The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has exploded onto the scene in recent years as fans around the world have begun to truly embrace mixed martial arts. While the sport is definitely growing, there was a lot of concern last year when THQ announced that it was making a UFC game. Hadn't we just seen a sports title based on arena football crash and burn? Were we going to get another crappy game based on a niche sport? The end result was a lovingly crafted fighter that managed to capture not only the violence of MMA, but also the strategy and complex machinations involved in fighting. Now THQ is back with UFC Undisputed 2010, and this year's game is even more impressive.
Fans booting up the game for the first time will likely be instantly overwhelmed by how much content is stuffed into the game. New gameplay options, like the arcade-style Title mode and Title Defense, join the standard lineup of exhibitions, career and tournament, and players can even create their own eight-fight dream card in the Event mode or jump online to challenge other human opponents or join camps to hone their skills. The PS3 iteration even comes with five full UFC fights in gorgeous Blu-ray video so that when you don't feel like participating, you can kick back and watch some of the sport's best go toe-to-toe in classic matches.
The most common point of entry for most players will be the career mode, which is similar to last year's model but has a slew of nice improvements. First off, the character creation options are much deeper this year, and while you can't quite manage every minute aspect of your fighter's appearance, it's still easy to create a pretty unique character. Once the fighter has been crafted, players aren't thrown immediately into the UFC like last year's game; rather, they get some time fighting in the amateur and semi-pro circuits to get a feel for how to play and get a jump start on building up stats. While you still may not feel totally ready for the UFC when it's time to make your big debut, you'll likely feel more confident than in last year's edition.
There have been some major changes to career progression this time around, but unfortunately, not all of them are for the better. The biggest issue is the new stat decay feature, which penalizes fighters for not training certain skills or abilities over an extended period of time. While this makes sense conceptually, as a fighter who doesn't work on takedowns or submissions likely wouldn't be any good at them, the mechanic itself is far too harsh and penalizing. Stats begin dropping quickly, and once they begin to fall, the dropout is precipitous. While skills will eventually plateau at preset points, it's still frustrating to have to dump training points into rarely used areas just to keep them from totally tanking, or using up precious training weeks to keep certain skills stabilized. The stat decay system could be a worthwhile addition to the franchise if tweaked properly, but for now, it's sort of a pain.
Every created fighter's moves are now also fully customizable, as players learn new attacks from attending various camps rather than being locked into a specific move set based on their fighting style. Want to learn Forrest Griffin's front kick? Head over to Extreme MMA and start training. What about Chuck Liddell's overhand right? Stop by The Pit and have them show it to you. The à la cart moves are an excellent way to personalize every combatant, but unfortunately, this is another cool idea that doesn't quite achieve. Learning new moves requires fighters to jump into a minigame with specific parameters. Some are as simple as hitting focus pads, while others require pulling off a certain number of takedowns, transitions or even submissions. It's fun for a while, but it quickly grows frustrating when you waste two or three weeks trying to learn one specific move while your stats are dropping in the meantime and the big fight is fast approaching. Throw in a constant stream of annoying e-mails asking you to do a press workout or attend UFC events, and it's clear that while the training system is improved in this year's career mode, it's still far from perfect.
There are a few changes inside the cage as well, but thankfully, they're all for the better. The game's new sway system allows you to dodge strikes with a quick flick of the control stick and return fire with a nasty counterpunch. Also, the ability to trap opponents against the cage and do damage there adds another great layer to the already-deep combat engine, creating an even more robust experience. Finally, submission transitions keep the ground game spicy, creating the potential for quick reversals of fortune and snap submissions just when it seemed one fighter was on the verge of making a huge escape. Newcomers are forewarned, though: The combat engine in Undisputed has never been easy to learn, and this year's game does little to address the difficulty curve. While there is an extensive tutorial, it's still hard to keep it all straight when the rubber meets the road, so new fighters are likely to get pounded for a while before they finally put it all together and really learn to fight.
Last year's UFC Undisputed 2009 was a tremendous debut for the franchise, and this year's entry goes a long way toward keeping the franchise moving in the right direction. Tons of new modes and even more realistic and nuanced combat make this the perfect title for MMA enthusiasts, and it's the sort of game that can easily keep players entertained for months on end. The career mode still has a ways to go before it can be considered among the best in gaming, but at least the ideas presented are trending in the right direction. With a bit more polish and another year to work out the kinks, next year's UFC Undisputed 2011 may be one of the best sports games we've ever seen. As it stands, the 2010 edition isn't too shabby, either.
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