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Review of UFC 2009 Undisputed for the XBOX 360

Review of UFC 2009 Undisputed for the XBOX 360

 

 

 

There is no major sport that it seems is a worse fit for a video game then mixed martial arts. The sport is ridiculously complex. It combines techniques from every combat sport discipline both standing and on the ground. Yet, the people at THQ have managed to create an outstanding MMA game.

The game mode that offers players the most depth is career mode. Players begin by picking in what weight class their character will compete. All of the modern UFC weight classes are in the game: 155, 170, 185, 205 and 265. (The WEC weight classes and competitors are not in this game.) Players next choose their characters height and age. Players cannot determine their character's wingspan, but a character's reach plays no part in gameplay. There are restrictions on the height of the virtual competitors in each weight class. The game will not let players create a 7' 7" tall 155-pounder. However, like reach a character's height and age do not factor into gameplay. This system leads to 2 small nuisances.

First, in a game that is about being "As real as it gets" height and reach should factor into matches. Nick Diaz (who is not in the game) has "annoying power" but is able to dominate with his jab. That is because he can use his significant height and reach advantage for a competitor at 160 pounds to keep opponents on the outside with the punch. Here that is not an option. The only way to dominate standing up is to have more powerful punches then the opponent. Otherwise players can just walk through a weak jab to land heavy power punches. Second, the game takes place over 7 years. However, the characters in the game do not age. My character started the game as a 27-year-old and finished it as a 27-year-old. Yet, the game's reason for artificially retiring him is that the athletic commission will no longer sanction him. Having characters age, even without any impact on their skills could have made the game feel more "real" and at least made the artificial ending to the game make more sense. Lots of mixed martial artists are past their prime at 34-years old and should no longer be sanctioned, even as world champions. They simply have taken too much damage from years of competition. My character got retired as a 27-year-old reigning world champion, which seemed odd.

Next a player will choose their character's physique. At lightweight that will range from BJ Penn to Sean Sherk before his match with Hermes Franca. The player will then make the most important decision they make when building their character, choosing the style they will use standing and on the ground. Standing players can choose from boxing, kick boxing and Muay Thai. On the ground, players can specialize in judo, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (sorry Bryan, no Gracie Jiu-Jitsu). This ability to mix-and-match styles adds dozens of hours of replayability to the game. My original character was a 155-pounder that used Muay Thai and wrestling as a base. After my first game was over, I wanted to start with a new character at 155 pounds that used kick boxing and wrestling as a base. With the same options at every weight class, the game can have players occupied for a very long time.

Players will then decide on the look of their mixed martial artist. The customization tools here are very limited by modern standards. There are only a handful of potential facial structures. The game offers players about 40 varieties of short or generic buzz haircuts. The difficulty in rendering long hair kept Clay Guida out of this game. Facial hair options are similarly limited. The late Evan Tanner does not have his awesome beard in this game. It is kept very short for simplicity. This tends to make most of the created character's look rather generic, while the actual mixed martial artists from the UFC all look very unique.

The final choice players will make in creating their mixed martial artist is on the attire. The only 2 mandatory pieces of attire are mouthpieces and trunks. Players trunks will eventually have sponsorship on them, but not at this point. (No, Condom Depot is not in this game.) Players may also put knee braces and ankle supports on their character, but that is purely cosmetic. If a player chooses to put knee braces and ankle tape on their character, their character does not become more susceptible to slipping or leg locks like they would in real life. Characters do not slip or get off balance in this game at all.

There is 1 key choice glaringly obvious by its omission in the character creation process. Players cannot choose whether their character will employ the orthodox or southpaw stance when striking. In the game, all characters employ the orthodox stance. This can take players somewhat out of the game when some of the UFC's highest profile competitors are southpaws, yet their virtual doppelgangers do not employ the same stance.

The career mode begins in earnest with the player being introduced to MMA and the UFC by some badly read dialogue from UFC President Dana White. At E3 2008, THQ talked about UFC 2009 Undisputed not being a game for kids and were sticking to the mantra of this game being "As real as it gets". The last UFC game for the XBOX, Tapout 2, was subtitled "Real Fighters, Real Fighting". However, the developers at THQ who did not work on that game openly admitted that a game based on the UFC that received a T for Teen rating was not in fact real fighting. To get a T rating, a game based on the UFC would have to be gimmicked in some way to appease the ESRB who rates games in the United States. UFC 2009 Undisputed has also received a T for Teen rating. This promo from White is the first instance that at some point they abandoned that viewpoint and chose to make a game more acceptable to the mass market.

