UFC Undisputed 2009 was arguably the biggest surprise hit of last year. Capitalizing on the rising popularity of mixed martial arts, THQ teamed with the UFC in 2009 to create the most faithful representation of the sport to date. While the game was not without its flaws, it was clear that THQ had a new franchise to not only elevate their name in households around the world, but to also make MMA much more accessible than a $60 pay-per-view every month. For this year’s entry into the series, THQ addressed many of the elements that were missing from the first game, and brought the UFC Undisputed franchise to a new level.
One of the first things you’ll notice upon starting up the game is they’ve expanded the game modes. Last year your options were extremely limited in how you could play the game. In addition to returning modes Exhibition, Ultimate Fights, and Career, you have Tournament, Title, and Event modes. Tournament mode allows you set up a bracket with any one weight class to find a champion, while Event mode allows you to create a fight card (Pay-per-view or Fight Night) that you can either play through or watch. Yes, that’s right. You can now watch computer fighters battle it out inside the octagon. While some of you are likely to be excited by the prospect of watching two AI combatants slug it out, I prefer to actually play the game, particularly since watching the computer fight doesn’t give any sort of scouting benefit when you try to take a certain fighter on by yourself. Both Tournament and Event mode are a great deal of fun to play when you have a bunch of friends over though, and you can even upload your own Event cards, or download others, from the online menu should you feel up to it. With Title mode, you pick a weight class, and work your way up a ladder of fighters (think Mortal Kombat) to win the belt. Once you win the belt, you unlock Title Defense mode, where you’ll face an onslaught of fighters trying to get your belt. When you don’t want to play Career mode, it’s the best way to play the game by yourself.
While Exhibition remains largely unchanged, both Ultimate Fights and Career get some much-needed upgrades. In last year’s Ultimate Fights, you pretty much had to win the fight the exact same way as the real fight in order to complete it. It was pretty frustrating, particularly when you had to hit a submission before time ran out in a certain round. This year however, there are three ways to complete the challenge for each of the fighters, making the mode much deeper and more enjoyable. Completing all six challenges for both fighters will earn you credits you can trade in at the store for more create-a-fighter nicknames, clothing, hairstyles, or virtual Topps trading cards.
Even though last year’s game had a Career mode it was pretty bare bones. This year’s Career mode is much deeper, and provides a much more realistic take on an actual fighter’s career. One of the largest gripes of last year’s iteration was that once you created a fighter, he was thrown into the UFC woefully underprepared. Now you actually start out as a low level professional hoping to get noticed by the UFC. These low level fights allow you to upgrade your fighter’s stats through training before you take on the much tougher opponents in Dana White’s organization. When training you can also visit fight camps any time you want. At these fight camps, which are based on the actual fight camps real fighters use, you can learn a specific move or attack you want to add to your fighter’s repertoire. If you really like Chuck Lidell’s overhand right, or want to add Georges St-Pierre’s superman punch, you can. This new system allows you to put even more personalization into your created fighter. Career mode also adds a new statistic leveling system, where not only can you improve your stats, but they’ll also decrease if you’re not training enough. All of your trainable stats have caps at 30, 50, and 70, meaning once you reach those numbers, no rating will ever drop below that level no matter how little training you do in that particular area. You’ll also be able to create an online fight camp to train with your friends, but I wasn’t able to check that portion of the game out before release.
While I do like the revamped Career, there are a few issues. First and foremost, stats decrease way too rapidly when not trained. There are so many new facets to Career mode, that it’s hard to put the adequate amount of time into each and every one, making it nearly impossible to juggle sparring, training, fight camps, and rest without seeing some sort of loss in an area of your game. Secondly, the special events you can take part in (televised training sessions, picking winners for upcoming fight cards) are boring and feel forced. While I appreciate adding in as much content as possible, I often ended up skipping these sections during my career because they don’t have enough of a benefit, and I’d rather have that time to train. The last nagging issue I have with career involves learning moves at fight camps. Learning strikes is easy. Learning takedown related moves is a bit more challenging, but not unnervingly difficult. Learning submissions however, is damn near impossible. To learn a submission in a fight camp, you actually have to get your sparring partner to tap as many times as possible in two minutes. Getting people to tap multiple times in less than two minutes is nearly impossible, and it’s easily the most frustrating part of training.
Though much of the game’s combat remains intact from last year, there are a few new additions to the action inside the octagon. The new Sway system requires you to hold in the top right button and flick the left stick in any direction to bob and weave. While at first it seems a bit awkward, once you realize that a real fighter will always have his guard up (what the top right button does in-game), and your thumb is always on the left stick to control movement, you’ll find it’s much easier to time your Sway maneuvers. When it comes to submissions and takedowns, gone are the days of mashing buttons, and all that remains is the Shine system. All submissions and takedowns (both offensively and defensively) require you to spin the analog stick as fast and accurately as you can in order to succeed. Ever since the days of Mario Party 64 I’ve loathed controls like this, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good control scheme. I think the Shine system is much better than button mashing, but wish there was some other way to convey the effort of trying to lock in an armbar or stuff a takedown. Even though cage interaction actually is a fairly big part of the real deal, it was strangely missing from last year’s game. Now that it’s been added, I can’t say I see much of a difference in the way the game is played. Interacting with the cage actually works really well, but for the most part, many of my fights were actually decided in the middle of the cage.
When playing a match in UFC, you’ll undoubtedly notice the great strides THQ has made in providing the most realistic television presentation possible. Huge fight cards open the same way actual UFC fights would with fighters talking about their impending fight right before the broadcast kicks over to Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan at ringside. Sports titles have long been trying to recapture the look and feel of an actual television broadcast, and few recreate the spectacle and fervor as well as UFC Undisputed 2010. Every single second of a real UFC event is recaptured here perfectly, including submission, knock out, and fight of the night announcements at the close of a night of fights. Fighters actually look much better than they did last year, and damage to the body looks equally impressive. There’s actually long hair in the game this time around, though it doesn’t really impact the way the game is played, it’s nice seeing such a minor detail added in so that fighters like Clay Guida can actually be included.
Not only is UFC Undisputed 2010 the best MMA video game made to date, it’s also the most fun fighting game I’ve ever played. Though there are a few minor issues with the career mode, and far too many fights finish with a knock out, the game is markedly improved over last year’s title. A new bar has been set yet again by the developers over at Yuke’s, and even though I’ve got a whole year to enjoy UFC Undisputed 2010, I can’t wait to see what they do to top this game next year.