Game: UFC Undisputed 2009
Format: Playstation 3
Developer: Yuke’s Osaka
Have you ever been frustrated with a fighting game? Have you connected with a devastating strike of some sort and thought, “he shouldn’t be able to get up from that”, only to see your opponent leap to his feet as if nothing had happened? Me too. But now we may have the tonic for that particular ill. With UFC Undisputed 2009, if you catch your opponent cleanly, you will win the match there and then regardless of remaining time or any “health” meter. That instantly appealed to my gaming tastes, but is the game itself a knockout?
In my youth I absolutely loved fighting games. I’ve studied martial arts for a little short of 30 years, so I always found myself naturally drawn to the genre. In recent years though I found myself losing interest, as they all seemed pretty much the same. Each of the various games seems to compete with one another to see who can get the biggest, sparkly finishing move of the year. Step forward the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and their latest foray into the fighting game arena. Originally hitting the shelves in mid 2009, the game has recently been re-released as a Platinum title due to its impressive sales results. Because of this, The Newb Review has decided to take a fresh look at the game.
For the uninitiated, the UFC are an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) fight organisation based in the USA. The idea behind Mixed Martial Arts is that all fighting styles are welcome, be it wrestling, boxing, jujitsu, karate – or anything else you can think of. Fights start standing, but often end up on the mat. A fight can be won by knockout, submission, referee stoppage or a points decision if there is no clear winner after the allotted number of rounds.
The organisation has evolved massively since its early days when fights had few rules, no rounds or time limits and were fought bare-knuckle. Events would often be described as human cockfighting – a tag that the UFC has worked very hard to shake off. Today, MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world and events follow strict guidelines and rules regarding what is and is not allowed. As a result, MMA and UFC events in particular draw huge Pay Per View figures and the fan base is growing all the time. So, what about the video game version, can it do justice to this meteoric rise? Short answer – yes. Long answer – read on.
Quite sensibly, you cannot create a 6’11” muscle monkey and pick lightweight as your weight class. You also set one striking and one grappling style for your fighter to excel in. This is important as each style has its own advantages and disadvantages and affects how your character develops with training.
Pick Boxing for fast, devastating hands and develop your punching combos quickly.
Kickboxing will give you very strong kicking techniques and wild powerful punching.
Muay Thai offers devastating close quarters fighting and strong kicking.
Wrestling is great for quick ways to take your opponent down to the ground and great defence against takedowns
Judo gives you a selection of powerful throws and superb control of your opponent on the ground.
Brazilian Ju Jitsu is the best for submission techniques and good ground control of your opponent.
Once your character is created, you start with a low-key try-out fight in front of Dana White: the UFC head honcho, who gives you a “how bad do you want this” pep talk. Your first appearance in the Octagon (the eight-sided ring fights are held in) will feel sluggish and slow, but that is purely because your character is undeveloped and this will improve quite dramatically over time.
When through the opening bout you will move into your gym where you have access to a new menu system from which you can schedule gym sessions, sparring and training camps. You will also receive fight offers and requests for promotional appearances. These last two items will earn you CRED, which is a kind of in-game currency. As a professional fighter you can adorn your shorts with sponsor logos, which earn you more CRED each time you fight. CRED will unlock better training equipment so when you allocate days in the gym they will have a greater impact on your Speed, Strength and Cardio.
You have to manage your fighters schedule sensibly. If you have 4 weeks until a fight, you don’t want to spend all that time at promotional appearance and no time in the gym. You get to allocate your schedule a week at a time, deciding to Train, Spar or Rest. Occasionally you may be invited to a training camp which will focus on one of your two chosen disciplines. These camps are important as you are given a list of techniques, situations or combinations that you need to achieve in a short sparring session. You gain points for each one you successfully perform and the points serve as a way to level up your fighter’s technical ability. As you progress in this fashion, you will unlock new, more advanced techniques and combinations. Another aspect of training is the Sparring option where you go toe to toe with a training partner who will emulate the style of your next opponent. Your performance is analysed and points are awarded. These points can then be spent on your fighters abilities, e.g. striking offence, submission defence, etc. You should pay particular attention to your fight style when allocating these points.
As a Kick Boxer, you would want strong kicking ability whilst a Brazilian Ju Jitsu expert needs to have strong submission stats. Every training option you pick will deplete your cardio, so you need to ensure that you also allocate rest periods. This will mean you go into a fight in the best possible shape. Cardio levels do have a massive effect on your performance in training camp, sparring session and when you get around to a fight.