White has become famous for giving the same promo repeatedly on almost every season of The Ultimate Fighter. The quote should be, "Do you want to be a fucking fighter?" Instead the developers delivered a sanitized UFC President spouting tripe that sounds nothing like him. All swearing has been removed from the game. There are swear words used in emails and various other text in the game, but they are starred out in the game. For example an email in the game that includes the word "bullshit" will be written "b******t". The game has video highlights of some classic UFC moments and the bleeps are in full effect there. Yet in the game, Joe Rogan will sometimes say on commentary during a match that when a competitor is hurt they are "on queer street." How that made it into the game and the other stuff got censored is somewhat of a mystery.

Players also better like listening to Rogan and Mike Goldberg. With the exception of brief introductions to every match from Bruce Buffer, the game is bereft of voice acting. This seems oddly out of place and forces the player to go through endless pages of text. The game uses a few horrific generic rock tracks and old post match interviews from various UFC events for general ambient noise. That becomes repetitive and grating. The game has very little licensed music. (Therefore, there are no entrances.) In the SmackDown! vs. Raw series, THQ increased the amount of spoken dialogue by communicating messages to players in the game through a mix of text and voicemail messages. It added a nice variety to the game and kept things fresh. That would have been a welcome addition to this game.

After the player is welcomed to the UFC by White, they choose what camp they are going to train with for the rest of their career. In somewhat of an inside joke, each camp is headed by 1 of the people at THQ in charge of making the game. (If this were real select Neven Dravinski. That man may legitimately be the most fit person in the video game industry.) Each camp gives the character a boost to certain attributes. For example, Neven boosts a character's wrestling ability. The Neven character gives instructions to the player and informs them of various offers, but never speaks. This is an example of someone THQ had someone readily available and adding his voice to the game could have made the game less of a somewhat isolating experience.

It is then time to train and compete. Training consists of cardio, strength and speed. As a player advances, their training equipment advances. Players will also spar as part of their training camp. Again, as a player advances, their training partners advance. Occasionally, players will visit other camps to work on their specialized disciplines. Again, in my case it was wrestling and Muay Thai. Those camps will advance you through 3 levels of your specialized discipline. As you advance through each rank you learn new moves in that discipline. For example, once you become a level 3 wrestler you can transition from half-guard to mount, which you cannot do at lower levels. The camp I attended had my character working with Eddie Bravo. This involved a rendered image of Bravo standing on the screen doing pretty much nothing. Here adding the voice of Bravo explaining something or talking in any way to coach the player could have really added to the experience. Instead, it seemed like a complete waste to have Bravo in the game at all.

During training camps, players will be sent out to do public relations events for the UFC or their sponsors. The invitations to do public relations stuff comes from the person who handles those events in real life for people at the UFC, Jennie Stratton. The events are all pre-scripted and this is another place where acting voice acting could have really added to the game. Instead of text, hearing an actual voice would have added some variety to the game.

Doing the public relations events as well as winning and a variety of other things earn a player "Cred". Cred is the game's form of currency. It is not spent, but merely accrued. The more "Cred" a player has the more items a player has available to them. That is how the player gets the better training equipment and earns better sponsorship. "Cred" cannot be lost in the game, even if a player goes on a losing streak. Similarly, the player cannot be released from the UFC regardless of how many matches they lose. They simply move down in the rankings.

Players get "Cred" guaranteed in 2 ways for every match. The first is there is a certain amount of "Cred" given for simply signing to face a particular opponent. Players are given the option to face 3 opponents after every match. (Even champions get to select their opponents.) Real life UFC booker Joe Silva will send the player an email with a list of potential opponents. The better the opponent the more "Cred". A player will also get "Cred" from all the sponsor logos on the trunks they wear into the match. There are 10 spots for sponsorships on a character's trunks, and a new better sponsor is normally unlocked after at least every match. Occasionally, new sponsors will be unlocked after doing one of the PR appearances during training camp. This can lead to a tedious process of a player having to update their trunks roughly every 15 minutes so they have the best sponsors on them to accrue the most "Cred".

