STAFF REVIEW of UFC Undisputed 2009 (Xbox 360)

Friday, May 29, 2009.
by Adam Dileva

UFC Undisputed 2009 Box art When UFC Undisputed was announced I was honestly a little worried that the title wouldn?t live up to my expectations due to the lackluster previous versions of UFC games that have come out in the past. My mind was somewhat put at ease when I found out THQ and Yuke?s (known for the WWE wrestling games) were the ones behind this title.

The largest annoyance I had with their previous wrestling games were the terrible collision detection and frequent clipping of objects and bodies. Naturally I didn?t want a UFC game with these issues and luckily neither did the developers apparently; because it shows and is vastly improved. Oddly enough though I seemed to have found almost the opposite; fighters getting hit with punches and kicks that clearly have missed, yet made contact with the hit-box like a ghost punch.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting is a very brutal yet strategic sport and Undisputed seems to have captured the essence of all aspects of fighting in this title with a roster larger than 80 real fighters currently or former from the UFC.

The majority of all the fighters looks extremely realistic and even moves much like the real person. There were a few exceptions though such as Andrei Arlovski who looks absolutely nothing like his real counterpart. Surprisingly; Dana White also looks pitiful in video game form as well and he?s the first person you see as soon as you start the game. Almost everyone else looked flawless though, even Antonio Nogueira has his signature childhood scar-indentation in his back. These realistic looking fighters along with a constant framerate that never slips or slows down adds to the realistic translation of the sport.

Not only are the fighters a replica of the UFC counterpart, so is everything else even during matches. Bruce Buffer introduces the fighters in the ring and the actual referees will also call the match. The only thing missing from an exact replica prestart of a fight is the fighters walking down to the Octagon. Between rounds you?ll even see the fighters in their corner getting advice from the team along with being patched up from the real ?cut-men? and even see the Octagon Girls.

Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg also do the commentary during matches and are surprisingly very well done and true to life. Mike does most of the play by play calls and Rogan talks a lot about the fighters? history and adds color commentary. They even kept in his every so often commentary mistake that really adds to the realism of the battle. He feed off each other much like on TV and Pay-Per-Views and I was impressed with it more-so than in previous wrestling games.

By default there is absolutely not HUD on the screen to show your fighters health and stamina and while I found it was more interesting to try and get visual cues from your opponent (such as limping or breathing heavy), turning on the stamina bar makes things much easier to figure out when you should go all out or for a submission. Visually I found most of the clues too subtle to figure out when to attempt something big since you are really concentrating on defending against strikes and takedowns.

While it is fun to jump straight into an exhibition mode with a friend and just start to wail on each other?s head for a knockout, you must absolutely do the boot camp tutorial if you want to actually have some skill in the game, as there is quite a steep learning curve to do any real moves. You will be taught every move, how to do it, and how to even counter them. At first it will feel unnatural and even awkward since different button combinations can do completely different things, but once you start to play naturally without thinking about it, it does feel much more natural. It truly is one of those games that are easy to jump in and play, but a very long time to master.

The face buttons are your main tools for delivering a brutal beating. ?X? and ?Y? are your two arms and punches while ?A? and ?B? are your legs and kicks. This can be combined with the ?Left Bumper? to do high head attacks while the ?Left Trigger? will modify your hits to attack low leg strikes. Every hit will also change depending on your distance to the other person, so if you are in arms length and throw a punch, you will straight punch them in the face; if you are close up or in a clinch you may elbow them instead due to the lack of room to pull back your arm and swing. Even if you are running towards your opponent, you can even pull off a flying superman punch or a flying knee to the face, it all depends on what you press and where in relation to the fighters.

It feels a little daunting at first trying to attack high and low and with the modifiers but eventually you?ll find combos that work well for your character and is hard for your opponent to block. Your attacks will even change fighter to fighter depending on what fighting style they use. Your well placed strikes will bring out cuts and bruises and even cause blood to spatter on the mat floor if given enough of a beating.