After all the hard work of managing your training camp you actually get to step inside the Octagon and lay your hands on someone. Here is where the game really kicks in. The presentation is superb and indistinguishable from the real thing. The commentary is the best I’ve heard in any sports game; it is very rarely repetitive and accurately calls the fight, responding to your performance with such realism you’d think Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan are sat on the sofa with you.
The control scheme is very deep and you should definitely go through the tutorial mode to learn the ropes. But if you do find yourself lying on your back with no idea how to get up, you can pause the game and a pop up shows exactly which moves are available from your current position. The move set is pretty massive, with multiple methods of attack and defence available from just about any position, and each one looks exceptionally authentic. Making contact with a strong punch, kick or knee has a tangible weight to it and the fighters react realistically. This is where the gameplay differs from most fighting games; if you connect perfectly, you can win the fight with one punch – when playing the demo version of the game pre-release I actually managed to achieve a knockout in 8 seconds!
UFC Undisputed 2009 is more of an MMA simulator than a traditional fighting game. You have no health meter as such. By default there is no on screen display to show your fighter’s condition. Whilst a stamina bar can be switched on, the main gauges of a fighter’s current state are how heavy they are breathing, how damaged their face is and how sweaty they are. If you’ve been focusing on attacking their legs, you’ll see them red and sore – the same with continued body attacks. These are all realised to such a high degree that I don’t think I ever found it necessary to switch on the stamina display. You can also use real fight strategy to win a bout. If you’re a Kick Boxer / Judo specialist with an upcoming fight against a Muay Thai / Wrestler, you should focus your training camp on takedown defence. If you can successfully defend the take down, your opponent will use up a lot of their stamina and be easier to knockout. However, if you’re the other guy you want to try and get in close to neutralise the power and range of the opponents kicks and utilise your strong clinch striking ability to wear down your opponent, making it harder for them to defend the takedown. A tired opponent is much easier to knockout or submit, so you should be careful not to get too carried away with your offence. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought that I had my opponent on the verge of defeat; their face a bloody mess of cuts and bruises because of my relentless pounding, only to get taken out by a perfect counter punch. If you’ve had no exposure to this sport before, you might find this a little frustrating at first. Ultimately, it makes the game all the more authentic.
Winning fights increases your rank within your weight class. After each fight you’ll be contacted with your next choice of two or three opponents of different ranks. Taking on the highest rank earns you the most CRED and will increase your standing by a greater degree; however you should pick fights intelligently. Sometimes you can go too far too quickly and find yourself fighting someone that you simply can’t compete against. During one playthrough I always picked the lowest ranked fighter offered to me and by the time I was in title contention, my fighter was physically more than a match for the current champion. It took longer, but the title fight was a lot easier.
Other than the career mode, there is an exhibition mode for one or two players. Here you can pit any fighter from the roster against any other. There’s also a Classic mode where you can re-enact some of the best fights from UFC history and if you manage to get the same result as the original bout, you’ll unlock some goodies. Classic mode is really for fans of the sport.
Finally we have the online aspect of the game. This is unfortunately where it falls down. The match making process seems very narrow. There is no lobby system to speak of, so you can find yourself waiting for long periods of time, in the hope that someone will connect. Also, if you want to use a created fighter rather than a UFC original, there is no balancing in match making. My first few online fights saw me go against maximum level opponents who completely dominated me from the first bell. You can get around that by using the UFC fighters who have their preset abilities and statistics, but that basically means one aspect of the game is completely unbalanced. The final problem is that there can often be quite substantial lag issues. You will find yourself inputting commands on the controller and waiting a few seconds before they actually occur onscreen. It’s a real shame because apart from these issues, UFC Undisputed 2009 is an amazing title and one of my top five games of the year.
Graphics: 5/5 Amazing animation and graphics that are an integral aspect of the gameplay rather than a pretty way to present the game.
Sound: 5/5 The fight commentary is the best I’ve heard in any sports game and the soundtrack is solid and gritty.
Gameplay: 4/5 Superb simulation of Mixed Martial Arts, but this is not a pick-up-and-play game. You need to spend a fair bit of time learning the moveset to get the most out of it. The management aspect of the game could be a bore to some and an option to automate this would have been a welcome addition.
Longevity: 3/5 Unless you’re lucky with your online experiences or a massive UFC fan, I don’t see people going much further than winning the title in each weight class. With an inevitable sequel, I don’t seem too much ongoing support in the form of DLC etc.
Overall: 4/5 For a UFC fan, this is easily a 5/5 but there are a couple of niggling problems relating in particular to the online play that might annoy all but the most enthusiastic MMA fan. Without a doubt though, this platinum title is fantastic value.
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