Release Date: May 19, 2009
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 16 years, you know of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the phenomenally successful mixed martial arts (MMA) organization that has absolutely set the fighting world on fire. Despite the rather lackluster previous release of UFC Sudden Impact, the series has returned with a new game to try and win the title, UFC 2009 Undisputed.
According to the press releases from THQ and UFC, Undisputed has the most accurate MMA-styled system that takes many different styles and techniques into consideration, allowing you to kickbox, wrestle, and perform clinches, grapples and counters. It's true, and there is a button for darn near every aspect of that. I'd love to be able to say that the game is not a button-masher because at its heart, it isn't, but sometimes trying to land a weak jab combo combined with a strong side kick while shooting for a low grapple takedown, you'll mash the wrong button and find yourself on the receiving end of a nasty thump.
Anyone who knows me with fighting or simulation games knows that I'm an absolute sucker for character creators and career modes. Thankfully, Undisputed offers both, though I'll talk about the character creator first. It's average at best, almost as if it were an afterthought for the rest of the game. You get to pick a handful of generic face types, hair types, height, build and extras like tattoos. Once you get the basic layer done, you can further fine-tune the specifics such as nose width, brow height, ear size, damage and so on. The problem is that it's just enough to allow you a rough sense of a custom fighter, but it never reaches what I consider to be the apex of custom avatars, Tiger Woods. For that matter, it's not even on par with the WWE titles.
The menus are slow to respond and nested, so you'll be drilling down for some options and then B-buttoning back to get to the main menu, and the entire thing has a delay from the time you hit the button until the time you see a response. It's not huge, but it's enough to make the entire thing feel loose and sloppy. Likewise, the load/save screen is enough to cause a seizure. Every time you leave a match with the autosave match enabled, the screen softens while a pop-up says "Looking for hard drive," "Found hard drive!", "Looking for fighter," "Found fighter!", "Saving fighter…" and "Fighter saved!" Each time the screen lightens, then softens for the next pop up. It's ridiculous. Why do games bother to do this anymore? If my Xbox has a hard drive and autosave is enabled, then just do all of that behind the scenes. I don't need little "Hello World" scripts to pop up every time I do something.
After a quick two and a half hours of making my own custom fighter, I went right into the game tutorial system. I'm a huge fan of games that give you an in-game learning system so you can skip the instructions altogether and otherwise immerse yourself in the game. The tutorial has all of the controls broken down into majority categories, such as movement, grapples and striking. The beginning tutorial is so simple that it's laughable and makes you want to quit the tutorial and jump right into the game. First, you move the left thumbstick to walk around the ring. Fine. Then, you do quick steps or dashes. Sure, easy. By the end of the seventh or eighth tutorial, though, when you have to counter a punch and switch from half guard to full guard, you won't know your LB button from your RS grapple. Running through every part of the tutorial takes about 30 minutes, though you can always come back and focus on specific areas, which I'm sure many people, myself included, will be doing.
Now that I had logged three hours in the game and not managed a single fight, it was time to jump into the career mode. Again, I have to complain about the sloppy menus and the laggy delays they have. It took a little effort to get into the right option in the career menu to load my newly created fighter, where I then distributed points into everything from offensive punching, offensive kicking, grapple defense and takedown defense. You have a limited amount of points, with a preset maximum for any given stat, so you can fine-tune what kind of fighter you want to play; combinations include a jujitsu fighter, a grappler with a focus on judo and a kickboxer with wrestling. By the time I was done distributing points, Otter was a 6'4", 235-pound heavyweight kickboxer with a wrestling background.
My first fight on the undercard was a disaster. It could've been a Pride Fight with the total lack of grappling; it was all kicks and punches. Despite some great connections on my part, the opponent landed a great temple strike in the second round that knocked me out. I didn't get to repeatedly press the A button, and there wasn't a magical combination of buttons — I was knocked the !*$# out. And really, that's what the UFC is. Sometimes the match can go three rounds to a judge's decision, and sometimes that one "lucky" strike can come in and end the match right then and there.
I took the first match in stride and decided to apply what I learned in a second career match … which I also promptly lost. It was then that I went back to the tutorial for a second attempt at memorizing the roughly eight zillion button combinations and went back to my career and won the next five fights by knockout. Awww, yeah! As much as I'd like to take credit for all those knockouts because of my awesome fighting style (kick 'em in the head), I think Undisputed allows the flash knockout way too liberally. You can watch most matches on TV and you'll be lucky to see one knockout in the whole event, let alone one guy who knocks out people like he's cleaning house. I can understand when someone leans into a shot or is unprepared, but it seems more flash than substance after a while.
Now, it's not just all fighting. You have a real career to manage from training in the gym, to finding training camps and sparring partners, and even checking your e-mail and scheduling public appearances and interviews. It's not quite the hands-on training system that you might've seen in Fight Night: Round 3, and it's not quite the micro-managed boss mode in MLB: The Show, but it's a decent combination of the two. You can choose a lot of different options between your fighting schedule, all of which affects your time or stamina. The trick is to train heavy early on — in my case, I focused on strength training — and rest a few weeks before a fight to regain your maximum stamina. One little thing that ties in nicely is the e-mail system that lets you keep track of the current rankings, upcoming professional engagements and even some kudos from UFC president Dana White. It's minor, but it's a nice touch.
Outside of the career mode, you have all the options you'd expect, such as a quick arcade-style match between established UFC fighters and multiplayer modes for local and Xbox Live matches. Personally, I don't feel either has a real long replay value, unless it's simply to pit "what if" scenarios of different fighters against one another, or to play customer fighter against custom fighter. The real meat of the game is definitely in its career mode.
Sitting in the announcer booth are Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, who do an admirable job with their sound bytes. The UFC "tale of the tape" music, screens, fighter photos and the veteran voice of the octagon Bruce Buffer all make the game feel like an interactive UFC fight, which is great. It's the audio and quality sound clips like this that have made similar fighting games and simulations like the wrestling franchises so popular. It transitions from TV to game very well. Sure, there will be some repetition now and then, but most of the time, the gameplay is so intense that you'll not really notice it.
I really do love UFC 2009 Undisputed. It's a healthy combination of Fight Night and WWE mixed together in terms of gameplay, and if you love mixed martial arts, you'll find something to love about this title. There aren't any glaring clipping issues, and with the abundance of different fighting styles, you can really focus on playing the way you like. If it weren't for the poor menu controls, annoying load/save pop-ups and limited fighter customization, it would have definitely received a higher score. However, you shouldn't let a poor interface deter you from what will be a heavily replayed game.
More articles about UFC 2009 Undisputed