UFC 2009 Undisputed was a great sports/fighting game at its core, but it was rough around the edges in the ways you'd expect from a first-year product. Some of its systems, like the clinch position, weren't as straightforward as they could have been. The game didn't put its best foot forward when it came to teaching you about the various moves and maneuvers that make up a mixed-martial arts battle, either. It then surrounded this solid fighting system with a typical menagerie of modes. This year's game makes important strides in the fighting itself, enhancing or completely redesigning some of the systems you'll employ during a fight. It's also much better about teaching you how and when to use each of the tools at your disposal. But the offline modes in this year's game are still a little underwhelming, making it best suited for competitive players that just want to get online and fight.
The fighting system has been enhanced in ways that make it easier to understand in some cases, and deeper in others. For example, the standing clinch, where the two fighters grab each other and struggle around a bit, throwing in some close punches or knees along the way, now controls a lot more like the ground game, requiring sweeps of the right stick to pummel for position. You can also press fighters up against the cage from the clinch, leaving them with fewer ways to escape. The submission side of things has been given a new layer of depth with submission transitions. Some fighters can go from one submission attempt directly into another, which requires the defending player to alter the way he's trying to escape from the hold. Also, button mashing for submission escapes and other spots in the game has been completely removed in favor of rotating the right stick.
Things like the way fighting styles are assigned to fighters have also changed. Instead of just picking a couple of styles and getting all of the moves that come with it, created fighters can be pieced together, one move at a time. There are still plenty of templates for those of you who don't want to get that specific, though. The combo system has also been changed, relying on the natural chaining of moves based on how long their animations take to complete, rather than using canned, style-specific combos. This will feel like a fairly subtle change if you didn't spend a lot of time with last year's game, but it makes all of the combat feel a little more natural and fluid.
With all of these changes and the game's completely functional online mode, UFC Undisputed 2010 is a better game than its predecessor. But if you're looking for something to do by yourself, you might not be as pleased with the single-player side of UFC. Last year's career mode was complicated by silly hassles like constantly modifying the logos on your trunks to ensure you were getting the appropriate sponsor bonuses and an e-mail system that weighed you down with a lot of useless chatter. This year's career mode actually adds some nice depth by giving your created fighter a voice, which he uses in vignettes like post-fight interviews, where you'll get a simple dialogue tree to give a little personality to your character. But things like determining your training regimen have been complicated a great deal. Now, stats that you don't focus on will eventually deteriorate, even when you're a young fighter. It makes the career mode feel like an elaborate math problem combined with spinning plates. If you like a serious amount of depth in your career modes, you'll probably like the changes, but all of this was enough to completely scare me away from the career mode after a few fights.
Other single-player options include a title fight ladder mode, a title defense mode where you have to keep your belt after completing the title mode, a configurable tournament bracket, and things like that. The "ultimate fights" mode from last year's game returns, and it feels even more like the "relive or rewrite history" aspect of THQ's WWE Legends of WrestleMania. You'll have to complete specific tasks over the course of a fight to satisfy the requirements and unlock additional content. There's also an event mode, where you can build your own eight-match fight card. Events play out a bit more like UFC pay-per-views do on television, with additional graphics and introductions that showcase each fighter. It's a neat idea, and you can just watch the AI fight out your created card, if you like.
UFC Undisputed 2010 comes with a single-use code that is used to unlock the online side of the game. That's nothing new, but the way it conveys this information is particularly poor. The Xbox 360 version of the game checks for downloadable content and pops up a store window asking you to pay $5.00 for the ability to play online. If you correctly deny that, it then makes its way to the main menu, where it tells you you'll need to enter a code from the manual to play online (or pay that $5.00 if you're renting or playing a used copy). I shudder to think about how many people went ahead and bought the online access, not realizing that the game came with a code. Sure enough, message boards across the Internet are flaring up from time to time as someone unwraps the game and thinks that they're being expected to pay another five bones. It's an awful way to implement this sort of first-sale code idea.
Like last year's game, UFC 2010 looks great. You'll still notice some clipping here and there (hands tend to clip into the backs of heads when on the ground, for example), but the animation looks nice and the fighter models are great. The audio portion of the program ditches all of the "edgy" licensed music from the previous entry in favor of more stock-sounding UFC music, and the commentary has been updated. You won't hear the two-man team constantly shout "ground and pound" if you get into a flurry of ground punches anymore. It's more varied across the board, but it's also not specific enough. Hearing Joe Rogan talk about a cut that is gushing a lot of blood is pretty useless, since he doesn't bother to point out which fighter's been cut. With the way the camera angles work, it's usually tough to tell who's bleeding when it first happens.
Better fighting and deeper online support with a clan-like "fight camp" system make UFC 2010 Undisputed a better-playing game than its predecessor, but its solo side is a pretty dry. Keep that in mind as you make your purchasing decision.