UFC 2009 Undisputed is a great representation of the actual sport of Mixed Martial Arts fighting. It captures the hard hits and the vicious knockouts as well as the thrill of strategic ground-based combat and submission maneuvers. The fighting system is easy to understand, but offers a great, complex layer that allows different players to have their own styles and a system of moves and countermoves that makes the fights really exciting. About the only catch is that the single-player side of UFC 2009 feels a little thin. But it trains you well enough for the game's great multiplayer to still be worthwhile.
Those of you who remember the old UFC games that started appearing back on the Dreamcast will notice some similarities in this new game, but the fighting is much deeper this time around. A big part of UFC's fighting is that it can take place standing up, with one player down, and with both players on the ground in various positions. All of these positions, and the transitions between them, translate into a lot of things you'll need to learn to do well. It's easy to understand the various blocks, attacks, and counters at work, but figuring out which ones to use and when takes a lot more time to master. It's the fighting system that makes UFC so awesome, and playing against human opponents of a similar skill level offers a thrilling mix of boxing game ring position work and fighting game technicality.
When playing alone, the game offers a career mode that has you select opponents and go through training. There's a calendar that shows the weeks you have remaining, and it's up to you to balance your stamina between sparring, training, and resting to make sure you go into the fight with higher statistics while still having enough stamina to actually win the fight. Along the way you'll earn "cred" and unlock sponsors that can be placed on your trunks to earn an additional cred bonus. The trunk customization is sort of an insufferable process due to all the menus you need to slog through to get there. It takes forever just to select ten logos to slap onto your trunks, and since you're always unlocking better sponsors, you'll probably have to keep coming back to it again and again. Also, just getting from event to event takes too long. Between all the little load times between menus, the slow-going trunk customization, the slow-moving menus on the e-mail screen, and everything else, navigating your way through the career is kind of a hassle. Also, once you win the belt, the game just keeps throwing the same handful of high-ranking fighters at you over and over again without making them any tougher. After getting 15 straight wins with my light heavyweight striking-focused assassin, Ricker Stevensenson, it felt like I was just grinding away to get my stats up.
Beyond just setting up one-off exhibition fights, the other single-player mode lets you relive classic match-ups. These fights are set up with video packages that provide the proper context for them, and you're given the fight's conclusion and have a goal to recreate that conclusion. Some of these are kind of tough because the AI fighters aren't very hard to beat. So trying to win a fight by decision is hard because getting knockouts can happen almost by accident. Also, getting the AI-controlled fighters to submit is way tougher than knocking them out.
But all of the flaws and hiccups in the single-player are quickly forgotten when you start taking on human opposition. Offline, two players can get into it locally in the exhibition mode. But online, the game has some interesting stuff in place to track your ranked fights. Points you earn in ranked fights go toward increasing your level, and you also earn or lose fans after each fight. You'll get more points after a fight for specific tasks, too, like getting a knockout, forcing an opponent to tap, winning quickly, or ending an opponent's win streak. Another cool feature is that the game presents a few traits on the fighter select screen that show your opponent some details about how you fight. So it might say that you prefer fighting on the ground, or that you aren't afraid to strike, and so on. It's a little thing, but it makes your fights feel more meaningful, like you're stringing together some kind of online fight career.
The character models in UFC 2009 Undisputed look great, but don't always animate that well. While specific animations look great, seeing them repeated across fighters or seeing them poorly transition from one canned animation to the next makes the game look a little awkward in spots. But the strikes hit hard, the knockouts look devastating, and the submissions look, well, like they'd probably make you tap out, too. The audio features two-man commentary that repeats itself a little too often and only has background information on the game's real-life fighters. When you're playing a ton of career mode with a created fighter, it would have been nice to hear the announcers occasionally reference the career you've made for yourself.
If you're looking for a game you can play alone, UFC 2009 Undisputed will probably get pretty boring for you. Even with multiple difficulty settings, fighting the AI doesn't stay exciting for very long. But if you're in a household with multiple UFC fans or enjoy getting online, you'll love it.