canuckeh's UFC 2009 Undisputed (Xbox 360) review

Because Dana White is a great man...

If there is but one employer in the entire world that I admire but would never want to work for, it’s Dana White. Here is a real man’s boss. He praises the hard work of people who brutalize each other for a living, yet has the common sense to *try* to retire Chuck Liddell while his head is still superimposed on his shoulders. Likewise, to be an enemy of Dana White is to be verbally dismembered. The man is a vanguard of vulgarity who strikes fear into the hearts of any man that complains about a paltry paycheck.

So I feel kind of bad for WWE Smackdown developers Yukes for being given the massive burden of creating a new UFC game. To be exact, the first UFC game since people started caring about UFC. And they care a lot; I can say without confidence that UFC is the most unanimously loved brand amongst the hot commodity that is the 18-35 male demographic, more than baseball, Batman, drugs and Jason Statham. And those fans have been yearning a long time for a chance to digitally knock out Anderson Silva for his last two performances.  

With such a delicate property, I can’t help but imagine Dana White flying to Osaka, kicking in the front door of the Yukes office, and proclaiming that “there would be some ****ing changes.” Joining him would be his sidekick, Georges St Pierre, who would repeatedly tell the designers that he’s not impressed with their character animation. The programmers must have been scared for their lives to face the looming threat of a half-naked, oiled up French Canadian, but I won’t complain. This dictator-like approach to game development has produced one incredibly strong product, so thank you Yukes for your suffering and torment.

The game starts with a cutscene of a digital Dana White asking the player if he would like to be a fighter, followed by a montage of fighters kicking a wide assortment of digital ass. So right away, my blood was pumping and I was amped up to shove my glove down a stranger’s throat. Then the adrenaline quickly wears out as the game pops a message asking if you’d like to play a tutorial, and I realize that this fighting business might be a bit more complicated than “throw fist at teeth”. So you play the tutorial, and boy this thing is as slow as an Anderson Silva fight. There’s a lot to grasp; punching, grabbing, taking down, going from one position to another, submitting, not submitting, flexing muscles, etc. First the computer explains the lesson in text, then plays a video demonstration, then asks you to repeat these actions thrice over. Do three punches, three body punches, three takedowns, three changes in position, three taunts…it takes a good hour to go through everything, and there’s so much to digest that you’ll still be left with questions; how does one transition a grapple into a takedown? How does one do damage from a Muai Thai Clinch? How does the neck of Tito Ortiz support his massive head?

So there’s a good amount to figure out, and only practice will help develop these skills. But once you get the hang of how to move like an Ultimate Fighter, than other Ultimate tidbits of knowledge begin to Ultimately reveal themselves to you. Face buttons punch and kick, shoulder buttons block or modify attacks and the right stick handles all sweaty-body-grabbing grapple maneuvers. The key is that the distance between the fighters and their fighting styles play a major role in which hospital bed you wake up in. Each individual’s fight background is so well recreated that you don’t even need to look at any character’s stats if you’re a UFC follower, for you already know what strategies most fighters should employ. You can safely assume that Chuck Liddell is looking for a knockout, that Matt Hughes should just takedown his opponent repeatedly, and that anyone fighting Georges St Pierre should just walk out the cage door and go home. If anything, the most interesting single player mode in the entire game is Exhibition, just because you can experiment with different matchups and develop strategies of your own.  

A note about the roster; it’s pretty big. About 80 fighters big, with Randy Couture being the only glaring omission (I guess there’s some Ultimate Fighter stars missing, which may bother the fifteen people that still watch the show.) The roster is a veritable lineup of superstars, semi-stars and barely-stars. In fact it seems like there are few things that didn’t stop fighters from appearing in the game, including employment from rival promotions (Arlovski, Tim Sylvia), lack of clairvoyance (Mirko Cro Cop, now resigned with the UFC), annoyance (Tito Ortiz) or mortality (Evan Tanner, and Charles Lewis is unlockable with the rest of the Tapout guys). 