While anyone can pick up and mash a few punches and kicks, the real fighters will differentiate themselves with their grappling and ground game. The right analog stick is how you move and transition your fighter while in a clinch or on the ground. You are able to do minor transitions that are easy to do but give very little if any better position than you are already in. Major transitions are doable as well but are harder to execute but will give you a much better position. You can move from any position (top or bottom) to virtually any other one you would see in a real fight provided you don?t get blocked or countered. Minor transitions are done with a quarter circle on the stick (much like a fireball in street fighter), where a major transition takes a half circle to complete. Depending on where you start and finish these moves on the stick will determine which angle you try to better your position.

Until you learn the small intricacies of the ground game and transitions, it will be quite frustrating at first when you are doing everything you can to try and get out from the guy on top of you and nothing seems to work. Other times you will do a counter when you don?t mean to and wonder why you can?t do it all the time. Once you become quite good at the ground game, you can almost take apart any opponent (human, online, or CPU) and it?s quite satisfying to see yourself pick apart an opponent on the ground at will.

Submissions will have the same feel in the beginning. Clicking in the right stick will grab the closest limb available (or counter grab a strike) and attempt to submit your opponent. You can brute force yourself way out of a submission attempt by spamming the face buttons as fast as you can but you will just be back in the previous position you were in. Trying to stop a submission by rotating the right stick as fast as possible will have your character reverse the submission attempt and end with you being on top in a dominant position. To successfully submit an opponent you need to gas them first (wear their stamina out) and then you?ll have a better, though not guaranteed, shot at making them tap. This reason alone is worth having the stamina bar viewable on the screen. Many times I?ve had a person try to submit me, only to gas themselves out, I reverse the submission and win, all because I saw his stamina.

With the ability to create your own fighter from scratch, you can customize him to your exact play style to play off of your strengths, or even defend against your weaknesses. You decide what style of fighter you want for striking from Kickboxing, Boxing, and Muay Thai and then decide on what type of ground game they want to replicate from Wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. It?s interesting to see fighters with different mixed styles and you can virtually make your fighter to your exact liking for a move-set.

Your fighter?s main three stats are his strength, speed, and cardio; all of which are completely important to a fighter?s style and how you want to play. You then allocate points into your fighting style stats and can even further customize your fighter to any way you desire. You can put points into offence and defense of any type of striking or ground move. If you want to be amazing at submission defense and excel at punching while on the ground, you can do so in any way you want. Specializing your character exactly how to you want play is quite impressive with the depth you can get, though I find most people generally pump their stats into the general striking and submitting.

Next up in your create a fighter (CAF for short) is how he physically looks. The face customization is superb and you can almost make them look like anyone. There are even step by step?s online on how to make fighters in the game that are real fighters not yet included. I myself even made a pretty decent looking Joe Rogan for laughs online. Sadly though, body customization was very lacking as most of it was skins for how hairy and how defined you wanted their abs and pecs. You are unable to have a chubby fighter or even anyone somewhat resembling an old school Tank Abbot.

With virtually unlimited slots for CAFs, you can make any style of fighter you want and progress them to see what styles fit your play best. From here you can take them through the career mode and even online and in exhibition matches.

As you start your career with your newly created CAF, like any other game, you need to prove yourself and start from the bottom. As you begin you?ll start being booked in undercard matches until you start making a name for yourself and gain more wins under your belt.

Your fighting career is tracked on a calendar and you can see when your next fight is or when you have camps coming to visit to help you train. During the weeks between fights, you can choose to train your main skills, spar against a computer opponent for 2 minutes to gain attribute skills, and even rest your stamina for the next week?s events. Every so often you?ll have events pop up for extra credits such as autograph signings or interviews that you can accept or decline depending on your schedule. Sometimes you?ll even get asked to fight someone last minute for a bonus if you decide to take on the fight with very short notice.

Juggling your schedule and training can be quite daunting in the beginning since you?re unsure what you should focus on, but once you learn how all the timing works it?s a nice change of pace from the standard training and fighting over and over again. The menu system to do all of this though I found quite cumbersome and clunky and it took about half my career to really get the hang of it.

