Wednesday, 20 May 2009

UFC 2009: Undisputed Review (XBOX360/PS3)

A lazily programmed WWE close cousin, or a Fight Night beater? We shall see....

UFC was born in 1993 and began as a single-event tournament to find the world's best fighters irrespective of their style and discipline. This sounds like an awesome idea and most people seem to think so as its quickly becoming the most watched competitive combat on TV.

So as the premise for a video game, this should be pretty good. With that in mind, a franchise that has been run successfully for the past 16 years and has grown to immense popularity shouldn't have a problem. Especially with the previous successes of WWE and Boxing in video games over the past 25 years.

Was I ready to let THQ's sports games into my gaming life now?

With all the WWE games THQ have published, I was not looking forward to reviewing this. I have not enjoyed many Wrestling games the last one was probably Wrestlemania on my original Gameboy in the mid 90's. In my honest opinion the last 4/5 years of sequels have had sluggish controls, simplistic AI, and were very repetitive with slow and clunky animation. Yes, the graphics have improved greatly, but those of you who have read my reviews from previous sites know I am really hard on all aspects of a game, not just how the graphics have got better this year. I need real change for yearly updates. For example, the character models do not ever seem to move around on the canvas properly, they look like Michael Jackson doing the Moon Walk for Hogans sake! So hearing about the game over the last couple of years, my thoughts have not been overly positive.

Was I ever surprised...

Now I am not a particularly hardcore fan of UFC. I watch it, I enjoy it like most sports on TV, so I know some of the faces and names in the sport and the first thing you notice is the accuracy of the character models. They really are photo realistic: blood, sweat (and probably tears) have been recreated with such quality and precision its quite an achievement, especially since Fight Night Round 3's next gen appearance many games are still being left in its graphical (and gameplay) shadow. The sweat and blood sprays realistically, blood stains the mat and if cut severely enough, blood drips on to the bodies of the fighters in a very authentic way.

Keeping with the graphical side of the game, the facial damage can look a bit too much after a couple of taps. However, this is basically bare knuckle fighting, (yes they wear gloves but come on!) skin will split very quick under these conditions, so with that in mind it looks remarkably realistic, feels appropriate in the game and if you've watched a competitive bout, quite authentic (some of those match ups are bloodbaths). Knock-outs look great, albeit a little extravagant with the mouth guards flying of in all directions, but that just adds to the enjoyment of the knock-out punch/kick.

The body damage amazed me. Real-time body damage and stamina level is shown on the fighter (just like in FN:R3) when your fighter is tired he will breathe heavily, and will move more sluggishly, if he has been kicked in the legs repeatedly he will start limping. This greatly affects how the fight will play out as you wont be able to move around the octagon as fast as your opponent which could end in disaster.

Admittedly the facial damage engine has pre-set cuts/swelling/bruising so all faces will look very similar at the end of a fight and I am going to admit that it can seem exaggerated, but is that such a bad thing when you look at the full damage engine?

No way did that punch hit me!

Physical presence in a game environment is a 'pet peeve' of mine. A hit is an actual connection between the two opponents graphically as well as the wire frame physics driven skeleton. Is that such a difficult thing to ask of a developer, especially with the power that is now available on the current gen consoles? Not for the guys and gals behind UFC 2009. Every part of the fighters body has a physical presence that will interact as it should. No punches disappear into faces up to the wrist, no kicks miss completely but still end up in a knock out. It even surprised me when I threw a left arm hook while the opponent mirrored me and threw a right arm hook and the fists collided! The opponents punch hit me square on the chin while mine was deflected to his forehead. Yes these are little details for the majority of gamers, but its all about realism with these games now and the developers have no excuse for lazily programming their games.

Never before have stats in a sports game mattered so much.

This leads me to the fighting and physics of the game. There are 3 discipline for each type of fighting:

  • Kick Boxing
  • Boxing
  • Muay Thai

  • Judo
  • Wrestling
  • BJJ

Every fighter specialises in one discipline in each style, e.g. Boxing and Judo. You will have to level them up during their career by completing certain training requirements under the tutelage of various UFC fighters and coaches which will unlock more powerful moves and hits.

There are 3 ways to win a fight; Knock out, Submission and by Decision after 3 five minute rounds.

Each fighter has an abundance of stats to improve and compare, and these actually matter, literally. If your fighter is an effective Kick Boxer, but a weak ground fighter, and goes up against an exceptional Judo fighter, you will need to keep the fight standing otherwise you will likely lose the match to a submission move that you will not be able to counter. The stats are such an important part of UFC career mode, they really do determine the type of strategy you need to use. You will have to carefully decide what ones you want to improve or ignore as you will win or lose depending on the strength of your stats.

