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Review: UFC 2009 Undisputed

posted on May 29th, 2009 by jake

For the past few days at my house there has been a severe outbreak of Black-on-Black crime. I am not proud of this. I worry about my future, about everyone’s future. It is already getting worse. The violence once contained to just certain groups is already spreading. Asian-on-Black. White-on-Hispanic. Brazilian-on-Canadian. It is a rainbow of sadistic beatings spanning all ages and continents. The fights do not stop. The battles grow with each passing day.

I am more than a little ashamed to admit that my descent into an anarchic world of ultraviolence has brought me so much joy. All of these things, you see, are not happening in my head this time. Instead, they are happening on my television screen. They are happening inside of a game. A game clumsily titled UFC 2009 Undisputed.

UFC 2009 Undisputed is a mixed-martial arts fighting game based upon the hugely popular sport with the fastest growing fanbase in the world. Developed by YUKES! Future Media Creators, who are responsible for the once-godawful-now-slightly-better Smackdown vs. Raw line of professional wrestling video games, UFC 2009 Undisputed tries to capture the gritty realism of the world’s most violent sport through the medium of digital pictures and multi-buttoned controllers.

Coming from such a shady lineage as YUKES!, it is safe to say that the game has some problems. The interface, in places, is clumsy. Putting REAL LIFE ADVERTISEMENTS on a pair of boxing shorts in an attempt to advance a character’s credibility is perhaps the most difficult and frustrating process ever thrust upon a hapless gaming public. It may be worse, and I do not say this lightly, than trying to do anything in Dwarf Fortress. I am not exaggerating when I state that the player has to navigate through seven hard-to-decipher menus just to place a logo for XYIENCE strategically over one’s groin or ass. The player then has to navigate back six menus to save their hard work. What the other five menus in between actually do, I do not know. I just figured out which options in each ignored menu lead to the genital-area advertising of my dreams (Hint: It is always the top option).

Another problem is the game’s robust submission system and the rocky relationship it has with the AI. When squaring off against the computer, getting submissions is almost impossible. The only hope a player has is to “rock” their opponent with a devastating strike, leaving them dazed. If the player immediately, and I mean immediately, hits the submission button and then rotates their analogue stick perfectly in circles they will submit the computer about a third of the time.

The problem with this is that if the player just keeps beating the face of their helpless foe, they will win almost all of the time, making submission attempts on the CPU players a bad strategy. Trying a submission in any other situation outside of rocked AI opponents only leads to failure and frustration.

And then there is the failed clusterfuck that is online play. YUKES! really should have hired someone who has actually played a game online to help in this department. On both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, online ranked gameplay is currently more than a little broken due to the fact that any disconnect from the game results in the match not counting. This has led to a string of people frantically shutting off their systems or quitting games through their dashboards once things go sour.

The game’s leaderboard is currently filled entirely of players who have only played and won against friends who are tanking on purpose. Any other match created in the barebones lobby always ends in frustration for the winner as the game nonchalantly informs them that they have just wasted their own time due to the evil machinations of their foe.

To add to the online woes, any characters created within the bare-boned Create-A-Fighter system with tattoos containing letters or symbols are banned from online play. This is to protect the sensitive online world from foul tattoos that might say naughty things. This strange rule does nothing to protect the players from the verbal assault that spews forth from the mouth of the average online teenager, rendering the whole family-oriented gesture useless at the first loud and foul condemnation of one’s apparent African-American/Jewish descent.

Further, just days after it’s official release, the online community has already found it’s version of teabagging, as a ridiculous number of players online play as French-Canadian superstar Georges St. Pierre just so that they might end fights with a series of brutal kicks to the groin on their downed opponent.

The biggest problem for some people will have nothing to do with the game itself. Certain gamers will read this article while already having written the game off because of what it is based upon. The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC as it is known in marketing parlance, is not for everyone.

People get knocked out. People get choked out. People punch and kick and slam and knee and elbow each other very hard. It is a sport whose boundaries of play are marked by chain link fences. Round changes are announced to the crowd by women in bikinis holding signs and walking slowly. By the end of any night, the mat in the Octagon is almost always covered in blood. In short, the UFC unabashedly appeals to almost every single one of mankind’s baser, more primal instincts.

If you are one who hates any or all of these things, I understand. But rather than telling you to stop reading, I’m going to ask you to keep reading, for much like how it is okay to hate the androgynous character design of the Final Fantasy series while still liking the games, it is okay to hate the UFC but still enjoy the game based upon it.

For while there are flaws with UFC 2009 Undisputed, it is still without a doubt one of the deeper fighting games ever made. Yes, you can just spam Superman punches over and over, hoping for a cheap knockout. And against the CPU at the lower difficulties, you will almost always win. The Superman punch has already become Ryu’s fireball within this game. And, much like those who just keep shooting Ryu’s fireballs from the end of the screen, good players and the stronger AI levels will destroy the Superman punch spammer like there is no tomorrow. And there is no feeling in the world like locking a flying armbar on a punch-spamming pansy.

The Superman-punch spammers rely on one of the game’s stronger features: There is no health bar. Any punch or kick to the head, at any time, can end a fight. Put your fists down and you just might lose within the first ten seconds. While this may seem cheap, it keeps everything exciting. Every single match against every single opponent can be ended at any moment, making every single headshot something to cringe about.

Conversely, though, the amount of headshots that do end matches does not seem excessive. They happen just about as often as it does in real life. This feature also serves as one of the better tutorials in the game, as the replays of your failure to stay conscious almost always show that you deserved to get floored. You were too aggressive, you weren’t paying attention, you stood still for too long in front of your opponent. The game teaches, and you learn quickly.