It’s fortunate too, because the real-life single player modes do little to entice. “Classic Fights” mode is based around reliving past UFC battles. The UFC’s less vulgar, less emotive spokesperson, Playboy covergirl Rachelle Leah introduces each fight with the delivery of a grade school student play. She should just stick to what she does best; the opening shot of a “UFC All Access” special where she’s always in a hurry to get dressed before going out. Each fight is preceeded by a highlight reel of past fighter interviews, and if you match the real fight’s outcome (win by first round knockout for example), then you unlock a fight montage. However, there are several mythical creatures that don’t exist in UFC Undisputed; the gold-scaled dragon, the ghost of Christmas Past, and the Judge’s Decision. Like the Fight Night games, rare is the battle that doesn’t end with a stretcher job. The only time I’ve had a fight last three rounds without knockout or submission is when I pitted Lyoto Machida against Anderson Silva in an attempt to create the most boring matchup in UFC history. Otherwise, flash knockouts or otherwise can occur, even when you don’t want them to. I’m not complaining and I’m sure this is Dana White and every normal fan’s vision of what Mixed Martial Arts should be (in fact I think the only person that would be upset is the nutjobs on the Sherdog forum), but becomes a challenge to recreate the slugfest that is Griffin vs Bonnar and procure a judge’s decision win.

The other single player dud is Career Mode. Since a friend of mine made this his very first comment on the game when he started talking to me about Undisputed, I’ll make the very same remark here; why can’t I use the real fighters? Why do I have to use a created fighter? The idea here is you create a scrub fighter with no actual stats, and must work your way to Championship glory. Between bouts, you are charged with managing your fighter’s fatigue level and determining what weeks are designated to rest or training. But given that you usually have a decent-sized window of virtual time between fights, little thought goes into your regimen. The real problem I have is that it takes an ungodly amount of time to give your fighter the stat boosts needed to compete with the big boys. Leveling up Strength, Speed or Cardio is automated, but to boost any of your individual offensive or defensive characteristics (of which there are many), you must sit through a loading screen, have a two minute sparring session with the exact same tattooed tool of a partner, beat him up, spend the few-earned points, go to another loading screen, and repeat at a later time. Yes, I do know that an impossible amount of time and effort to become an elite fighter in real life, but I’m not playing a game to recreate exercise. The tactical element of training, building workouts and strategies based on your opponent, is lost here. Instead, you get grinding, the equivalent of beating up the same wombat over and over in World of Warcraft to level up. I don’t think anyone will ever mistake anything from World of Warcraft with exercise. A simple Arcade Mode where you merely fight the contenders in order would have sufficed.

And a memo to Yukes because they keep screwing this up in the Smackdown games too; many people are going to use Create-a-Fighter to create dozens of imagined or real-life punks. I doubt too many of these people want to put in the dozens of hours into career mode needed to make each one able to survive a real fight long enough to flirt with the ring girls between rounds.

So odds are, most of the time you spent on UFC Undisputed by your lonesome will be to figure out the game’s nuances. This being a FIGHTING game, you can obviously FIGHT with others. While the game’s complex nature will prevent you from finding just any random stranger off the street and having a fun competitive time playing two-player lay and pray, I’d like to think that the UFC is popular enough that most 18-35 males will know at least someone else buying this game. And then there’s the online play. There’s a really strong online component here. Several online components such as level rankings and medals based on fight performance are present, and every person playing has the UFC’s trademark 3-bullet-point list of fighting style preferences for all to see. So if you have a history of takedowns, knockout attempts or “will to win” (ummmm…) then your opponent will know.

UFC Undisputed is so strong that it’s almost infuriating to a wrestling fan. Why is it that Yukes, after nine Smackdown games, have yet to figure how to make an online mode this strong, or production values this stylized, or commentary that actually sounds almost organic? And this is only their first UFC game. There is room to nitpick (my previously mentioned friend was upset at the lack of a Create-A-Pay-Per-View option, a feature wrestling fans simply stopped caring about) and some of the gameplay modes are as flat as Jon Fitch’s personality. And by nature of the sport’s complexity, the game isn’t quite as accessible as say, a Street Fighter 4, but that comparison feels unfair in some regards. The game is so engrossing that online play becomes an addiction in of itself, and the engine is strong enough that fight fans will have plenty to study, master and complain about (if you’re a Sherdog poster) for a whole year. And I don’t think Mr. White would have it any other way.

4 stars

Except for the Sherdog posters. He’ll just mock them some more.

2 Comments
Posted by headcase

Epic review! More helpful than Jeff's even!

Posted by CanuckEh

Thanks man.

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