UFC 2009: Undisputed
Playstation 3, Xbox 360
May 19, 2009
Ultimate Fighting is one of the fastest growing phenomenons in the world. It’s growing in fanbase, it’s growing in assets, it’s growing in talent, and it’s growing in entertainment. It’s huge, and it’s going to continue to improve upon itself as time moves forth. An unfortunate trend that comes with popularity, is a videogame to match up with the real life counterpart. UFC is large enough to get that said videogame tie-in, as UFC 2009: Undisputed was released late May 2009. Was getting THQ and Yuke’s to handle this delicate piece of software a unanimous decision, or is it a deadly rear naked choke from which nobody can escape?
I like to get straight to the point in my reviews, so I can basically tell you right off the bat that UFC 2009 does a lot of good things, and it does enough of them to maintain a high level of entertainment throughout. It’s got some issues, as you’d expect, but for the most part, Yuke’s really took the right steps and made the best decisions possible, resulting in an authentic gameplay experience. This is a fun game.
Quite possibly the first thing gamers will notice about this title is how unique the controls are. Strikes are mapped to the face buttons simply enough, with the left shoulder buttons as modifiers for hitting high or low. The striking game is really simple to get a grip on, which is great for beginners, but those who take the time to really understand the game will realize that it’s more of a defensive game than an offensive one. Getting into a complete slugfest will get somebody knocked out extremely quick, possibly within seconds. The best strategy is to wait for an opening, and go for it. The game does a great job of counter-balancing this, giving fighters the ability to catch strikes for submissions of throws. Good timing both offensively and defensively is the key to maintaining a strong striking game.
When taking things to the ground, or getting into grappling situations, the game opens up even more, showing off its superb depth and authenticity of its gameplay. Depending on your fighter’s fighting styles, you can perform throws or other special moves such as powerbombs and hip tosses. The way that these are performed is utilizing the right analog stick. Very similar to the control scheme in EA’s Skate, you’re meant to rotate the right analog stick in correspondance to your character’s position. For example, to move to a new position on the ground, rotate the right analog stick 90 degrees in the direction you wish to move to, and your fighter will attempt to. Here, it’s another timing game.
First off, your right stick rotations need to be legible, not simply attacking the stick. Then, you need to do it at the right time, when the other fighter is not putting down his weight on you, because assuming you’re not Forrest Griffin, you’re going to stay right where you are.
On the ground, fighters can still strike each other, move around and try to get the best position on their opponent. The Brazillian Jiu Jitsu fighters have the ability to counter their opponent, flipping them over and being in full guard. Some of the most fun I’ve had in UFC 2009 were results of intense ground battles. It’s a very dynamic system that feels good when you’re good at it, but can quickly become frustrating should you be bad at it. This is a game that really requires patience and good timing. To be successful, you need to be efficient, because simply button mashing and flailing your fighter across the screen will result in some embarassing losses.
That’s the beauty of UFC 2009: Undisputed. It’s always a fair game. No matter how badly you are getting your tail handed to you, you’ve always got a shot. You could be getting destroyed late the 3rd round, but if you’re patient enough, you could find a weak spot, or find your opponent getting lazy, and give them a swift kick to the head. Boom. Flash. Knockout. UFC 2009 is one of the most well balanced fighting games ever, if not the single most.
Submissions are one of the most exhilarating parts of the fighting engine. Clicking down on the right stick while your opponent is vulnerable on the ground, or when you catch a strike for a counter, or when you are clinched while standing, allows you to perform a submission. Depending on your position and fighting technique, the submissions vary in terms of success and type. UFC 2009 features just about every submission you’ve seen in the real life sport, from armbars, to rear naked chokes, to triangle chokes. During submission attempts, the biggest button masher, the fastest stick rotator will most likely be victorious. This can feel very clunky and unprofessional, but it feels appropriate in the fact that it instills urgency to the situation. Of course, you can’t just submit your opponent at the start of a match. This is a balanced game. Stamina, strength, submission offence and defence skills are also taken into account, as well as height and reach. It’s very authentic and it’s easy to appreciate.
