Mixed Martial Arts is something that's been with us for some time now but it's only in recent years it's become the huge money making machine that it is. Well, when I say "Huge money making machine" I refer primarily to the Ultimate Fighting Championships that is currently the king of regular Pay Per View in the US and the sport of MMA combines a multitude of combat disciplines (Boxing, Judo, Kick-Boxing, Wrestling, Ju-Jitsu, Hamster swallowing and so forth.) into one sport that involves two men in shorts batting the crap out of each other in a cage. Toss in there a good dollop of Pro-Wrestling-esq showmanship and you've got yourself something special.
As with all popular things there have been attempts to bring the action of MMA (and most particularly UFC) into the home systems so you can pretend to be a Ju-Jitsu ace with a Hamster Swallowing side talent to prove your virtual self to be the best fighter in the world. Unfortunately these games haven't been great and some have been downright awful with inaccurate stats and a feeling that the people that created the games hadn't even taken the slightest glimpse of the sport they were imitating. Fortunately we now have something to get excited for in UFC Undisputed 2009 from the fine folks at Yuke's Osaka. For the first time ever I can honestly say that a game successfully brings the feel of the UFC into the home.
There are many ingredients to the cake of greatness that UFC Undisputed munches on, to start with the control system is surprisingly complete and intuitive. After sitting through a well paced tutorial that shows you the ins and outs of the basic fighting styles you find yourself instinctively responding to the various attacks that come your way in a fight as well as performing the kicks, punches and grapples that most UFC fans will come to want and expect from the game. However, while the controls are completely intuitive once you understand them, if you (Like I did) skip all that stuff and got right into the meat of the career mode you're more likely then not going to get taken down to the ground by your vastly more knowledgeable opponent and then killed. And this is what brings me to what the real joy of this game is, the actual setting and rules of the sport that it imitates makes for very entertaining game play.
Say, for example you're in the cage with a kick-boxer and you yourself are just a boxer with only your fists to punch with, you aren't a slouch with those fully loaded hands of yours but the superior range of the kick-boxers legs are keeping you at bay and frankly it's looking like your choice to invest all those character experience points into that big knock-out punch is looking like a bad choice. You can dive in and tackle the sucker and bring him down to the ground where you can (if you have a good enough ground game) grapple him into a vulnerable position and hold him down in place while that lovely KO power is unleashed all over your hapless kick-boxers face. Now if that kick-boxer has good counter grappling on the floor then it can turn into a rolling match on the ground as you counter and counter-counter each other into a place of dominance until one of you finishes the other by either KO or submission...OR one of you could hold the other in place until the Referee gets bored and separates you two...OR the timer runs out and the round ends.
So, in short the actual fighting portion of the game is both intense and tactical, but that's not all.
The actually execution of the collision detection and animation is really top-notch, at no point in the game was I ever cursing or swearing at the game for un-responsive controls or that really cool looking high kick somehow passing harmlessly through my opponents head nor did I sit back and watch and ponder the odd world that allows peoples bodies to somehow occupy the same space and time.
What I think many people may have an issue with is the fact that this game is in fact very accurate to the actual sport of mixed martial arts, while cutting weight, outrageous amounts of swearing and evading steroid tests are not in the game (for obvious reasons) the problem with over-training and signing up to fight opponents who can just bee too much for you in that stage of your career, in these cases it can feel allot like a no-win scenario that can have you rage quitting like nobodies business. Allot of these problems can be remedied by just sitting back and reading the help screens when they come up, but if you're the kind of gamer that just wants to get started right away career mode can cause some problems you wouldn't have come across from games of a similar genre.
However the somewhat innovative approach to the training mode does have some positive spots, in your typical combat sport game any "sparring" option on your training window is nothing more then the chance to practice with your character in a zero threat of losing environment. In UFC Undisputed sparring actually serves a much larger purpose. Your overall performance in the sparring session is graded and you're awarded points to distribute around your characters various skills. The skills in question aren't your typical power, speed and endurance as with some similar games,they go into your characters actual skills in the various and many aspects of the MMA offensive and defensive game. The afore mentioned factors of speed, strength and endurance are also in there as well to be developed but these are simply improved by assigning them into your training routine rather then forcing you to play and re-play any kind of tedious mini game, this means no more frikin' virtual rope skipping. Yay!
Tying to this a pretty quick and somewhat robust character creation system the career mode is pretty much anything you could want with a few notable exceptions, chief amongst them is the lack of any option to move up or down a weight class in the game. Once you've picked your fighting weight you're stuck there and will have to compete only with the people of that division until the end of your career. Added to that is the slightly odd lack of ageing mechanic for the fighters, it's a fine idea in the sense of keeping every fighter at their prime fighting age meaning you don't have to worry about your fighter becoming slower, weaker and maybe a little fatter as the game moves along. Also this ensures that the other fighters in the game are just aged shells of the fighter they were in their prime but your little fighting nubie was too new to the sport to hope to battle them in their prime. However this can be an irritation for people who want their career mode to be as fully realistic as possible and while it would probably be a minor one, the fact that every fighter has an ageing painting in their attic is odd enough to be noticed.
So UFC Undisputed is what could be considered to be a very, very fine game at it's core but it's nice to see that there are many other little features to work towards. You have the exhibition mode where you can choose from a vast number of current and past UFC fighters and battle it out in the Octagon, once again we hit the problem of the fighters being locked into their weight classes and while some fighters may have different versions of themselves in two weight classes you can't giggle with joy and create a BJ Penn Vs Brock Lesnar encounter. Also noticeably missing are well known UFC stars Randy Couture and Clay Guida. Couture's absence was due to contract problems with UFC at the time and Guida's omission is apparently due to, well, his fine long mane of of un-tameable hair proved to be impossible for the game engine to imitate, so they just dropped the guy entirely. A shame but the game is open to DLC at a later time, more arenas and fighters would seem to be something to look for in the future.
Also another fine feature are the classic fights where you are treated to a video package from former UFC ring girl and current...erm...pretty UFC speaking girl Rachelle Leah and then are treated to the hype videos for the fights in question. The real delight here is that the game encourages you to end the fight in the same way the actual fight ended, so if the fight finished with an arm bar in the second round the game rewards you for repeating this with an exciting little montage of the fight for your viewing pleasure.
Overall UFC Undisputed 2009 is as close to a complete package as you could hope for. The use of the Havoc engine is used as perfectly as you could hope and there's a real sense the game is made for people who have a love of the sport by people who also have a deep appreciation for the sport, it holds complexity while still managing to be fun along with it and while it may not be all that interesting for someone who doesn't care for the sport, if you're a fan of MMA and the UFC at large there's no real reason to not recommend this very fine title.