After a five-year absence, the UFC has made its gaming return. While MMA games have been around for nine years now, none of them really did justice to the intricacies of the sport, or how it had evolved over the years. When UFC games were first released from 200 to 2004, they all featured the same basic gameplay and never really enhanced it. You had the same four basic fighting positions in every game, and while this made them very easy to pick up and play, it didn’t allow for a great deal of depth.
UFC 2009: Undisputed corrects that by offering up over twice as many positions and allowing you to transition between them fairly seamlessly. If there’s a position you’ve seen in a real-life MMA fight, it’s probably in this game. It’s so intricate that the game’s manual comes with a flow chart explaining how each position can transition to the other - and while that may seem incredibly daunting, there is a fantastic tutorial available that not only teaches you what the positions are, but how to use them in an in-game fight.
One problem caused by the depth is that this game isn’t quite as accessible early on as prior UFC games - there’s a lot to digest, even if you’re familiar with MMA, and the prospect of trying to learn how to play the game effectively on both offense and defense is daunting. However, it’s not impossible, and when one first starts to play, it helps to stick with striking as that’s the easiest skill to learn, and then ease into grappling, submissions, and the many aspects of the ground game. That way, you’ll be able to learn enough to survive on your feet, and you can then go at your own pace with the other skills as time goes on.
Submissions are an important part of the MMA game, and are incredibly rewarding to pull off here. While Yuke’s SmackDown vs. Raw series has a “struggle” submission system, this is the first game I’ve played where applying (or escaping) a submission actually fits that name. To successfully apply one, you’ll either have to wear a limb down and either spin the right stick around or hit the face buttons like mad, and to avoid one, you’ll have to do the same. Avoiding one with the face buttons causes you to try and fight your way out, and is more reliable, but puts you in a tougher position if you do escape, while using the stick requires more finesse and puts you in a better position if you succeed. It can definitely tire you out to apply one, but it is incredibly satisfying when you finally do.
Not only is the in-depth gameplay a resounding success, but the career mode is a blast as well. It sees you take a created fighter (no in-game characters are playable) through the ranks of whichever one of the five weight classes you choose; starting off with low stands and fighting in the undercard of Ultimate Fight Night Live shows, and culminating in PPV main events. In order to progress, you’ll have to win fights, and in order to do that you’ll have to find the right mix of training techniques. If you train too much, you’ll be tired in your fights and will run out of steam quickly. But if you don’t train enough, then you’ll be beaten with ease by the time the fight rolls around. You can work on your speed, strength, or cardio, and choose two of six possible fighting styles for your character. Training is quite the balancing act, and it will require some trial and error to get right, but it is rewarding to succeed after experiencing a loss or two due to the wrong training methods.
Like Yuke’s SmackDown vs. Raw series, online play is fantastic when playing against friends, but can be a chore against online players who stick with cheap techniques or abuse things like turbo controllers to give them an unfair advantage. As long as you stick to just playing folks you know you should be fine. With its gameplay being so timing-intensive, I was concerned about how lag would affect Undisputed’s gameplay. Fortunately, it’s never been all that bad for me. At worst, countering is a little tougher, so you take a few more shots than absolutely necessary, but otherwise, things flow pretty smoothly. Hopefully a patch comes out soon that can help combat the cheap players, as that’s about the only major outright flaw the game has online, although I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing it become more feature-laden in the future. A highlight reel sharing, or in-game fight video/screenshot viewing mode like the SvR series would be nice, and perfect for the genre as well. I can easily wait for a sequel for those kinds of features though, as I‘m happier that Yuke’s focused their attention on making this a high-quality game that lacks superfluous extra modes instead of something that has a bunch of those, but is lacking in the gameplay department. No amount of excess modes can ever make up for that.
While it does have some minor graphical problems, on the whole, this is an amazing-looking game. The majority of character models look superb - with incredibly realistic details; including intricate tattoo work replicated accurately. While some fighters, like Tito Ortiz, don’t look quite right, I can forgive that to some degree given that the roster includes over 80 fighters, I can forgive a few being off. Plus, they all feature incredibly realistic damage modeling.
Bruises will show up on the face and body, and grow as the fight goes on, they’ll get worse and eventually either continue to grow, develop into cuts that can also grow, or simply stay the same size but severely weaken a fighter. A fighter who tries to use a weakened body part will find that their usage has been severely limited - a weakened leg will result in slower speed and less effective kicks (a good technique against someone with lethal kicks - like Mirko Cro Cop), while shots to the body will result in sickening bruises to the rib cage that usually lead to the fighter leaving their heads wide open, and repeated shots to the head can result in either bleeding or bruising above or below the eyes, on the chin, or along the jaw line.
Knockout punches will send someone’s mouth guard go flying, and some of Undisputed’s most memorable moments come from seeing just how a foe will fall after a heavy blow. I’ve had foes just do a Ric Flair-esque face-first flop down on the mat after one, and had another rival do a 360 degree spin before landing on their back and twitching on the mat. While it may seem a bit sadistic, some of the most fun my friends and I had playing this game was seeing just who could score the most vicious or cool-looking knockout.
Movement animation is superb - it’s easily the most fluid and realistic I’ve seen in an MMA game. Most of the character models look fantastic. While some character models don’t look quite right - like Tito Ortiz, the majority of them look fantastic, and with a roster of over 80 fighters, that’s impressive. The presentation is pretty authentic as well, and pretty true-to-life. However, there are some issues beyond the few inaccurate default character models; the created fighters’ models look noticeably different from the in-game ones, which hurts the realism. Unlike most of Yuke’s WWE games, Undisputed actually looks like a game made to take full advantage of the current-gen hardware. The only problem I had with the graphics aside from the models came from the menu text, which is quite small, even on an HDTV.
Like everything else, Undisputed’s audio is also top-notch in many ways, but not flawless. The commentary is easily the best I’ve heard in a game and does an excellent job capturing the spirit of their real-life commentary. Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg have natural-sounding conversations about the background of each fighter, their particular fighting camps, and other assorted information that sounds exactly like their real-life work. Just as importantly, it doesn’t come off as robotic; a problem that plagues many sports games with commentary, and sounds organic - just as it would on an actual UFC broadcast. The sound effect work is also fairly realistic. They vary from shot to shot - glancing blows barely make a sound, while those that connect flush sound as if they just snapped whatever bone they came in contact with in half. Unfortunately, the music falls short compared to the rest of the audio since the soundtrack is full of generic hard rock that doesn’t do anything to get you pumped for the fight. Fortunately, it’s only a problem during menus, and isn’t featured in the fights themselves, so it’s not a crippling problem.
Yuke’s hard work has paid off in spades with UFC 2009: Undisputed. While the game may have taken more time than some fans would have liked to hit shelves, the wait was worth it as they delivered a top-shelf game in every area that counts and provided an amazing base that they can build upon in the future. Their debut MMA game already does a better job of replicating the sport than anything that’s come before it; I just hope that they don’t fall into the same trap as prior UFC game developers and rest on their laurels. Fortunately, I don’t think that’ll happen here. They’ve done such a good job with this game that I feel confident that we’ll just see better installments as the series continues. This is a definite must-buy game, although I would recommend downloading the demo first to use the tutorial and get the hang of the gameplay.