Once you become the champion of your weight class, from here on it becomes slightly dull, as you?ll constantly be fighting the top 5 or so guys as they want to try and take the belt away from you. You always have a decision of 3 different people to defend your title against but fighting the same guy 10 times or so does become dull and old after awhile.

Another thing that I found quite a shame was that you are unable to change your weight class even once you are completely dominant in your division. The other small irk that I noticed was that regardless of how many years in the career you?ve been fighting, there is no reference to your previous fights or title defends at all. It would have been awesome to hear about your last fights knockout or some other details about your career as you are fighting someone. You only ever hear about who you are fighting, not you who is the champ.

The career mode only lasts about 30-40 fights (depending on how many extra fights you accepted) and forces you to retire after your seventh year in the UFC. At the end of your career you are left with a fighter that has the stats of whoever you tuned him to be which can then be taken online or in exhibition mode.

Exhibition mode is your standard fight within the same weight class, but Classic Matches is something unique that at first I didn?t think I?d really care about, but eventually I found myself trying to do the objectives correctly. Classic mode will have you re-enacting one of twelve famous fights. Old footage sets up the bout as dramatic as can be and then when you are actually fighting; your goal is to replicate how the actual fight went. For example, if the real fight ended in a knockout in round one, or going all the way to a decision, your goal is to try and make that particular finish happen. If you successfully pull it off, you unlock footage from the actual fight to enjoy and watch. It?s hard to do some of them properly as instinctively you just want to knock them out as soon as possible but having a specific finish to work for is a rewarding change of pace.

Going on Xbox Live, you are able to choose a player or ranked match. In Ranked you gain levels and fans for your wins and level up much like in other shooter games to show your current rank and skill. Quite a few matches online I played have suffered from some lag and because of this; your fighters timing is completely off and you?ll miss many opportunities because of it. Unfortunately there is no lag meter in any way when someone joins your room so you won?t know how bad the lag is until the match actually starts. Also, because you are able to make ranked matches private, there are people who have already abused this to reach maximum rank and have a ?flawless? record.

DLC fighters are already in the works since there?s already an option to enable them or not in rooms, so it?s just a matter of time. Here?s to hoping for some old school UFC hall of Fames like Gracie, Severn, Shamrock, Abbott, and many others.

My biggest wish for this would be the ability to have inter-weight class dream fights. The inability to do this was a small letdown, but it would have been very interesting to see those old school UFC rules in, even if only in exhibition, but alas, I guess we?ll never see what would happen if Lesnar and GSP fought.

The loading times in general feel very long only because it happens so frequently. Even switching and navigating menus have a small lag that all adds up. Especially before a fight when everything is loading, it?s just long enough to stand out awkwardly. Fortunately installing UFC to the hard drive did speed this up dramatically which was a relief.

Undisputed has a very steep learning curve, especially if you want to become proficient in the ground game grappling. Casual players will no doubt become extremely frustrated in the beginning when they are unable to do anything when taken to the ground, but players who spend time in the tutorial and practice the controls will come away feeling very rewarded they are able to play with their opponent at will.

With the controls and fighting be so complex in the beginning is certainly gives you an appreciation the actual fighting skills of the real fighters in the sport. Luckily THQ and Yuke?s have put together a package that plays very well once you wrap your head around the controls and even non UFC fans will be able to enjoy and have fun with the title.

UFC Undisputed is an excellent recreation of the actual sport as you will find. If you weren?t watching the screen you would think an actual UFC event was on TV from the quality of the sound and announcing quality. When a huge knockout happens, it?s just as exhilarating as watching the real thing and playing with some friends over, I even had someone say ?this is a great fight!? which was proof enough to me that this game did their job perfectly to replicate the action and excitement of the UFC. Undisputed is definitely a title that will KO you with its presentation quality or make you tap if you pass this one up.

-Inter-weight class fights

-Online that can't be abused by boosters

-More old school fighters

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.2 / 10


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