Hands-On Preview: UFC Undisputed 2009

It’s been nearly five years since the last UFC game, UFC: Sudden Impact. I remember trying to find the game at different game stores, and at the time none of the employees knew what I was talking about or what UFC even was. It’s amazing how time can change things: over the last five years the UFC has continued to grow and eventually dominate the MMA scene.

It seems odd that a sport which has been growing in popularity would have a five year hiatus between video game representations of their product. Some of that was fallout from a lawsuit between the publishers of UFC: Sudden Impact Take Two and Zuffa, LLC. Since that time, the license for developing a UFC game has passed onto THQ, which caused skepticism among some fans. THQ is better known for its professional wrestling titles and not for sports or fighting games. Until recently, there seemed to be very little information about the game.

I had a chance to get some hands-on time with a demo of the game, and all of my concerns about who was developing the game have been laid to rest.

UFC Undisputed 2009 is an amazing MMA game.

Before I get into my thoughts on the demo, let’s get some information about the game out of the way. In UFC Undisputed 2009 there will be over 80 fighters from five different weight classes to choose from. Here is a list of those weight classes and fighters:

Heavyweights: Andrei Arlovski, Mark Coleman, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Gabriel Gonzaga, Antoni Hardonk, Heath Herring, Cheick Kongo, Brock Lesnar, Justin McCully, Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Eddie Sanchez, Tim Sylvia, Cain Velasquez, Brandon Vera and Fabricio Werdum

Light Heavyweights: Houston Alexander, Tim Boetsch, Stephan Bonnar, Rashad Evans, Wilson Gouveia, Forrest Griffin, James Irvin, Quinton Jackson, Keith Jardine, Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Tito Ortiz, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Thiago Silva and Wanderlei Silva

Middleweights: Ricardo Almeida, Michael Bisping, Kendall Grove, Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Martin Kampmann, Chris Leben, Thales Leites, Jason MacDonald, Demian Maia, Nate Marquardt, Drew McFedries, Yushin Okami, Amir Sadollah, Anderson Silva, and Evan Tanner

Welterweights: Thiago Alves, Matt Arroyo, Kyle Bradley, Josh Burkman, Marcus Davis, Jon Fitch, Matt Hughes, Anthony Johnson, Josh Koscheck, Chris Lytle, Karo Parisyan, Diego Sanchez, Ben Saunders, Matt Serra, Georges St. Pierre and Mike Swick

Lightweights: Mark Bocek, Rich Clementi, Mac Danzig, Nathan Diaz, Frankie Edgar, Spencer Fisher, Kenny Florian, Hermes Franca, Tyson Griffin, Roger Huerta, Joe Lauzon, Gray Maynard, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk, Joe Stevenson and Thiago Tavares

While this sounds like an amazing list, you have to also keep in mind that only fighters from the same weight class can compete against each other. There are only a few fighters than can switch between weight classes, but with even with this restriction all of the weight classes have enough fighters to create a variety of different match-ups.

As far as fighting styles go, the development team made the decision to stick to six styles. Each fighter has two main styles, one for striking and another for grappling. The striking styles are Boxing, Kickboxing, and Muay Thai. The grapple styles are Wrestling, Judo, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This is one of the areas I’m most concerned about because with eighty fighters who each have two of six fighting styles, I’m worried that too many of the fighters will feel the same instead of really representing their different styles. Take Lyoto Machida for example, he uses Karate and that style is not in the game at all.

The current fighting styles in the game do not waste a single button on the controller. The face buttons are mapped to left punch, right punch, left kick and right kick respectively. Different strikes depend on how far away one fighter is from the other. The farthest distance is known as Probing, where you try to open a hole in the defense of the other fighter. Then there is the striking distance, for when the two fighters are within reach of each other. If both fighters are close together this distance is referred as Clinch distance. For example, at Striking Stance a Muay Thai fighter will have different leg kicks available with the kick buttons, at Clinch distance pressing the buttons will result in knee strikes instead.

These strikes can be modified by using the left bumper and trigger to determine if you want the strike high or low. At striking distance pressing the B button might result in a kick aimed at the mid section. Pressing the left trigger and B will change that to a leg kick, and pressing the left bumper will change that to a kick aimed at the head. The right bumper and right trigger act in the same way for defense. Pressing the right bumper blocks hits aimed at the upper body and the right trigger blocks the lower body. There are also certain distances and combinations of buttons that allow the use of special attacks.

