UFC 2009: Undisputed
Few people actually enjoy getting into a fight. In fact most sane, well-adjusted members of civilised society will do just about anything to avoid having their nose smashed halfway across their face and getting their teeth punched out. Not the guys who take part in the Ultimate Fighting Championship though, no - they love a good ruck and think nothing of emerging from a scrap bloodied, bruised, toothless and battered. Fortunately for us wussy, fey pacifist types, we have this - the fully licensed UFC videogame from the same developers who brought us the hugely popular and not half bad WWE games.
After the inarguably lacklustre affair that was 2004's UFC: Sudden Impact on PS2, Undisputed enjoys the accumulated experience of a development studio that has been turning out sweaty grappling games for almost the last ten years. This is their first stab at recreating real fighting instead of the pretend stuff and consequently, there isn't a flamboyant costume or tight spandex leotard in sight. UFC 2009 is a no nonsense representation of the no nonsense event, which is a brutal, full contact bloodsport where the vicious punches and kicks are all one hundred percent real. The dev team at Yuke's has crafted a pretty tight combat system based around the sport's no-holds barred nature, allowing you to execute pretty much any move you'd associate with the UFC itself.
Each of the six core fighting disciplines are catered for, with Muay Thai, kickboxing, judo, boxing, jiu-jitsu and wrestling all present and correct and boasting their own set of unique moves. Each technique has its own set of advantages and disadvantages too, so choosing a pugilist that fits your style of play is an important part of the game. Obviously wrestlers prefer to grapple, favouring takedowns, whereas kickboxers, boxers and Muay Thai aficionados will tend to fight you primarily from a standing position. Whatever you're choice of combat style, you'll adopt a method of fighting that's best for you based upon what you take away from the initial tutorial, which deftly imparts the entire roster of moves in one relatively short session.
Upon completing the opening tutorial, you'll be amazed at the depth and flexibility available to you. The beauty of all of this is that the controls are so efficiently mapped to the controller that you intuitively pick up the majority of the basic moves immediately with minimal fuss. Movement is mapped to the left analogue stick, while clinch moves, submission holds and transitions are all placed on the right. Punches and kicks are placed on the face buttons much like Tekken, with each controlling an individual limb, while holding the left trigger down while executing a punch or kick enables you to position your blows towards your opponent's legs, head or mid-section. The left modifies your grapples on the right stick enabling lunges and takedowns, whereas the right bumper and trigger act as high and low blocks.
It might sound like a lot to take in at first, but UFC's controls are surprisingly easy to master. The real challenge lies in the game's expansive career mode, which takes place over a UFC season, pitting you against the 82 real-life pros featured in the game as a created character. True to form, Yuke's has included a relatively in-depth character creation tool, although it's decidedly lacking when compared to the seemingly unlimited toy chest of customisation seen in the Smackdown vs. Raw series. Creating your own fighter in UFC remains firmly rooted in reality with no allowance for gaudy, overdressed freaks with bulbous heads and pointy ears. This highlights the seriousness with which the licence has been approached in every conceivable department - the most playful thing you'll find in the game are the buxom ring girls.
Once you've finished building your own custom brawler, career mode awaits with a calendar of training, sparring, resting and events that you have to carefully plan out in the nine weeks that lead up to each headlining fight. Each activity causes a week to elapse, boosting your fighter's stats in some way and expending a percentage of your stamina, which then carries over into the main event. Balancing the right amount of training and rest becomes an integral part of winning bouts. Go into the ring with high stats but low stamina and you could end up kissing the canvas a lot quicker than you'd hope. And while early fights can be won through frantic button bashing alone, by the fourth or fifth event you'll be forced to fight conservatively and strategically, as each blow landed by your opponent can be devastating.
Scrapping in UFC is remarkably different to any one-on-one beat 'em up you're ever likely to have played before. Wading in arms flailing is an open invitation for getting your face pounded to burger, while prancing around the ring will get you nowhere. Success usually comes through feeling your rival out, waiting for a chink in their armour before pouncing with a flurry of punches and kicks. Alternatively, you can get stuck in with a clinch, grappling your opponent to the ground and punching the living daylights out of him while he's at your mercy beneath your weight. Or you can put your button mashing skills to the test by going for a winning submission move once you've sufficiently worn down his stamina.
There're a variety of options at your disposal and a multitude of ways to approach and ultimately win a contest, but the real satisfaction comes from how close UFC is to the actual sport itself. Visually, UFC is incredibly impressive - even though the burly, sweaty blokes aren't particularly pretty, the game certainly is. Each fighter is solid and convincingly animated, grimacing in pain if you land a heavy shot to the head for instance. Hits connect with real impact, splattering globules of blood across the canvas, opening up cuts on the face of your challenger as you wear down his stamina. As fights wear on, your fighter perspires more and more, cuts and bruises accumulating on his face after each five minute round (of which there are only three).
Undisputed is an undeniably faithful realisation of visceral, ferocious face punching that will make any UFC devotee deliriously happy, yet this may not be to every fight fan's tastes. For those used to a staple diet of Street Fighter IV and Soul Calibur, UFC may seem a tad too staid in its slavish devotion to realistically interpreting the sport and anyone hoping for a fluid button basher will be sorely disappointed. Undisputed requires patience and time to master, with each fight favouring a slow and methodical approach, which may put some players off. But for those willing to invest the effort, this rewards in spades. Like an unexpected kick in the plums, it's a genuine surprise that this is actually rather good.