The way the game tries its hand at authenticity is rather impressive. All weight classes are present here, with over 80 fighters on the roster. There are 6 distinct fighting techniques: Judo, BJJ, and Wrestling for throws and grappling, and Muay Thai, Kick Boxing, and Boxing for striking. The way fighters need to take advantage as well as adapt to these different techniques really makes the game dynamic. It’s a thinking man’s game, despite how button mashy it may seem to those unfamiliar with the sport.
The theme song from UFC is here as well, as are a few ring girls, Joe Rogan is on commentating, and Herb Dean is among the referees. The game tries its best to deliver a realistic feeling UFC experience, and it gets the job done. The lack of ring entrances are a tad disappointing, but that’s something to expect for next year, right?
It’s a safe bet to call the core gameplay an authentic, well balanced, thrill ride. Really, the game never lets up. Every match is worth seeing through to the end because of just how dynamic the whole system works. It’s amazing.
There is a career mode present in UFC 2009: Undisputed which unfortunately isn’t as good as it could be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly worth playing just for the ultimate reward of winning some hardware, but it ultimately feels too artificial to really be taken seriously.
After creating your very own fighter of surprising detail (you can really shape them into how you want them to look), career mode is essentially a repetitive series of fights. In between each fight, you can either spar to assign attributes to your stats, or automate training. After 2 or 3 training sessions, you fight again. Career mode is disappointingly bareboned. There is nothing to ground it into the universe, and it comes across as an irritating setup of matches.
What’s worse is just how poor the menu system is. There are short load times almost everytime you select something in the career mode menu. Even simply selecting sponsors to put on your shorts, you need to go through a confusing set of more than half a dozen menus just to be able to select a spot to put on the logo. It’s unnecessarily complex.
Even while it’s really shallow and there’s not a lot to it, career mode is still worth going through, and I’ll tell you why. As you build up your fighters statistics, he constantly gets better, and as you retire from UFC, you can use your fighter in exhibition mode and for online fighting. There’s also something gratifying about seeing your fighter become champion of every single weight division.
While career mode remains an undeniable disappointment, the gameplay itself is the complete saving grace. Yes, career mode isn’t worth much, but just being able to face off against your buddies on the couch, or strangers over Playstation Network and Xbox Live, is worth the price of admission alone. The intensity and competitiveness that comes hand in hand with a title like this is just stunning. It’s easy to lose hours on end just doing fight after fight, trash talking, utilizing strategies, and overall just having an absolute blast. The price point of $69.99 is high, but it’s definitely worth it. If you dig the gameplay, you’re going to lose a lot of time on this game. This is one of those rare cases where a long list of features isn’t needed to make a game worth money, giving the title an old-school aesthetic that’s refreshing to see nowadays.
To anybody skeptical about how the visuals hold up, they can rest easy. UFC 2009 is an impressive looking game. The authenticity shows its face in just about every aspect of Undisputed’s presentation. Fighters not only look near-identical to their real life counterparts, but there are some nice effects added in as well. Cuts and bruises look absolutely painful, shorts will fold and sway upon contact and movement, and the animations are extremely fluid. Even the referees look like their own real life counterparts. It’s a good looking game.
Still, there are a few qualms to be had. Animations do look very good, but you’ll be seeing the same ones in each fight, and it tends to get a little bit redundant after awhile, losing some of the awe that it initially instills. Also, the hit detection sometimes fails. Everything looks great at 30fps, but once the action slows down during a replay, you can really see just how lazy that Yuke’s got on some of the action. Punches and kicks will go through body parts, or they’ll just miss entirely, despite the fact that it is still counted as a hit. Even so, the hit detection isn’t a large issue, because when the action’s fast, it’s hard to nitpick.
The soundtrack is a large improvement over SvR’s crap, but it’s still no homerun. Face the Pain by Stemm is the highlight there. The commentators do a really good job at telling the action, but much like the impressive animations, they repeat from fight to fight.
Yuke’s has done a very good job at crafting a complex and addictive fighter. The fact that it doesn’t have a lengthy list of features should not keep anybody away from the game. It droops authenticity at the seams and it’s got a generous roster of fighters. It requires thinking as opposed to mindless thrashing. It’s got its fair share of issues, but when if you find yourself playing the demo hundreds of times over and over, then it may be time you drop the cash and make a smart investment. UFC 2009: Undisputed is a well balanced, addictive, and intense fighting game.
8.5 out of 10