THQ lets it all out with yet another game from yet another franchise. Needless to say, this is not an ordinary franchise they are dealing with. UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 2009 Undisputed is a new breed of action, rising from THQ’s ranks, and is very different from the wrestling, grappling games we’re accustomed to seeing from them. UFC 2009 offers a couple of modes, but the main mode here is the career mode. Players are allowed to create up to 100 custom fighters, and can make them climb up the weight division they’re in. In a manner similar to boxing games, career mode is about spending time wisely – balancing training and side deals against bouts. There are no mini-games to be found in UFC: all of the training options are instantaneous. The only interactive option is sparring, which builds up a fighter’s strengths instead of the three main attributes: Speed, Strength, and Cardio.
The career mode is where most of the fun resides, though there is a lack of guidance on how the weeks up to a bout should be spent, and the user interface takes ages to interact with. The game has a steep learning curve, even for those experienced in fighting games. UFC 2009 is somewhat of a cross between a boxing sim and Tekken’s button tappings, punctuated by a unique ground fighting system. Every fighter in the game falls into two ‘general’ movesets : striking and grappling. The striking movesets range from boxing (a very strong-armed style of fighting); kickboxing, (a technique which excels in kicks more so than fists); and Muay Thai (a style with a devastating clinch). Grappling movesets vary from wrestling, which relies on ground-and-pound tactics with strong takedowns; Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, whose strength lies in submissions; and Judo, whose practitioners excel in throwing opponents down to the mat.
All of the striking movesets are very different from each other, while the grappling movesets all have the same basic techniques. Gameplay in UFC 2009 Undisputed is very systematic, even though the game itself is touted as a simulator. The striking game is somewhat slow and sluggish, and quite imbalance. For example, you’ll regularly encounter fighters on the verge of a knockdown turn the tides around with one lucky shot, resulting in an unfavorable decision against you. These sudden reversal of fortunes can be extremely unfair in the career mode as they don’t depend on reasonable tactics but rather give the computer a cheap way to gain a handicap. Running around the ring is very difficult, and most of the time, fighters are stuck waddling around. The controls are daunting, as all of the buttons on the controller come into play in UFC 2009: the face buttons control which leg or arm punches and kicks, and the shoulder triggers modify the fighter’s stance and strike behavior.
While the right stick is used for countering, clinching, and tackling, on the ground level, UFC 2009 Undisputed is a totally different art form. Many of the traditional guards found in the real UFC TV programming are present here. Switching between positions requires a lot of accuracy with the right thumbstick, as swinging it defines the type of transitions. Unfortunately, the ground controls are hard to pull-off. Sometimes, you have to break a nail to get a ground-and-pound maneuver. You will have more luck breaking out of guard than trying to submit your opponent with headlocks or ankle submissions. Giving the lack of responsiveness switching between guard positions, your best bet is to have as much octagon control as possible. It doesn’t guarantee your opponent tapping out, but it is likely to wear your opponent down, setting him up for a finisher of your choice. The graphics in the UFC 2009 are very well done, and the fighters in the arena have very smooth textures, thanks to THQ’s high poly counts.
Needless to say, the rings look all too identical in each venue, and the animations get very repetitive and tiring. The same goes for the referees as well as card girls, and the teams in the corners, which they all look the same every time. Fortunately, the blood effects and sprays are very cool, and the cuts on fighters’ faces look very believable. In the audio department, UFC 2009 is spectacular! The announcers are lively, captivating, and surprisingly realistic, too! They react accordingly to the fighters out in the ring, even chatting about their career and training! Kicks and punches sound explosive and grant the proper reaction from the announcers. Unfortunately, that’s almost the entire audio experience in the game right there: the crowd, the hit sounds, and the announcers – the fighters are particularly mute. The soundtrack is a variety of hip-hop and hard rock, sharing tracks with that of THQ’s past WWE games. It fits the UFC theme very well, and gets the blood boiling and the adrenaline rushing.
UFC 2009 Undisputed is a good fighting game, but it’s not very realistic for an MMA simulator as it is very systematic – what is very fast-paced in real life is very slow in the game. Needless to say, the stand-up portion has a good, solid pace; it keeps your mind sharp and adrenaline pumping. However, we can’t say the same for the ground level. Except for locking in a submission, the controls are a bit sluggish and lack responsiveness. Still, the experience is fun, and it can be a bit educational (but don’t expect real-life martial arts to be as robotic as this!). Fans of THQ’s WWE series will find plenty of love here, along with UFC and other mixed martial arts enthusiasts. Those who are seriously considering Undisputed might want to try it first before making that big purchase – the game is so deep and complex that it might not suit your taste! In addition, you will have to go pass a huge learning curve before the real fun begins. Overall, this is not bad for THQ’s first attempt to sell a UFC-based product but unfortunately, the game leaves us somewhat hanging after all the hours we put into it.