Then there’s the grappling portion of the game, which mostly uses the right joystick. Pressing the right stick towards an opponent will tie them up in a clinch. Pressing the left bumper and moving the right joystick in a direction while in a clinch will attempt a slam. Like striking there are different levels of grappling. Before initiating a tie up, holding the left bumper and then pushing the joystick towards an opponent will cause a head clinch, if the fighter’s style is Muay Thai this will be a Muay Thai clinch. Holding the left trigger before pressing the joystick towards the opponent will initiate a takedown attempt.

On the ground it’s a whole different style of game. On the ground the fighter on top tries to improve their position, this is done by moving the joystick in quarter circles or half circles. The direction and how much of a half circle will change the type of position transfer. The best position to try and get into is the mount position in order to do the most damage. The fighter with their back to the ground can try to block a position change, try and reverse, or hold the other fighter’s head down so they can’t get leverage for striking. On the ground though there are two options, ground and pound, or submissions. Ground and pound can be risky because the other fighter can catch a hand then either reverse or transition into a submission. Starting a submission isn’t a guarantee of success though. An animation will start and then the player who started the submission will have to either rotate the right joystick or mash the face buttons to get out of it. The player on the receiving end can either mash buttons to try and force their way out of the submission, or rotate the right joystick in an attempt to try and get out of it in a more technical way.

The demo is an amazing way to show how some of this works. Chuck Liddell has kickboxing and wrestling styles while Mauricio “Shogun” Rua uses BJJ and Muay Thai. Each of the fighters have a list of statistics that show how good they are in different areas of offense and defense, and these differences are very apparent during the fight. There are multiple difficulty levels to choose from, and after a few fights I turned it up to Expert. It is in this mode where both the gameplay designs and the AI for the game really shine. When playing as Chuck Liddell it was important to stay standing and punish Rua with punches and kicks. It was also fun to see that Liddell has the wild looping punches he is known for, though I hope not everyone with the boxing style will punch the same way. If the fight did go to the ground it was then a struggle to get back up as quickly as possible.

As Shogun, it was a completely different strategy. It became more about avoiding Chuck’s strikes and trying for the Muay Thai clinch or for a takedown. Chuck Liddell’s takedown defense is appropriately high in the game, making it difficult to take him down. Thankfully you can always clinch and pull guard, then use BJJ skills from the back to transition into some good ground and pound. On the easier difficulties, it wasn’t too hard to get Chuck Liddell to tap out, but it seemed near impossible on the harder ones.

The visuals were impressive, not only were the fighters well detailed, but the referees, cut men, and ring girls also looked fantastic. The visual damage on the fighters looks great. Throw a couple elbows at another fighter’s face and you’ll likely open a cut, throw some more and it’ll open wider and blood will stain the mat and both opponents. After a round the fighters will go back to their corners covered in sweat and will look either confidant, winded or worried depending on their performance in the round. The moves all seem well animated, though the replays could use some work. Often it doesn’t appear like a move actually connected in the replay for whatever reason. Damage seems limited to the face, I used several body and leg kicks and there was no marks or bruising.

The one thing I can see that might bother video game fans is the fact that a fight can end at just about any time. I’ve had them go for less than 30 seconds already. Most will go into the second round at the very least, and I’ve had a couple go to decision, but an undefended kick to the head or submission that you didn’t see coming can end a fight immediately. This makes sense because that is something that can happen at anytime in a UFC fight, but there are people that will likely be frustrated because they lost and can’t figure out how it happened. Still, even after playing the demos for hours I’m amazed at all the different ways a fight has ended. Strangely enough, not a single time did one of the fights end as the real match between Rua and Liddell.

From the demo, it appears that the developers have accounted for all the small things that make MMA a human chess match. I can’t wait to get my hands on the final game that will be released next month, if I can enjoy hours of just two fighters, I expect the full game with over 80 fighters, a career mode, a create a fighter mode, and online to completely absorb my gaming time.

If you’re interested check out the website for the game for more information and some videos explaining the gameplay.

2 Comments
    • Matt Yeager

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