UFC: Undisputed 2009 Xbox 360, PS3 Review
Okay, let’s start with the absolute basics. You’re on your back, legs in the air and another man is on his knees between them. If you’re suddenly thinking “Excellent, if I can control his posture and stop his ground and pound, I can work in a submission from my guard”, then read on, UFC Undisputed 2009 is definitely for you. If you’re thinking of something else, you’ve probably got to start asking yourself some questions.
MMA is the fastest growing sport on the planet right now, with the UFC leading the charge, so it was only a matter of time before someone picked up the videogame slack. The fondly-remembered Dreamcast game was an excellent product of its time, but like gaming, MMA has changed a lot since those early days – no longer an ultra-violence, no holds barred brawl, it has evolved into a much slicker beast altogether. Fighters are all top-level athletes, everything is controlled by the various states’ athletic commissions and the quality of fights has improved ten-fold. To compete in 2009, you can’t just be some “rock-hard” man with a big right hand; you need to be a master of several disciplines. In a somewhat ironic twist, it has fallen into the hands of Yukes, long-time purveyors of the “fake” fighting of the WWE Smackdown series, to turn this complex sport into a playable videogame.
It is a daunting task. Taking all of the various aspects of MMA – striking, grappling and submissions – and mapping them to a series of sticks and buttons isn’t going to be easy, and almost certainly, what could make or break the game. Factor in the fact that these controls are going to have to be accessible enough for today’s gamers whilst simultaneously offering enough complexity to appease the hardcore MMA fan base, you’ve got a monumental task on your hands.
Brilliantly, it is the controls that make UFC Undisputed 2009 such a compelling title. Punches and kicks from the left and right are mapped to the four face buttons, with the left triggers modifying whether you are aiming high or low with them. The right triggers block high and low shots and pushes of the right stick control your grabs. Like the best control schemes, it is simple, intuitive but still leaves you with a lot of scope. For instance, some of the more flamboyant strikes can be used with pushes of the stick, alongside the appropriate trigger, but have long “cooldown” times if missed, allowing an opponent to unleash a volley of their own. Stand up battles are cagey, strategic affairs, punctuated with moments of quick fire combinations. Much like the real thing, they’re genuinely exciting, with one punch or kick being the difference between a win or a loss.
Thing is, as any fan will know, the stand up is only half the fight. When things get taken to the floor, a whole different skill set comes into play. Do you try and pound them unconscious, try for a submission or, in the case of some of the more tedious fighters out there, control them on the ground to grind out a decision victory? A lot of the jargon will go over most people’s heads at this point, but passing around your opponent’s guard and controlling them is all performed with quarter circles on the stick, advancing your position one small step at a time. A half circle motion will attempt a more daring position change, but with a much easier chance of being blocked, or worse, reversed. Locking in a submission is a simple case of pushing in the right stick when you’re in an advantageous position, and then rotating the stick like a maniac to try and sink it in. All of these things – both striking and grappling – will take a toll on your stamina, which ultimately dictates things like how strong your punches and kicks are, your chance of being submitted and of course, your movement speed.
So, you’ve got a selection of modes to tackle – Exhibition, Career and Classic Matches. Exhibition speaks for itself, allowing you to select from the 80 odd fighters in the various weight classes, and smash either the computer or, better, your mates around for a bit. Classic Matches lets you take part in a selection of some of the more exciting scraps of the last few years. Classics such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s first round knockout of UFC legend Chuck Liddell, Dominant Middleweight champion destroying Rich Franklin’s face with knees or the legendary scrap between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. A quick video introduction explains the outcome of the fight and by recreating the finish – some of which are incredibly difficult – you can unlock a video montage of the fight in question. This is a bit of a missed opportunity, as the clips are no longer than 30 seconds, and sticking the full fights on the disc could’ve won the sport a whole host of new fans, as well as giving existing ones an excellent batch of bonus content.
The career mode makes up the bulk of the game. First of all, you’ve got to create your fighter and unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of customization. There are about 10 different close-shaved haircuts on offer, presumably forgetting about the existence of UFC fighter Clay Guida. You then pick from a discipline for your striking and grappling from a selection of three – Kickboxing, Boxing and Muay Thai for your standing offence and Wrestling, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for when things go to the floor. You’ve also got your individual skills that can be fine-tuned; everything from your clinch work, takedown offence/defence, striking and everything you can think of can be improved using a pool of points. You’re then launched into the world of the UFC, taking fights, training and getting sponsorship. Your goal is to become the champion in your respective weight class, but also gaining as much CRED as possible, gained by winning fights, public appearances and representing your sponsors on your customized shorts. In the weeks building up to each fight, you have to train your various skills and improve your abilities, but doing these takes away your stamina, which can only be regained with a week’s rest. Go into a fight without being near 100% and you’re asking for a beating, so you have to organize your time carefully. This is made harder by all the invitations to train with famous fighters and gain new moves, opportunities to appear at events and being offered fights on short notice. For a while, you’ll find yourself slowly going up the rankings, occasionally being defeated but always improving your stats until you retire a UFC legend.
This mode is shackled, however, by the cumbersome menus that appear in every Yukes release. Every screen takes ages to navigate, the save system constantly reminds you of every tedious change to the current save game and before long, the otherwise excellent career mode feels like you’re trudging through a calendar simulator, with the odd bit of mixed martial arts thrown in here and there. It is a complaint that can be levelled at the last few Smackdown vs. Raw games, as well as the recent Legends of Wrestlemania, and is something that Yukes really need to address. Even with it installed to the hard drive and mashing the pad, it still has three separate loads before you’re actually in the fight (with one of them cheekily hidden by the “tale of the tape”).
Online multiplayer is an obvious inclusion, but unfortunately is also an unintuitive mess. The menus make it difficult to change settings for your bout, the lobby only accepts one other fighter at a time – so no viewing fights or tournaments – and you even have to LEAVE THE GAME AND MAKE A NEW LOBBY JUST TO CHANGE WEIGHT CLASS. Throw all of this on top of a ranked table already plagued by people “boosting” their Win/Loss records and some lag that makes simple reversals and counters almost impossible and you’ve got an essentially crippled online mode. A huge shame, as the local multiplayer scraps are up there as one of the most fun on the current systems.
A separate mention should go out to the commentary team of Mike Goldberg and the awesome Joe Rogan, who have put in the best sports commentary ever heard in a videogame. Obviously, it is full of their usual catchphrases and back and forth banter, but also absolutely packed with interesting facts about fighters and their past bouts, a few jokes and they even make mistakes and correct themselves. Yukes have raised the bar with this, believe me.
UFC Undisputed 2009, for Yukes’ first attempt at an MMA videogame, is a phenomenal effort. It speaks volumes that, with the exception of some rubbish menu screens and a horrid online system, most of the “complaints” are down to pure greed on my behalf. Sure, it would be nice to have more throws, more submissions, more customization and such, but hell; they need SOMETHING to add to the next one. For those of you who are UFC/MMA fans, this is an essential purchase, no questions asked. For those of you approaching it as a gamer first, expect to have to learn quite a bit about mixed martial arts before you truly get into the game. Saying that, you would struggle with Madden games without knowledge of the sport, and rightly so – UFC Undisputed has more in common with the world’s leading sports titles than say, Street Fighter or Tekken. Regardless, this is a solid, entertaining sports simulation that will entertain gamers and satisfy fans.
…and it is ALL OVER!