"UFC Undisputed has the makings of true MMA bliss, but its clunky, lifeless career mode and lackluster online play will only keep you occupied for so long."
There is something primal and absolute about two men fighting one another for a moment of sheer dominance. Once a pair of mixed martial arts fighters steps into the caged octagon, they both set their mind on a singular goal – to win! A lot of us meat-eating, red blooded males thrive off of the chaos, the rivalry and the intensity that takes place during a UFC show. If you’ve ever been to a sports bar while one of these brutal contests is in action, there’s sure to be plenty of drunken men cheering, shouting, and jumping to their feet in excitement at the sound of each sickening knockout blow.
Video games based on this violent sport have been attempted in the past, but all previous ventures have failed to deliver anything fans would consider an authentic experience. More button mashing than simulation, these floundering experiments lost all of the strategy and fierceness that embodies an MMA fight somewhere along the way into video game translation. THQ and the longtime developers of the WWE: Smackdown vs. Raw branded wrestling games, Yuke’s, were hoping to remedy that situation with the release of UFC 2009 Undisputed for the PS3 and Xbox 360. However, while this new UFC entry has left behind most of the sloppy button-mashing (“most” being a key word, here), and offers a much more strategic formula, a lot of this product still feels undercooked.
Inside the octagon, the game certainly feels like UFC. The action can either play out with both fighters staying on their feet and then end abruptly amidst a flurry of strikes, or it can head towards the mat for some tough-to-maneuver submissions, grueling struggles for advantageous body positioning or the ever popular act of mounting your opponent and finishing the contest with some vicious ground-and-pound. Both aspects are equally, and carefully, represented and require much strategy and awareness from the player. Yet, getting a firm grasp on the mechanics and controls seems needlessly daunting from the moment you turn the game on and begin the tutorial.
At first, my instinct was to stick to striking, since all of your fighter’s punches and kicks are mapped directly to the four face buttons. I was only worried about blocking my head with the R1 button, to ward off those pesky flash knockouts, and decided to rely on beating my opponent into a bloody mess with sloppy alternating combos. This method was mostly successful for my character’s test match. After that, I had to go back to the proverbial drawing board, because my fighter got completely wrecked in his first official match. And I’m talking a, “Look out below! We just hit a giant fucking iceberg!” kind of wrecked.
That’s when I realized the kid gloves were off and this game was no longer playing nicely. You either learn to swim with the sharks, or you get eaten. Once I had lost my second consecutive match, I started to pay much closer attention to distancing myself properly from my opponent, tracking his body movement to utilize the proper guard and only applying offense when the opportunity presented itself. Sooner or later, it more or less clicked and I found myself stringing together a few not-so-pretty wins.
Even after you've had your fair share of experience with the fighting system, though, there's a good chance you might still find yourself fumbling with the controls as there’s an action mapped to every single button on the controller and more. Different styles of attacks and counter-attacks happen if you’re holding down one of the shoulder buttons, or pressing the left analog in a different direction. Then once you’re on the ground, or in the clinch, it becomes a frantic undertaking of rotating and turning the analog sticks in every which way. On your feet, in a striking position, things start off rather complicated. But once you’re stuck on the ground, and it seems like almost no matter what the hell you do, your opponent just won’t let you back up onto your feet, don’t be surprised if you lose your patience in a fretful storm of curse words and manly tears.
Ultimately, however, fighting that next match is all that there is to look forward to. The game only allows exhibition matches, a bare bones career mode, Classic Fights or one-on-one online play.
For the career mode, you create a fighter, and work your way to the top of the organization. Sadly, this mode of play is dreadfully hindered with a clunky, and mysteriously laggy, menu interface. In between fights your character’s stats can be modified, or he can choose to spar with his training partner to either build up stat points to spend on attributes or raise the execution level of one of his different fighting styles (you choose one type of striking offense and one type of submissions offense from the outset.) Each action consumes a full week on the calendar, while you slowly chip away at building your fighter into a rounded competitor. There are occasional distractions that come in the form of events, but these are still just tied to irrelevant menu screens. Because of the career mode’s monotonous nature, it often feels like a lot of your time is being wasted with hardly nothing to show for it.
Participating in one of the Classic Fights entails virtually reliving a classic true-to-life fight from one of the UFC shows of the past. There will be specific parameters involved in finishing the match with an actual victory, such as making the opponent tap by using a rear naked choke in the second round. For gamers who have mastered the combat system, I’m sure these nuggets of nostalgia will offer up some decent challenges.
The online play, unfortunately, doesn’t fare so well. There’s a lot of unnecessary lag, which can almost cause a sort of detachment between the user and their controlled character. In a game where precision and timing are key, this definitely hampers the experience. Even worse is the fact that if by chance you happen to knockout or lock another player into a submission, they can leave the game and rob you of a hard-earned victory.
UFC 2009 Undisputed happens to fall short in plenty of different gameplay categories, but it certainly still does justice to the UFC brand name. All of the big fighters are included in the disc’s 80-man roster, such as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Tito Ortiz, Georges St.-Pierre, Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar, Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, and so forth. The very colorful, and surprisingly accurate, in-game commentary from real UFC broadcasters, Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, adds a lot of authenticity to each and every fight. On top of that, the character models also look pitch perfect. Visible cuts and bruises appear on the fighter’s bodies throughout the course of a match, and the character’s animations look and feel natural. This game certainly doesn’t skimp on presentation.
In the end, though, while UFC 2009 Undisputed may be the best MMA game out on the market, there is quite certainly much left to be desired. Learning and mastering the intricacies of the ground game is easily a lot more difficult and heavy-handed than it should be. There’s a difference between making a strategic fighting system that’s hard to master, and one that’s just simply hard to use. UFC Undisputed has the makings of true MMA bliss, but its clunky, lifeless career mode and lackluster online play will only keep you occupied for so long. Hopefully, future entries in this series can overcome such obstacles.
Freelance review by Jeremy Wood (June 06, 2009)
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