As for playing the actual matches, THQ has done a tremendous job simulating mixed martial arts matches. UFC 2009 Undisputed will not allow a player to develop a single game plan and dominate the game with that. MMA is about how different styles match-up and the game does an excellent job representing that. If a player does not evolve their style and tailor it to the different opponents, they are going to lose. My original theory was to make my character a ground-and-pound specialist. That worked well for a while, until I ran into an opponent specializing in BJJ. My character got the takedown. He was then placed in the rubber guard and promptly tapped out with a triangle choke. Submissions in this game are nearly impossible to break starting against mid-level opponents. It is a negative, but something that can be largely overlooked. The solution is the same as it is in real life, do not let your character end up in a situation where he could be submitted. Against BJ Penn, stay off the ground. (Of course, after winning the 155-pound title I never gave Penn a title shot after he had tapped me twice challenging for the title.) My strategy had to change to win. My character became very adept at knee bars and Kimura's out of the half-guard. It normally resulted in wins under 1 minute and did not allow time for mistakes. However, then my character faced Roger Huerta. Huerta stuffed my takedown and reversed it passing straight into mount. My character had not leveled up his takedown defense or defensive transitions on the ground and was pounded out helplessly at about 2:30 of round 1. The game will constantly test players like this in new ways.

The hardcore's are going to have some complaints about the actual matches, though. Most of the submissions common in MMA today are not in the game. There is no gogoplata, heel hook or anaconda choke. Every leg lock is a knee bar. Every arm submission is an armbar or Kimura. The only 2 chokes in the game are triangle and rear-naked. Similarly, Randy Couture's style of pressing opponents against the cage to use his "dirty boxing" is not in the game. Since, the developers could not make that style work in time there is no Couture in this game.

Additionally, the knockout system is somewhat flawed. Knockouts can only be scored with power punches to the head. A jab will not score a knockdown and neither will any form of blow to the legs or body. Jab knockouts are infrequent, but not that uncommon. As for knockouts to the body, they are frequent and some of the most memorable in the sport of MMA. In the great match between Scott Smith and Pete Sell, Smith was on the verge of being stopped on a body shot when he knocked out Sell. Smith was actually down for several minutes after the match falling the blow to the liver, while Sell was up quickly after being stopped with head punches. For stoppages on leg kicks, the more famous case is from Pride. Kazushi Sakuraba forced Royce Gracie's corner to throw in the towel after 90 minutes when the Brazilian could no longer continue after taking too many leg kicks. More recently, Mirko Cro Cop earned his way back into the UFC by stopping Hong Man Choi with leg kicks at the K-1 show on December 31, 2008. Similarly knockouts cannot come from slams. The game has the highlight of Quinton Jackson knocking Ricardo Arona out cold with the powerbomb in Pride, but that is impossible to do in the game. There are many more examples of all of these finishes that are being neglected here.

Almost every match in UFC 2009 Undisputed features blood. However, there are no cut stoppages and the blood is mild. No one is going to be dawning the crimson mask in this game. That is one of the key concessions to getting this game rated T. There are real life cut men who work on the competitors in the corner after every round. However, both they and the real life trainers in the corners who give instructions in the corners add little to the game. There is no mini-game to patch up the player or anything like that. They are all largely cosmetic. The instructions the trainers give between rounds are sound bites taken from what they said during actual matches in the UFC. However, it is generally unrelated advice to what is going on in the actual match. The trainer and cut man are ultimately cosmetic effects that can give players' thumbs a break, rather then adding anything of value or strategy to the game. The Octagon Girls in the game, Arianny and Edith, who remind players what round it is are more helpful to players.

If players perform well or exceedingly poorly in matches, they will get emails from Dana White. They will inform the player they got one of the typical UFC bonuses in the form of more "Cred" or White will cut a promo on them. Unfortunately, minus the swearing these sound nothing like what the President of the UFC would say and end up borderline annoying. In fact, the emails telling the player they got a bonus without swearing usually sound like nothing White would say. Essentially, the game would be better with voicemails from White that he freelanced and include cursing. Scripting one of the best promos in the business to being family friendly does not work. It ends up detracting from the game.

