Participating in or even just watching Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) won’t appeal to anyone of a nervous disposition. However, with the sport’s popularity soaring across the globe, and the release of the first official current-gen recreation imminent, UFC 2009 Undisputed (UFC 2009) is set to showcase its legion of tough men and array of martial arts disciplines to a whole new audience. Protective parents need not be overly concerned though because UFC has changed drastically since its early days. When the sport first began, its violent and bloody battles were described as being little more than human cock-fighting spectacles, but over the years new rules have been implemented and UFC’s no-holds barred label has slowly but surely been peeled away. In recent years, mainstream media has helped to drive its popularity and though UFC still has its critics, it’s now a sport that has become almost as socially acceptable as boxing.
Playing UFC 2009 gives you a small taster of what being involved in UFC is really all about. Developer Yuke has done UFC a great service with its interpretation of this hard-hitting sport and has dispelled some of the negativity surrounding its supposed brutal nature. Yes, UFC 2009 is ultimately about beating the living daylights out of your opponent, but the deep fight mechanic showcases superbly the highly technical side of the sport, as well as the diversity of the fighting styles and the skill it must take to become a UFC champion. While UFC 2009 isn’t as “explosive” a fighting game as the recent marketing push has led us to believe, the intensity of each battle is undisputed. UFC 2009 is a battle of minds as well as bodies, a game where a blend of carefully measured strikes, counter-attacks and takedowns wins the day.
In terms of game modes, Yuke has taken some of its inspiration from its WWE series of titles. There’s a customary career path to follow that sees you starting off as an unknown figure in the world of UFC, plus a fairly in-depth create-a-fighter mode that allows you to customize every aspect of your fighter. A classic mode gives you the opportunity to re-live some of the major fights from UFC history (which should appeal to any fans of the sport,) while an exhibition mode allows you to jump straight into the Octagon after choosing from an exhaustive list of known UFC Fighters. Finally, a practice mode and a sparse online component complete the set of solid, yet predictable, game modes. Still, there’s enough content and replay value in UFC 2009 to keep you going and enough depth to the fighting system to ensure that it will take you some time to master all of its moves.
The extensive tutorial mode is the first indication that winning in UFC is going to take a lot more than just button mashing. The tutorial takes you through the standard move set and introduces you to combos, submissions, takedowns and transitions, as well as showing you a range of attacking and defensive maneuvers. In fact, there’s so much to think about that by the time we had stepped forward for our first fight our head was already spinning before the first punch had even landed. Nevertheless, despite initially being overwhelmed (and beaten senseless) by our first opponent, plenty of opportunity is given to master the moves, and as your fighter’s attributes and skills grow, so does your confidence in the Octagon.
Most people will probably dip into the Career Mode to start off their UFC experience, but we found it the least enjoyable of the game modes available. Career mode starts off very slowly and rarely picks up in momentum. After customizing your fighter with some limited options, you can set up your own fights and add them to your calendar, but in-between clashes you have to carry out a number of different tasks, such as deciding on training schedules, hiring and firing sparring partners, checking through emails, or deciding on your sponsors. You can also spar in the lead up to each fight, which awards you with points that can then be spent on improving your fighter’s attributes and skills. There’s plenty to think about before each fight and tons of different skills to refine, so you’ll find yourself shuffling through the menus quite a lot rather than actually fighting. Progression in career mode feels a little sluggish and unexciting. You’ll spend your time clicking on the ‘rest’ option to bypass a week in the calendar to improve your stamina just as much as you will organizing training or sparring with your partner – it’s as fun as it sounds. Nevertheless, you do see your fighter improve over time and there’s the added incentive of bringing him into the online arena, which motivates you to try to max up his stats as soon as possible. While Career mode is going to feel a little slow for some, others will possibly enjoy the rewards gleaned from working your way up to World Class status. Still, we’ll expect better from the next instalment in the franchise.
As soon as you step into the ring, UFC 2009 more than makes up for its disappointing career mode. The action may feel a little slower than other fighting games, but it’s this change in pace that makes it so immersive. The gameplay is predominantly about spotting your opponent’s weaknesses and exploiting them, but you also need to react intelligently to your opponent’s moves and strike at just the right time if you hope to get him to the floor. UFC 2009 relies on your sharp wits, skill and perfect timing rather than your ability to smash the face buttons as quickly as you can. Yuke has implemented a responsive and extremely efficient control scheme that utilizes every button on the controller, including the right analogue stick for takedowns and grappling, and the bumpers to initiate a heavier punch or kick when used in conjunction with a face button. Punches and kicks feel like they have real impact thanks to the weighty fight mechanic.
Graphically, UFC 2009 is an undisputed heavyweight. The omission of a Heads-up Display (HUD) was a clever decision by the developer that makes the action that little bit more intense, as it means you can focus entirely on your opponent without having to move your eye away from the fight to check out a stamina or health meter. Instead you have to watch out for signs of wear and tear on your opponent, such as a cut, a change in stance, or a bruised rib cage. Swollen eyes and bloody cuts appear thanks to the real-time engine, which makes each fight feel incredibly realistic. Photo-realistic character models and effects also help to give the game its stunning overall look. Beads of sweat, rippling torsos, bulging biceps and real emotion on fighter’s faces are just of some of the graphical highlights, whereas corner-men, ring girls, chants from the crowd and some expert commentary help to give it an authentic UFC feel.
UFC 2009’s disappointment outside of the ring – due to a career mode that severely lacks in design, charm or excitement – is offset by some brilliant animation, a strong and responsive control system and a solid underlying fight mechanic. This combined with some top notch graphics and audio that expertly captures the UFC atmosphere results in a fighter that deserves any plaudits its inevitably got coming its way. If you’re unfamiliar with UFC now is as good a time as any to get acquainted. There’s no doubt in our minds that on the back of UFC 2009 this hard-hitting sport is going to gain a lot of new fans.