While the standup game is exciting and fun, it is the ground game that separates this from almost anything else in the genre. Mastering the many counters and rolls and escapes and reversals that constitute the ground game system is hard. Very hard. Once the fight goes to the mat, things get very technical. Fighting to escape or maintain a dominant position eats stamina, and if stamina gets too low, the winded fighter becomes vulnerable to submissions. Everything about the ground game is a careful balancing act between exerting your will and overexerting yourself into trouble.

I have been forced in real life to learn some BJJ due to my chosen line of work. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is no joke. It is tiring, both physically and mentally. It turns fighting on the ground into a strange ballet where the slightest mistake can lead to suffering. My wife hates the UFC due to the reasons listed in the “biggest problem” area above but loves Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I am not good at it by any stretch of the imagination, but trying it even once dispels any and all thoughts about the UFC being nothing more than mindless violence. It is, instead, very cold and calculated methodical violence. I never in my wildest dreams expected a game to even try and capture these aspects of modern-day ground fighting, but Undisputed doesn’t just try, it succeeds.

This isn’t to say that the game’s other two featured ground styles, wrestling and judo, are weak. Indeed, both contain some very useful and ridiculously powerful counters to BJJ in the form of slams and throws. Dropping my foes on their heads with a slam feels good each and every time I do it. Both feature a smaller list of submissions, too, so the submission-loving crowd doesn’t just have to pick one style to play with.

The deep strategic aspects of the ground game (the grappling system is so complex that the tiny and pathetic instruction manual that comes with the game dedicates a whole page to a graphical flow chart of how BJJ positions work, charting a hierarchy pyramid that shows possible transition and reversal options between the different statuses) combined with the “letting your guard down to attack might lead to you eating your own teeth” standup makes Undisputed something akin to a very violent game of chess.

Good players do not spam Superman punches or headkicks until the cows come home, they stalk and wait for openings and take advantage of all opportunities given to them with correct and measured responses. And while the insta-knockout system might reward bad players every now and then, it rewards good players far more often.

I cannot believe I am about to type this about this game, but… UFC 2009 Undisputed is as of right now the ultimate thinking person’s fighting game. It is just as much fun as No Mercy for the N64, deeper and more technical than the FirePro Wrestling series and lightyears beyond most modern-day fighters. It is so good and so deep that it will forever alienate some casual gamers who cannot master the complexities. It is in no way whatsoever the game that I was expecting.

The physics system and superb control scheme are this game’s shining stars. They aren’t just good, they are modern-day gaming works of art. There is no doubt that the actual gameplay is the portion of the game that the programmers truly cared about. It shows. Undisputed’s controls will extend past this game and affect the whole genre going into the future as more and more people realize that YUKES!’ system is both deep and elegant.

Undisputed has pulled off the ultimate trump card of having an excellent and natural-feeling control scheme that makes use of almost all aspects of modern controllers. No buttons are wasted but none of the mapping seems forced or useless. There is no “Why is L3 my trigger button when I have actual trigger buttons on my controller?” There is no “how am I supposed to pull that move off when I only have two hands?” Everything flows. The game does exactly what you tell it to do, which will frustrate those who want or desire something to blame for their repeated face-smashings.

Regardless of where you stand on real life modern day gladiators punching each other for money and glory to the delight of bloodthirsty fans, you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot. A demo was released a few weeks ago for both the PS3 and the 360, and it includes a tutorial. If you are a fan of the fighting game genre, you’d do well to at least go through that portion as you’ll be seeing this style of gameplay again in the future.

I look forward to patches that fix the issues of no penalties for online quitters in the near future, and I am already excited for the next iteration and its hopefully much better menu system. YUKES! nailed the key elements of a great fighting game on their first foray into the world of UFC, and they can now focus on the smaller details that will make the line legendary.

Already on the slate are southpaw fighting stances and long flowing locks of hair, both of which were cut from the final product of Undisputed due to the problems they created with the collision detection system. Unlike other games that spend years and years trying to get the control scheme right (Looking at you, Madden), YUKES! can spend its time adding more depth and features to this already solid outing.

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3 Comments

  1. christian said on May 29, 2009:

    Don’t be embarrassed to praise the game for its depth. UFC is hella deep, and they’ve made a good virtual representation of it.

    But hey, don’t’ know modern fighters. Third Strike may not have as many moves and options, but there is still much strategy to be had with the movesets it does have. Their problem is more to do with a player’s ability to execute than a problem of depth.

  2. Spyder Mayhem said on May 29, 2009:

    This article was not meant in any way to disparage other fighting games but I can see where that can be read into it. There will always be a place out there for them, and there are things that they do better than this UFC title.

    An example: This game is not fun for friends who play it only at other peoples’ houses and get destroyed by the actual owners of the game. Unlike lots of the more popular fighters, this game is not pick up and go ready. You actually have to practice to be good. And unlike other fighters that reward experience, UFC makes it a necessity. So, you know, GO DREAMCAST, YOU STILL WIN!

    …I guess I change my prediction to “Expect lots of clones of UFC hidden under a window dressing of orcs and elves and anime robots and space marines in the near future.” Not all games will jump on board, but lots will… See: Max Payne’s Bullet Time for details.

  3. Tyson said on May 30, 2009:

    Regardless of the game’s weird control scheme at times, there is a lot to be said for being able to come home from a long day and knock some poor pixelated bastard out with a kick to his head.

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