Given the general quality of the WWE AI games, it would be all too easy to lump a UFC game in with all that sluggish, poorly animated dross. That is, of course, until you actively get involved with it and discover it’s a far cry from the usual licensed fighting fare and a genuinely entertaining fighter in its own right. The most impressive thing about UFC 2009 Undisputed is just how remarkably technical it is. Considering it’s based on a sport where two muscle clusters wail on one another until one of them breaks, THQ has managed to make a far deeper fighting experience than anyone thought possible.
All kinds of throw escapes, reversals, feints and parries are available, not to mention a pseudo-‘fuzzy guarding’ mechanic that lets players with good reflexes deflect any striking attacks. With so many stances, lock-ups and positional options, there’s a hell of a lot to take in and remember. At its simplest, however, the game can pretty much be played like any other button masher, but as a sign of Undisputed quality, doing so against a skilled player won’t end well at all. Such are the defensive options that predictability is the best way to end up with a bloody nose.
And shedding a little claret is all but unavoidable, with the clattering blows and thundering kicks keen to break noses and bust faces open. The resulting effects are both gruesome and brilliant, with cuts seeping blood onto the sweat-soaked bodies of both combatants, which sticks, spreads and remains until the end of the round. While going into the Octagon with what may as well be a glowing weak spot isn’t exactly ideal, visible damage building up elsewhere on the body can have just as detrimental effects. Relying on guarding too much will slowly see your arms bruise and tire, weakening punches while eating a lot of low blows can slow you down and reduce kick strength. Even just running in with your arms flailing is a no-no since after a couple of combos, you’ll be left short of breath and open to punishment. Going for the odd sucker punch is fine, but overall a more considered approach reaps far greater rewards, even more so if you can learn to read and predict your opponent’s moves.
All this assumes you’ll be engaged in a stand-up fight for the duration, which is about as likely as both men sitting down and discussing fine art over a pot of tea and scones. They will at some point go to ground, at which stage you need the right transitions and counters ready to avoid getting boasted. Rolling the right stick in motions not unlike Skate’s flip tricks enables you to move into a more advantageous position – the broader the motion, the more you’ll move but the easier it is for your opponent to prevent it.
Depending on the fighting style of your character, different clinches and grabs are available and some are clearly preferable to others. Muay Thai fighters can abuse their exclusive neck grab clinch to slam powerful knees into the other guy’s face or body, but once it goes to the mat, heavy hitters and submission experts take the upper hand. This means not only knowing your own fighter, but also having at least a working knowledge of the other MMA staples, something that takes a little time but can easily be obtained in any of the available modes.
The most obvious port of call for this is the suitably in-depth career mode, which allows you to select your specialty before building your attributes and testing your skills against other up-and-corners. Within this, you can assign time to training, PR outings, sparring matches or resting up, each with its own benefits, so in order to develop a balanced fighter, time needs to be put into each option. Sponsorship deals can also be signed once you get big enough, allowing you to sell advertising space on your outfit in order to command more respect and attention. Overall, it’s a well-rounded and impressive game mode that enables you to create a unique fighter to your own specifications and it’s here that most of your single-player time will likely be invested.
Like all the best fighters, Undisputed is all about multiplayer. Here, the human factor mixes things up further, giving you more to keep on top of as you beat the hell out of each other in the name of entertainment. The depth and complexity mean casual bruisers will probably be better off with something more easy-going – Tekken 5, the recent and pleasantly surprising Legends Of Wresflemania, or even Fight Night all fit this bill. And those at the other end of the fighting genre probably won’t see in Undisputed the variety or full-on mind games that exist in the best traditional beat-’em-ups such as Street Fighter IV or Virtue Fighter 5. This bookending may find UFC ushered into a barren middle ground between the two extremes, an area in which its brutal bouts and satisfying killer blows don’t deserve to dwell.
As the first new UFC in years, Undisputed catches the rise of the sport in a timely and accomplished fashion. The date in the title should make it apparent that we have a new annually updated franchise on our hands though, and despite its few inherent shortcomings, this is easily as good a jumping-off point as could really be expected.