Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA, is one one of the fastest growing sports in the world today, for many reasons. Chief among those is the simple fact the people like watching other people get punched in the face. It's part of our DNA. Watching two combatants go at it hammer and tongs in the middle of the ring, or the octagon in this case, brings out that age-old bloodlust that lurks within us. Now, after a successful 2009 edition, it's time to see if the UFC Undisputed franchise still does enough to bring in the crowds.
Being based on ultra-popular UFC franchise means that the UFC Undisputed series brings with it an unprecedented representation of the MMA phenomenon. Even company president Dana White got involved to make sure this is the only true MMA experience out there, going as far as to threaten any fighter who dares sign up for competitor EA Sports' MMA title with a banning from the UFC. The result is a game with a ridiculously huge roster of fighters across the various weight divisions, each with their authentic fighting styles and ring personalities. Sure, a couple of big names did jump ship, but no MMA fan will scoff at the sheer quantity of fighters available here.
If you know the characters who make up the brutal ballet that is the UFC, you will be happy to see that they have been faithfully recreated, with Yukes taking care to include every tattoo, scar and menacing stare. Last year's edition made great advancements in creating believable fighters which moved around the ring convincingly and with presence, and in some ways it's this high standard which proves a downfall for UFC 2010. The fact is that even though the brawlers look great, there just doesn't seem to be all that much improvement over last year's title. That does a lot to say just how great UFC 2009 was, but at the rate at which visuals are improving these days, a game can't really afford to rest on its laurels.
That being said, there are changes this year which do make an impact on the player, even if they are subtle changes. I'm a sucker for detail, so when I see that blood now stays on the mat during a fight, that gives me a little thrill deep inside. The same goes for the sweat glistening on the fighters' bodies as the battle progresses. The animation system also seems to have been significantly tweaked, feeling more organic this time around. Some of the animations looked canned in last year's effort, but it's far more flowing and natural this year.
It doesn't matter how great a game like this looks, though, if the fight system isn't up to scratch. Once again we have a control system here which is both accessible to those who are new to the series, and amazingly complex for those who want to dig a little deeper. Beginners will be able to score a couple of knockouts using just the basic controls, cracking a few skulls here and there with well placed head kicks or superman punches, but there is so much more lurking under the surface. Take the time to study the intricacies of the combat, work through the detailed tutorials, and over time the fight system really begins to open up for the player. It's a real labour of love, though. You really need to want to get better at this game to make it worthwhile, because there is so much to remember, so many moves and button combinations to keep in mind if you want to win at the higher levels. I know that boxing is a far simpler sport to recreate in a game, but there were times while playing UFC 2010 that I longed for the more intuitive controls of something like Fight Night Round 4. Still, give yourself the time to do this complex system justice, persevere, and it will begin to make sense.
Another aspect of UFC Undisputed 200 which is rather complicated is its lengthy career mode, which has seen a number of improvements over last year's title. In UFC 2009 there was just too much time spent navigating menus; it became a laborious slog just to get to the next fight. As much as we all like a good career mode, lets be honest, we're here to kick some ass, so the rest of the game which makes up the 'back end' of the career experience really needs to be as streamlined as possible. UFC 2010 fares far better, for the most part. Don't be fooled, it's still far from simple, and you'll need to stop and think about what you are supposed to be doing next more often than I like to see in a game of this sort. Often it is taken for granted that you somehow know how it all works, when it's actually quite a daunting task. Still, it's an engrossing part of the game, and the career mode is by far the most rewarding mode once you have a better understanding. If last year's mess of menus and painful loading times put you off, be assured that it's better this year, but still not great.
Outside of the sometimes clumsy career mode, presentation has been improved overall for UFC 2010. The main menu screens are impactful, with a great soundtrack to get your heart pumping. It has a very impressive TV broadcast feel, with bright colours and spinning logos and so on. The sound quality follows through to the game effects too, with perfect thumping sounds for those oh-so-lovely moments where you are pounding some guys head into the floor, blood gushing from the cut above his eye. There are the times where this game really shines, in the heat of battle. But as I said, don't expect an easy ride to get there. If you create a fighter for career mode, be prepared for a long journey before you are anything close to a championship contender. A useful addition this year to help you on your quest for greatness is the way the cage itself plays a part in the fight. Suddenly now it can be game changing if you get your opponent pinned up against the cage and can land a few killer Mui Thai knees to the face. There is also a new sway move to help dodge out of harms way, but to be honest, with so much else to remember it will be a while before you can even think of using it effectively.
I think that is part of my frustration with the UFC series: It's reliance on button combinations means that it takes so long to become proficient that many will have given up before the fighting really becomes fun. Less patient gamers will stick to just spamming opponents with head kicks and other 'cheap' moves, thereby missing out on what the game has to offer with its complex fighting system.
While you may get away with your cheap tactics in the single player modes, which include everything from simple exhibition matches to full blown tournaments and the previously mentioned career mode, but try those same moves on the brawlers online and you'll soon be eating your breakfast through a straw. The UFC online faithful take this game to a new level, and I suggest mastering at least most of the control system offline before you even bother slipping your gloves on for a ranked match. Once you do feel ready to have your face torn off online, it's a pretty smooth experience, with very little lag during the time I spent with the game. The lobby system isn't flawless, but it works.
It's almost ironic that UFC Undisputed 2010 is so complex and intricate, since the sport it's based on is notoriously straight forward, at least on the surface. In fact, to the uninformed, a real bout of MMA may seem very similar to your first few sessions of UFC 2010: Two men enter the octagon with bad intentions and a vague understanding of how to get the job done, but within seconds it all becomes a wild thrash for domination with all concept of style and control thrown out of the window. This is a deep game, and it needs to be treated as such. Take your time creating your fighter, building up his arsenal of moves, and studying the control system and you will unearth a rewarding fight experience. This is a great fighting game, make no mistake, but I just don't know if there is enough to make it stand out from its predecessor. Bottom line, folks, is that UFC Undisputed 2010 is the king of the MMA ring... but with new competition on the horizon, how much longer will THQ hold onto its crown?
- Lengthy career mode will keep you busy for ages
- Detailed control system rewards those who persevere
- Pounding someones head in is always a satisfying experience
- Career mode is still clumsy to navigate
- Control system requires Jedi-like focus
- Not enough has changed from last year