Photographs: Courtesy THQ-Yukes Sameer Desai, Editor, GamingIndians.com
To those new to UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), this isn't wrestling and it isn't boxing, although elements of both are incorporated. UFC is one of the most popular brands of Mixed Martial Arts or MMA, a no-holds-barred style of fighting that incorporates various fighting disciplines, including wrestling, kick-boxing, Judo, Jujitsu and Muay Thai. The THQ-Yukes partnership that has been bringing us WWE Smackdown! vs RAW titles on an annual basis for years will now do the same each year with UFC, starting with UFC 2009: Undisputed.
Despite what you may think, UFC 2009 plays nothing like Yukes' WWE games. If you do want to draw comparisons, however, Fight Night Round 3 would be a more appropriate subject. That's a good thing because they've been pretty much running the Smackdown! vs RAW franchise into the ground, and I hope they don't do the same with UFC as the years pass, because they really have done a fine job with UFC 2009.
Many of the current crop of UFC fighters are included in the game, some of whom can even fight up or down a weight class. Sadly, there are no retired veteran fighters to unlock; that would have been a nice bonus. Different fighters will adopt different fighting styles, just as they do in real life. For example, Anderson Silva is devastating on his feet with a flurry of kicks and punches, whereas Frank Mir is a master of submission and will look to take the fight to the mat. These variations will also make you change the way you play the game. Against Mir, your fighter will need to be good at blocking and reversing takedowns and submissions. It's like a game of chess, only with lots of bloodshed.
It offers a beefy career mode
Before anything, you'll want to head straight into Tutorial mode, because without it you won't stand a chance in the Octagon. The combat is incredibly deep and the tutorial will seem overwhelming at first, so you will probably need to refer to it more than once before you master the controls. Combat is basically broken down into two areas -- standing and on the mat, and there are blocks and reversals available for pretty much every move in the game, be it a strike, grapple, clutch, takedown, transition or submission. And incredibly, despite so many possible moves at your disposal, the game manages to let you pull them off without any hand gymnastics.
The main focus of UFC 2009 is its beefy, if short, career mode. You start by picking a weight class and creating a fighter; you can't play career mode with an existing fighter from the UFC roster. The fighter creation options, while not expansive, provide enough to tinker around with. You won't manage a mirror image of yourself, but you can get close enough. The fighter customisation menu is unnecessarily convoluted though, and while that may not strike you initially, it really gets annoying later in the career when you need to go six-levels deep into the customisation menu each time you want to add a new sponsor logo to your trunks.
The career mode format will be immediately recognisable to anyone who has played Smash Court Tennis 2. There is a calendar system with one of many tasks that you can perform each week. However, performing most of these tasks depletes your stamina and you will need to take these up with one eye on your next fight, because you don't wanna go into the ring with a tough competitor with anything less than 100-per cent stamina. The game uses a Cred (credibility) system which rewards you with points for winning matches. As you earn Cred, you unlock sponsors, whose logos you can carry on your trunks to earn additional Cred after matches. Cred also unlocks gym equipment, additional trunks, etc.
Sparring and Training options are engaging
However, all these unlockables are superficial and don't really contribute to making you a better fighter, except the upgraded gym equipment to a certain extent. What will increase your stats is sparring. On a week when you're not fighting, you can get in the ring with your sparring partner and duke it out for a round. Based on how you perform, you are given points (different from Cred), which you can use to increase your fighter's attributes.
Each attribute is further broken up into offence and defence. So you can mould your fighter's style to your liking. If you want your fighter to be a kick-boxer, who prefers staying on his feet, you could focus on his standing offensive and defensive attributes. You will also need to focus on his defensive attributes for grappling and submissions, however, because you will come across fighters who are grapplers and prefer fighting on the mat, and without good defensive stats, you won't last in a submission hold for too long.
Besides sparring, there's also a Training option in your calendar, which can help you increase your strength, speed, or cardio/stamina. This is an automatic stats-for-stamina trade and doesn't involve any fighting. You also have occasional training camps, which are similar to sparring, but here you're taught new moves, and given certain tasks to perform. Doing so will increase the skill level in your chosen discipline. Lastly, there are promotional activities such as photo shoots for sponsors, autograph sessions, etc that earn you Cred without depleting your stamina.