Knock out wins are awesome, the mouth guards fly, the eyes role and the breathing changes. The animations really do show the pain of the sport. Submissions are one of the easiest ways to win if you have your stats maxed in this area. The animations look great when you try any of the submission moves against your opponent.

I have really got to applaud the physics of the game that allows for such varied fights. One fight could go the distance, the next will be a knock out in the 3rd round, another could be a submission in the first and even a knock out first punch/kick in the 1st round! This allows the game to be a reactive as the sport is in reality. However, knock outs do seem more frequent than in the actual UFC fights on TV, but most of the fights now seem to be ground work fights which could be quite boring. So really its forgivable, after all, its a video game and its meant to be enjoyable.

Unique controls....

The controls are quite complex, but to be fair, they have to be. The amount of different moves that are part of a UFC fighters arsenal now really need to be available to you. The face buttons are your usual right/left punch, right/left kick combinations with the shoulder and trigger buttons being the modifiers for blocking and power hits. The analogue sticks are used excellently in conjunction with the modifier buttons. The left analogue is all your octagon movement, clicking it allows for running and flicking in any direction will side step, back away or jump towards your opponent. The right analogue controls all grabs, clinches, ground work moves and submissions in a really intuitive manner. For example, a 12 o'clock to 3 o'clock movement on the stick, while on the ground, will move your fighter in a clockwise motion around/over your opponent on the canvas. Yes there are many combinations to learn, but not having these options available would have left the game feeling very shallow.

Create a fighter you say?

The modes available include; Classic Mode, Career Mode, Exhibition and Online.

Classic Mode is great. It has some of the classic match ups in the recent UFC history. Before the actual fight you see some interviews filmed before the match ups and have a commentary from a hot female presenter. She explains you have to win the fight in a certain way with a specific fighter to unlock a reward. These rewards seem to be clips from the actual fights, which are awesome.

Career mode gives you the chance to work your way up the rankings in 5 different weight categories with your own fighter. No camera game face unfortunately, that seems to be EA's baby at the moment, but the amount of options that are available are deeper than most. You need to choose your fighting styles, name, age, location, home town, weight category, height, nickname, skin tone, tattoos and many more.

Again as previously touched on, its stat heavy fair in the career mode and up to 10 sets of stats need to be edited with the allotted points that are issued at the beginning of your career. The training is simulated so no mini games for us to play, but you do have to calculate the right amount of training and rest between your fights so that you improve enough but aren't shattered for your next match up. There is an email area where you are contacted regarding rankings, new coaches, sparing partners and sponsorship deals. This career mode can seem to be a very deep and detailed mode for the average gamer. Not many will be happy with the amount of things you have to go through between fights but I would rather complain about too much going on than too little.
If I am to be critical of the career mode, I will have to point out the lack of customisable intros before the fights, no training mini games, no fighter rivalries/personalities, quite a bland UI and a feeling of it just filling space between fights. However, these problems are something an update could change quickly enough and having a game engine that allows for spectacular fights like it does, this game shouldn't be rated unfairly.

The Exhibition mode is where the game hits its stride. All UFC fighters (more than 80 top names) are available from the get go and allow for some interesting match ups. I know for a fact a few of my friends will be having a UFC title knock out competition with this, on the night preceding a UFC Pay Per View event on TV with some beers and snacks at hand as it will definitely get everyone in the mood for the UFC fights to come.

The online mode similarly has all fighters available and you can even use your created fighter. Having played the online mode only briefly I cant fairly comment, other than it seems to run smoothly enough (only slight Trans-Atlantic lag) and has an interesting ranking system I would like to explore at a later date. The few games I played were tough and required a lot of strategy. Do I go for the ground'n'pound? Or do I keep the fight standing? What about submissions? This game requires you to think, button bashers need not apply.

Its amazing that the developers have spent so much time on this game in an industry which has been saturated by developers who rush games out that are buggy and end up with scores which they don't deserve if the time and effort was really put in. Kudos to Yukes, Zappa and THQ for spending time perfecting a game and giving the gaming community something to enjoy.

I'll give this a 8.5/10
A tightly programmed game, fun to play, nice to look at, but not without its faults, it should impress a lot of people. 

This will hopefully sell amazingly well as I would like to see some improvements made in the career mode for the next UFC game, but will the control system prove to complex for the average gamer and put them off? I really hope not, as if you give this the time it deserves, it can be a very enjoyable game.

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