I'm not particularly familiar with the UFC. I've watched it a few times but always felt somehow ripped off by the fact that the fighters can't throw fireballs, so I haven't kept current. As such, this is a preview of UFC Undisputed 2010 written from a layman's perspective, as a relative newcomer to the sport and the series.
I got the chance to play Undisputed for a couple of hours last week in Las Vegas, at the Playboy Club atop the Palms hotel. Naturally, I went straight for the create-a-fighter mode, which worked as a pretty decent tutorial. As a rookie fighter, you're scheduled for up to four bouts in the World Fighting Alliance before a UFC scout notices you, which puts you on the road to the big show. You can customize the character's clothing, hairstyle, skin color, style, tattoos and, new in 2010, his stance and dominant hand.
You also no longer have to select a specific discipline for your character, and you can pick moves as you see fit through in-game training. Undisputed 2010 adds a few techniques, like karate and sambo, but you can pick and choose moves from any of the existing styles for your fighter.
The UFC games, according to their developers, are a constantly evolving attempt to make their fighting as realistic as possible, and that means the controls have a little bit of a learning curve. The striking is easy to pick up, but the trick is that the buttons and the moves that correspond to them change by pressing the left trigger or bumper, and that the game changes entirely once a fighter hits the ground.
After a couple of hours, I felt fairly confident about boxing and kicks, but the wrestling game was still a bit of a mystery. My unfathomably British UFC champion could beat the crap out of anyone (Marquis of Queensbury rules, of course, assuming that we are in an alternate universe where he was also a kickboxer), but the moment I was up against anyone who was at all interested in wrestling me, hilarity tended to ensue.
In the create-a-fighter mode, you can control every facet of your character except his nickname, which you have to pick from a long list; this, in turn, lets the in-game announcers refer to him occasionally. The announcers are smart enough to refer to events in the fight as it unfolds, as well as to what's happened in previous bouts.
When you're scheduled for a bout in career mode, you have a set number of weeks to kill by training, resting or sparring. You can specifically or generally train various skills, either automatically or manually, which allows you to put points in a variety of offensive or defensive statistics: groundwork, kicking, punching, submission holds, etc. A skill that you don't train often enough will gradually zero out, which makes it nearly impossible to build up a super-fighter with maxed-out statistics, and your coach will let you know when it's time to rest or train. However, the game tracks the passage of time, so it's very possible to have a character age to retirement without ever getting a title shot.
As your character wins bouts, you can opt to attend other fights as a guest commentator, endorse products, attend special exhibition fights, or talk trash to other fighters, which influences your popularity with both the fans and the other professionals in the UFC. You can also invite representatives of other martial-arts camps to train you, allowing you to learn new special kicks, punches and throws that replace your old ones.
THQ took in a lot of player feedback on Undisputed 2009, so Undisputed 2010 has a long laundry list of changes as a result. Seriously, I'm holding it, and it's about 13 pages long. You can now utilize what THQ calls the Sway System while you're striking, which uses four-way head and upper body movement to allow for movement and counterattacks; now you can bob and weave like a professional boxer. The Havok-based reaction system has also been tweaked considerably, allowing for a smart and experienced player — which I am not, by any means — to rope-a-dope, build momentum, or come off the wall swinging.
When you're fighting on the ground, on the other hand, the submission system has seen a major redesign. You can now pin an opponent against the UFC cage's wall, and a posturing system has been adopted to add more realism to the ground strategy. Once an opponent's on the ground, you have to decide whether you want to hold him in place and exercise more control, or give up some of that control in exchange for the ability to more effectively beat him about the face, head and stomach. Submission attempts are also now shown in real time, through dynamic use of the fighters' limbs and the camera.
Obviously, I'm not the biggest UFC fan on the planet, but I had a lot of fun with what I played of Undisputed, despite not quite having a handle on it. There's a learning curve, and it's not an easy game to just pick up and start playing. After a few bouts, I was 11-2 in career mode and demolishing opponents in a few quick punches to the head, but as I got higher in the league standings, I was fighting more experienced opponents who were controlled by what I'm told is a vastly improved AI.
The general idea here seems to be that Undisputed 2010 is last year's game with a host of improvements, ranging from AI and menu navigation to a vast selection of new fighters. More than 100 UFC competitors are in and playable for 2010, including several classic fighters — Royce Gracie, Jenz Pulver and Dan Severn — who are available as PS3 exclusives. Judging from the developers I talked to and the reactions from the fans, this is pretty much a laundry list of everything people wanted to see changed in Undisputed 2009, and the title will be one of the most realistic fighting games on the market today.
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