The main focus of your calendar though is your match-ups with other UFC fighters. Joe Silvia, the fight organiser, will contact you via email intimating you of upcoming fights. Strangely, you're always given a choice of opponents; you're never forced to fight anyone. Even once you're champion, you get to choose the number one contender out of 3-4 other fighters, which just doesn't seem right. Speaking of email, way to often you will receive newsletters in your inbox. As if spam in real life isn't enough, now you have to deal with it in the game. And it's even worse here because unless you read those pesky newsletters, an email alert will keep beeping. Aargh!
The Classic Matches mode is cool
There are 25 fighters in each division and you will need to fight your way to the top and win the UFC title. But the career mode doesn't end there. It goes on till you've completed seven in-game years, after which your fighter must retire, thus ending his UFC career. My fighter, Sameer 'The Doctor' Desai, ended his career at age 26. Coincidentally, he started his career seven years earlier also at age 26. Seven years might seem like a lot, but when you're done with it, it only amounts to about 30 matches; the rest entails performing various other activities that contribute to making you the best ultimate fighter around.
Once you're done with Career mode, you also have a Classic Matches mode, which is rather cool. There is a list of classic matches from the past eg: Lidell vs Ortiz, Silva vs Franklin, etc. The idea is to recreate these classic matches with help from UFC presenter Rachelle Leah, who will tell you beforehand how the match went down. You also have a match preview video to build the anticipation. If you manage to recreate the exact result, you unlock a cool video montage of the match you just fought. It does a great job tying the real thing in with the game, and comes as a welcome addition to the game along with the Career mode.
You also have the obligatory Exhibition mode, where you can pick any two fighters of the same weight class and battle it out either against the CPU or with a friend. There's online multiplayer too, and finding a match on PSN is surprisingly easy, at least at this point. The online options though are fairly basic; all you have is Ranked and Unranked matches. The good thing though is that there was very little or no noticeable lag. One thing that does irritate is that the pre and post-match cut-scenes are not skippable online, which can get especially annoying if you've just lost. Not that I would know anything about that.
While there's a lot to praise here, the game isn't without its pitfalls. Very often, match results can leave you dumbfounded. You could be raining punches on your opponent like Fedor Emelianenko (God bless any man that enters the ring with him) and just when you think you're one swift blow from a win, he could knock you out with a single counter-attacking blow. There is no justification for that; it's cheating plain and simple. Also, the cage of the Octagon is more like an invisible wall and doesn't really come into play; you simply bounce off it and onto the mat.
Visually the game is a mixed bag
While there's a lot to praise here, the game isn't without its pitfalls. Very often, match results can leave you dumbfounded. You could be raining punches on your opponent like Fedor Emelianenko (God bless any man that enters the ring with him) and just when you think you're one swift blow from the win, he could knock you out with a single counter-attacking blow. There is no justification for that; it's cheating plain and simple. Also, the cage of the Octagon is more like an invisible wall and doesn't really come into play; you simply bounce off it and onto the mat.
Visually the game is a bit of a mixed bag. While the diagonally-placed menus and pause screens are cumbersome and ghastly respectively, visuals during fights don't fail to impress. Having played my fair share of sports games, I was also quite impressed with the crowds. It's no Backbreaker, but not to shabby either. The way light bounces off the sweat and blood too is quite impressive. The animations, while good, are nowhere near FNR3 levels, and this is most evident during slow motion replays. There are also no fighter entrances, which was a bit of a let down for me. The game does a decent job of portraying the brutality of MMA with cuts, gashes, and plenty of blood splatter to soil the mat, so I can't complain.
UFC 2009 impresses all-around in the sound departmentIn Career mode, hip-hop-inspired instrumentals along with random match-commentary and in-ring interviews play while browsing through the menus, while the rest of the game has a decent limited alternative rock soundtrack. Commentary from Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan seems a little disjointed in Career mode since one of the fighters isn't a UFC star. In exhibition mode with recognised fighters though, commentary is top-notch and always at a fever pitch as you've come to expect from watching UFC videos.
UFC 2009: Undisputed is thoroughly enjoyable
When it all boils down, UFC 2009 Undisputed is a deep and thoroughly enjoyable game. If you've read through this review, you might get the impression that the fighting is too complicated. In the start it is, but once you scratch the surface, there's a lot of fun to be had here. The Career mode, although short, is enjoyable and the Classic Matches add a lot of value to the game. Some noticeable flaws, however, stop it from being the brilliant game it could well have been. Still, if you enjoy Fight Night or even WWE games, or if you're looking for a fighting game that isn't a side-on beat 'em up, this is one game you cannot miss.
(+) Deep combat system
(+) Enjoyable Career mode
(+) Classic Matches are fun to relive
(-) Cheating Artificial Intelligence
(-) Short Career mode