UFC 2009 - Undisputed
29/04/2009 at 17:36
The Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded in 1993 and has grown in tandem with the increasing popularity of the sporting discipline it helped create, now known as Mixed Martial Arts, to become the largest and most famous MMA organization in the world. From humble - if far more brutal - beginnings, UFC and its biggest rival Pride have helped increase the popularity of MMA to such an extent that it now rivals boxing for the attention of sports fans looking for organized man versus man (or woman versus woman) violence.
The popularity of MMA has exploded in the new millennium, with UFC at the forefront of its charge for legitimacy and respect from the sporting world. MMA only narrowly missed out on inclusion in the Greek Olympics in 2004 under the classic discipline of Pankration, a form of wrestling used when Greece first hosted the Olympics.
The basic concept of UFC is two men inside a fenced octagon attempting to either knock one another out, or force their opponent to submit. If they can't manage that within three rounds, the match is decided by ringside judges, similarly to boxing. Unlike boxing or other single form martial arts, MMA allows multiple martial arts forms to be used and only restricts fighters from using certain strikes, holds or dangerous moves like butting, biting or gouging.
UFC 2009 - Undisputed is the first game based on UFC's brand of MMA in over five years, and they're not doing it by halves. The Xbox 360/PS3 game pushes the consoles to their limits and is intent on recognition as a great sports simulation and a great fighting game.
It looks and sounds stunning, polished to perfection with an engine that models a ridiculous amount of human movement with a fluidity I've never seen the likes of (outside of the odd tech demo), and a visceral experience that shines when a knock-out punch (or kick, or knee, or elbow) connects. The Havoc physics used throughout the animation come to the fore as your opponent slumps to the floor with painful believability.
The game includes over fifty fighters, spread across each of the five UFC weight divisions. They are accurately modelled, not just to look like their real life counterparts, but also to fight like them, with six unique fighting styles and dozens of individual signature moves. Given the complexity of the task, the UFC could not have chosen a better developer in Yuke's. With years of experience in making wrestling games, defining control systems, balancing move sets, and considering exactly how to replicate the in-ring experience from the fighters' point of view, Yuke's have excelled themselves with Undisputed.
The control and movement system offers such depth and variety that it will take the truly dedicated to master its nuances, but it gives such beautiful feedback that the player is compelled to dig deeper, learn more, return to the cage (as the octagon is often referred to) and try harder. Thankfully, the demo includes an expansive tutorial and two very different fighters to get to grips with it.
I've played over a hundred matches in the short time the demo has been out; after initially button mashing and getting a feel for the controls, I ramped up the difficulty and started doing one tutorial at a time, playing a few matches after each tutorial and repeatedly attempting what I had learned. The more I mastered, the higher I set the difficulty, and the higher the difficulty, the more depth I discovered.
In Undisputed, planning pays off, and setting a goal for each engagement means you're less likely to tire yourself out and more willing to break away from your opponent when your plan fails. The game rewards players who pace themselves and consider their actions, while punishing those who swing wildly and leave themselves vulnerable to counter attacks. This can make for rounds within rounds, each different from the last, as the fighters hope to find a weakness they can exploit.
All the while, there is the overriding danger of the one perfect strike: the longer a fight goes on, the more tired you get, and the greater the danger that a strike will connect and knock you out. Better than any stop watch, the knowledge that few fights reach the final bell spurs opponents on with a 'got to get him before he gets me' attitude: in other sports you might see fighters try end the round well; in UFC the fighters want to end their next breath conscious.
In a game that represents a physical contest, you know the developers have got things right when a big shot connecting makes you wince. You know the game is great when you gasp as a flurry of well timed strikes drop you like a stone and that loss just makes you want more. When it makes you want to respond in kind, has you playing for hours, perfecting your take-downs, and sees you punch the air when you pull them off to devastating effect, you know the game is nearing perfection.
Undisputed--what little of it I can play with right now--makes me wince, makes me gasp, and makes me punch the air when my perfect strike connects with ruthless precision and my opponent falls limply to the floor. Okay, so it's only a demo, and the shine of the new may still blind me to the flaws only repeat plays can reveal, but I'm already fairly convinced it may be the best sports simulation and best fighting game I've ever played. It's a game so adept at replicating the thrills of the sport, it will more than likely appeal to a far wider audience than its progenitor.
When it's released, UFC 2009 - Undisputed may be one of the best fighting games ever. Though that may be more a matter of personal opinion than provable fact, a more swallowable concept to get the masses to agree with might be that Undisputed is best simulation of a sport, ever. The UFC believe that it is, and on the basis of my time with the demo, I doubt there'll be much dispute.