex controls, does 'Undisputed' hold itself back? Find out in this X-Play Review.
- Dense but deep control set
- Doesn't over-simplify any aspect of UFC
- Loads of real fighters
- Does little to educate new players
- Damage barely reflected on fighter models
- Success can seem like luck as much as skill
Re-enter the Octagon! Five years have passed since an official UFC game last graced consoles. Many who played UFC: Sudden Impact on the PS2 would rather forget the experience. THQ signed an agreement with UFC in 2007, and to their credit didn't rush a bland WWE port out the door. Yet they did hand the reigns of the franchise to Yuke's, a company better known for making big-move WWE games than handling something as complex as UFC. Is the end result a bout to remember, or just another piece of mid-card filler?
Grappling With the Basics
Whether you like it or not, accept that Undisputed is complex. There's the standing combat, which can look like a mad flurry of punches and kicks. Then there are the more difficult aspects to render: the clinch and the submission game. This man-on-man brawl is all about counters. How does one style counter another? Can one fighter turn a bad strike into a monumental takedown? How can one small move push the advantage from one combatant to another?
There are two general options to the complexity work in a video game. Either reduce the action down to a bunch of two-button context-sensitive actions that anyone can mash their way through, or max out the options for complex controls and let less than hardcore players decide whether or not to invest the time to figure it out. Undisputed focuses on the latter. The control set is dense and, even with the tutorials, will require a few hours to learn properly. Face buttons for strikes, left shoulder buttons to modify them, right shoulder buttons for guards, various right stick motions to deal with ground positioning…it's a lot to master. But the level of control, once you've got the details down, is deep. If it can happen in the Octagon in real life, if can probably happen here, too.
Fighting for Position
With the controls well in hand, more complex gameplay awaits. Even on the most basic setting (the game is set to 'beginner' difficulty by default) you can't just throw out a wild set of punches and kicks. You'll have to be patient, fight slowly, and look for openings. That isn't always easy, since the animations aren't terribly nuanced, so learning not only how to quickly block strikes, but where and when to attempt a counter or takedown can be a matter of chance as much as skill. The upside is that when you do get the motions down, the results are devastating and satisfying. Squirming out of a failed submission attempt, ending up on your back and scoring a knockout with a kick up to the jaw as your opponent stands? Yeah, that's awesome.
Too bad there aren't a lot of in-game signals to help players learn the ropes. The tutorials are detailed, but they don't do enough to explain the complexities of winning by submission, or of making the best use of the clinch. You might get some understanding of those mechanics by slogging through the career mode, but for the most part the only way to understand the ins and outs of mixed martial arts fighting without dashing to Wikipedia is to lose a lot of fights. That is A LOT of fights. That gets frustrating. If the dense control set didn't already say 'this game is for the core fans' the lack of in-game explanations does the trick.
Quite a Shiner You've Got There
UFC isn't as brutal as it was in the early '90s, when groin hits and fishhooks were tacitly allowed, but it's still a hardcore sport. To emphasize the action, traditional HUD elements are mostly MIA. There is no health bar, and by default the energy/stamina meter is turned off. New players will want to turn that on, as the fighter models don't display much in terms of condition. They don't get very bruised or cut (you'll see the same little facial cut eventually appear in every fight, which feels cheap) and in general you won't know how your fighter is faring just by looking at him.
Some of the lack of info is a good decision. A knockout can come anytime, which is part of the unpredictable charm of UFC. But more onscreen indicators of your fighter's condition would make the game feel more involving. You might notice slower movements or see more sweat on your would-be champion, but that's it. Otherwise you'll have to just hope that you're in better shape than might actually be the case.
Can We Get Some Support Here?
That's a place where good commentary might come into play, but the tracks here are thin at best. You'll hear Joe Rogan say things that you could easily see ("He really missed with that kick!") but rarely get any useful info. Between rounds there is a short replay segment, but with no audio, so that's only useful for revisiting any good hits you might have landed.
The career mode offers slightly more support. There you can train (which is a process that happens in the background when you decide to do it) and spar, which is really just another fight in which you can earn stat points by fighting in certain ways. You'll get invited to training camps which, over time, can provide enough fight experience to beef up your skills.
It's All For The Fans
Just looking at the stats, Undisputed has the goods. The roster has a colossal 80 fighters, concentrating heavily on the past few years of UFC history. (Want to lose a few matches as Tank Abbot? You'll have to make him yourself.) Six styles are in: boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, kickboxing, muay thai, and wrestling. Non-fighting personalities like Bruce Buffer, Mario Yamasaski and Mike Goldberg are on hand. After the lame showing of Sudden Impact, it's nice just to see so many proper ingredients in place.
For those who can go into UFC 2009 Undisputed with a deep existing knowledge of how UFC fighting works, great action comes fast. But if you can't identify an Open Guard and think North-South position refers to a compass, be prepared for a long and difficult struggle.
Article Written by: Russ Fisher