Release Date: May 19, 2009
It's taken a long time for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to get to this point. It's been called everything from human cockfighting to the potential vanquisher of boxing as the top combat sport in the world (or at least, on the Las Vegas Strip).
Game-loving fans of the UFC or mixed martial arts in general have also seen their fair share of struggle, yearning for a title that captures their growing sport with the same verve of boxing's Fight Night series or pro wrestling's Smackdown! series. Part of the UFC's appeal and ever-present challenge is the combination of both, attempting to incorporate the sweet sciences of the various combat arts while displaying enough personality and marketing bravado to appeal to a wider audience.
UFC 2009: Undisputed feels like the embodiment of that mission, serving as not only a game to entertain fans but as an "arrival" of sorts to contemporary consoles. Like the sport, the game is not perfect, but it's damn entertaining. It's got the nuts-and-bolts stuff that veteran MMA fans would want, but it also carries enough sensibility to know that some of the people playing the game would think a rear naked choke is something dirty you do on spring break.
Fight purists enjoy mixed martial arts because as the name says, it features a lot of people who battle using a fusion of fighting disciplines. The game features six: boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, kickboxing, Muay Thai and wrestling. Each of the disciplines is flexible enough for players of any style. However, the differences in each style depend on more than just whether you want bust someone up or make them tap out. The game does a very good job of fleshing out a lot of these differences and explaining how they work, which is helpful if you're a casual fan who wants to learn more about the sport.
As far as striking goes, the boxers are best with their hands, while the Muay Thai and kickboxing experts are very good with their legs. Muay Thai is especially nasty because its practitioners are able to catch fighters in the art's signature clinch, where one can grab an opponent by the head with both arms, lock into position and then knee the poor bastard into oblivion. Guys like Anderson Silva and Wanderlei Silva have made a lot of money doing exactly this. However, powerful boxers and kickboxers are also fun to use, as they are the ones most capable of knocking someone cold with a well-placed blast to the jaw. It's how Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and "The Dragon" Lyoto Machida have earned their fame.
But while striking is fun, the real meat of the gameplay lies in its take on grappling, clinching and fighting on the ground. Anyone even remotely familiar with MMA knows that every fight can inevitable involve the famed "ground game," where fighters of all kinds squeeze, contort and force their ways into better positioning for either escapes, strikes, submission holds or, in some cases, the finishing blows that can end a fight. The ground game can also be a crazy mental chess game, where you're not only trying to work your way into better position but also thinking about what your opponent could have in store for you. Play it right, and you get a standstill or a chance to turn the tables. Screw around too much against a superior jiu-jitsu fighter, and you're tapping out a minute into the match.
With all this complexity of combat comes a seemingly mind-bending control scheme that actually feels more intuitive with practice. The face buttons handle punches and kicks, while the left stick, shoulder buttons and triggers can control the power and location of your strikes, as well as blocking. I enjoyed how blocking comes with a price. The game factors in arm and leg fatigue, so while you may be successful in deflecting that kick aimed at your face with bad intentions, your arms will pay for it, and your punching power could suffer. This can help curb the urge to simply sit back and block all day, especially since it doesn't help you with takedowns and grabs.
If you're going to do anything productive in Undisputed, you need to familiarize yourself with the power of the right thumbstick. Pushed in the correct direction at the perfect time, it can allow you to catch your opponent's kick and bring him down in an instant. You can deflect an opponent's punch and lock him into a clinch for either a slam or a series of knees. But most importantly, it's the stick that allows you to "transition" from one position to another, even execute a series of slams. The movements are mostly quarter-circles and 2/3-circles that require a bit of repetition in various positions. This whole aspect of the game reminded me of the movie "Redbelt," where a jiu-jitsu teacher (Chiwetel Ejiofor) keeps telling a panicky student locked in a hold to "calm down. You know the escape. You know the escape." A simple click of the right stick also initiates a submission attempt, where it can be a button-mashing battle between you and your opponent as to who escapes and who taps.
You'll also have to know the escape to maximize the litany of UFC fighters at your disposal. There are roughly 80 fighters and personalities you'll see here, including bouncy ring card girls Edith Larente and Arianny Celeste as well as no-bullshit UFC president Dana White. The fight commentary is handled ably by Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, who actually drops nice nuggets of knowledge about each of the fighters during battle. It's good stuff the first time you hear it, but you eventually start picking up lots of repeated phrases, especially if you're sticking with a favorite fighter. The fighter roster spans the weight classes of heavyweight, light heavyweight, middleweight, welterweight and lightweight. Most of the UFC's biggest stars are available, like the aforementioned Rampage Jackson or Lyoto Machida. Fans will also get to use guys like B.J. Penn, Georges St.-Pierre (GSP), Brock Lesnar or Rashad Evans (whom Machida put to sleep in the last UFC pay-per-view). There are also some guys on the roster who really aren't with the UFC anymore, such as Andrei Arlovski and Tito Ortiz.
You can also add to the roster by creating your own fighter in the game's Career mode, where you have to work your way from the bottom and eventually find your way into the UFC Hall of Fame at the end of your career. During that time, you have to monitor your training, add skills and techniques, know when to rest and do a little PR work when you have the time. You can also handle sponsorship opportunities and customize your fighter down to facial hair and tattoos. It's a solid feature that's deep enough to keep players invested in the game when you don't feel like fighting online (which you can do with a created fighter) or using one of the UFC guys. Topping it off is a cool "classic fights" section, where you select a fighter in a heralded battle and try to recreate the result, such as Rampage's knockout of Liddell or the Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin matchup at the end of Season 1 of "The Ultimate Fighter." If you pull it off, you get a video montage of the actual fight.
Undisputed does have some holes. The biggest issue I have is the inconsistent nature of online play, which is a huge blow given that this is a fighting game. About half of the matches I played in were plagued by serious lag, while the rest of my games had only minimal delays. A fighting game's online play should be as reliable as possible, and I can't shake the feeling that I'm rolling the dice whenever I go online. The lag hurts most on the ground, where split seconds count in trying to transition and counter. Other hiccups include the decent but repetitive soundtrack and commentary, and the slight tediousness of some fights degenerating into controller-killing button-mashing sessions. I also noticed some goofy physics, where I knocked out Anderson Silva and he dropped to the floor but managed to stay propped up on his left elbow. He looked like a broken marionette.
Overall, UFC 2009: Undisputed is an addictive piece of work that fight fans, no matter the discipline, should try out at least for a few hours. The feeling of gradual mastery can be very satisfying to the wannabe martial artist in all of us. On the bright side, you won't feel any of the pain.Score: 8.5/10
More articles about UFC 2009 Undisputed