The game also features a mode called "Classic Fights". It is 12 old (relatively) matches introduced by Rachelle Leah that the player has to end in the same manner they ended originally to unlock a video clip. The video packages are good and the matches play fine, but many of these matches hardly qualify as "Classics". BJ Penn vs. Joe Stevenson and BJ Penn vs. Sean Sherk are hardly all-time greats. BJ Penn vs. Matt Hughes I is much more of a classic match. Players can recreate Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin II, which no one wanted to see at the time and was a terrible match. No matches prior to the epic Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar I at The Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale is in the game. It is not because of a lack of talent from the pre-boom era of UFC being in the game either, Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz II is one of the classic matches that players are asked to recreate. That was a huge drawing match, but arguably the more significant match in Liddell's career was their first match. That earned him the title shot against Couture and started his reign of dominance in the 205-pound division. There are numerous other pre-boom matches that arguably should be in the game over mediocre recent matches.

The game does offer a few other disappointments. There is no mode recreating The Ultimate Fighter or any sort of tournament mode. That could have provided even more hours of enjoyment out of the game. The opportunity for players to start in the Ultimate Fighter house and work themselves into being a Hall-of-Famer could have been interesting. Also, in something truly disappointing there are going to be no downloadable updates for the game. There is going to be downloadable content to expand the rosters, but no updates to statistics or real world rankings. UFC 2009 Undisputed had the chance to be the first game to produce a real world ranking of competitors in the UFC. Currently, the UFC does not have a top 10 list or any sort of public rankings. This game had the opportunity to provide unique real world knowledge bundled with an entertainment product. That could have been really special and ground breaking. THQ and the UFC missed an opportunity to truly innovate by having the video game be the way they communicated information to their fans. It would have made the game a must own for every follower of the UFC and potentially elevated the game into the ranks of all-time historically important games. THQ said they could not get that feature into the game and ship on time. However, that feature should be in next year's version of the game.

UFC Undisputed 2009 was not playable at E3 2008. Therefore, I finished my meeting with the UFC people at THQ by saying, "I cannot wait to get my hands on it." Neven then replied, "That's what she said." He then stood up and pumped his fist. It was definitely worth the wait to get my hands on this game. I have no idea how she felt. UFC 2009 Undisputed is a true joy to play. It is a very good game that just has a few too many little imperfections to get a perfect score. UFC 2009 Undisputed is a strong recommended buy, and gets a 4/5. With a few minor improvements and the addition of downloadable updates to provide real world rankings look for next year's game to be something truly special that gets a perfect score.

 

 

 

News and Notes: Different video game companies like to repeat themes throughout their games. For example, the people at Bethesda Game Studios seem to have a constant theme of martyrdom running throughout their games. For the people at the Yuke's Studio in Southern California, their constant theme is references to the 1984 Academy Award winning film The Karate Kid. Observant gamers should be able to pick up references to them in many of the games that come out of that studio.

UFC 2009 Undisputed is already drawing comparisons to one of the great pro-wrestling games of all-time, which was also done by THQ, WWF No Mercy. The game was released in 2000 for the N64. Despite some old rumors to the contrary, that game is never going to be re-released by THQ. Therefore, please stop asking about it.

That proposed deal for Warner Bros. to buy Midway for $33 million, specifically excludes them from purchasing the TNA video game license and the San Diego studio that is currently at work on TNA iMPACT! 2. That puts the future of that game in serious doubt.

Finally, Joe Silva was instrumental in the making of UFC 2009 Undisputed. Silva dictated the statistics of all the mixed martial artists in the UFC to THQ. Therefore, when mixed marital artists in the UFC go to complain to THQ about their stats, the person they actually need to complain to is Silva.

 

 

 

The next review will be of either TNA iMPACT! 2 or WWE SmackDown! vs. Raw 2010, whichever is released first.

 

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Jereme Warneck

number1contender.net

Boxing and Video Game Correspondent for f4wonline.com

Hidden Valley Lake, CA

 

I can be reached for feedback and comments at ZurRoadie@aol.com or as JeremeW on XBOX Live. I read everything.

Posted on Wednesday, June 3, 2009 at 12:57AM by Registered CommenterJereme | CommentsPost a Comment

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