Review: UFC Undisputed 2009 (Microsoft Xbox 360)


UFC Undisputed 2009
Genre: Fighting
Developer: Yukes
Publisher: THQ
Release Date: 2/19/09

It’s been five years since mixed martial arts has graced a video game console, and in all honesty many of the previous MMA games are best forgotten anyways. Since the last UFC video game entry, there has been a whole new generation of game consoles, as well as a whole new generation of fighters. Last time there was a UFC game on the market, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz were planning to square off for the first time.

A lot has happened since then. UFC purchased its major competitor PrideFC, The Ultimate Fighter series started and produced a few new stars, the UFC has grown leaps and bounds in popularity, and recently Chuck Liddell may have had his last fight for the organization. The fight world, much like video game technology, changes with the times very quickly. Considering how MMA is the fastest growing sport in North America, it was no surprise that there would be another video game based on the sport. After several previous disappointing video games the question remained, could Mixed Martial Arts translate well into a video game?

UFC Undisputed 2009 tried to answer that question, and the answer is yes it can…sort of.

Let’s start of with the most important aspect of a game like this: the gameplay.

Each fighter in the game has two different fighting 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 makes a lot of sense as most of the UFC fighters use these styles, and some of the other styles UFC fighters excel in are similar enough that nothing feels out of place. Personally I would’ve preferred if that had included Sambo instead of Judo since only two fighters in the game use Judo anyway.

These styles are all well balanced in the game. Wrestling is good for takedowns and for ground control, Judo has good counter clinch defense and some unique transitions, and BJJ has more positions and submissions on the ground. The striking is similar, Boxing has some powerful strikes but Kickboxing has strong kicks and different ranged moves while Muay Thai is the best for getting up close and personal as well as clinching and throwing knees.

The current fighting styles in the game do not waste a single button on the controller. The face buttons are mapped to left punch to the x button, right punch to the y button, left kick to the a button and right kick to the b button 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 distance a Muay Thai fighter will have different leg kicks available with the kick buttons, while at clinch distance pressing the buttons will result in knee strikes instead.

The different 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, or if you are using BJJ it will cause the fighter to pull guard. 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 constantly improve their position; this is done by moving the joystick in quarter circles or half circles. The direction and type of transition will change the position you end up in. 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 by holding the right stick left or right, try and reverse by flicking the right stick, 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 controls work very well and much like the sport it represents, there is a lot of strategy involved. Part of that strategy is to know the strengths of the fighter you select. Choosing Brock Lesnar and attempting a lot of submissions isn’t wise because he doesn’t have a good submission offense stat. The stats for all of the fighters can be quickly displayed in the fighter selection screen, and it’s good to know what area the fighters are best in. These stats are done well for most of the fighters, though there are some curious decisions. I know Mirko CroCop hasn’t had many fights in the UFC, but some of his stats are confusing considering his record outside of the UFC.

The submission system is also sort of suspect. I’m glad that they developers didn’t clutter the screen with meters, but it’s hard to tell sometimes why a submission isn’t working. THQ has said that the key to success is position and the energy level of the opponent, but even when they’re completely gassed and you’re attempting a submission from the mount it’s often unsuccessful. As a person who plays video games it’s frustrating to not be able to understand why something isn’t working, and as an MMA fan it’s frustrating to choose a submission specialist when it’s just easier to go for a KO or ground and pound. This is especially annoying on the harder difficulties of the game when the computer does not have as much of a problem locking in a submission as you do.

Graphically the game is a mixed bag. The cage, the fighters and the referees look great. Most of the fighters look amazingly like their real life counterparts, all the way down to some small details. Then there are a few fighters that look off. I’ll use Mirko as an example again; his proportions are just off. A few of the fighter’s faces, like Arlovski, are also just not as well done. Then there are the models for the refs and non-fighters like Dana White. At the beginning of the games career mode Dana shows up and goes into a speech about the UFC, which would be much more effective if his character model wasn’t cross-eyed. I kept wondering what he was looking at. Bruce Buffer looks great, but has about as much animation as a robot. It’s kind of creepy.

The screen is clear of any HUD with the focus on the fighters. There are no health bars, but there is an optional stamina bar. The stamina bar might be useful for people getting a handle on the game, but otherwise you can see when the fighters are getting tired. Their hands will drop lower and they’ll be breathing hard. While the game is great either way, I prefer to play with the stamina bars off. Aside from visually being able to see when an opponent is gassed, there’s also a damage modeling system in place. When one of the fighters takes too many punches or elbows to the face, it shows with bruising and swelling. It’s also possible to open cuts on another fighters face and it’s both sick and satisfying to see the blood splatter on the fighters and the canvas when you land a brutal punch.

There are plenty of areas for improvement though. In career mode there will be a gym in the background of the menus, and the graphics for it are extremely simple. The other people wandering around the gym have about as much detail as a Playstation one game. The arenas all look the same except the logo on the mat changes, which makes me wonder why they didn’t include some of the other arenas that they have been to but managed to include Madison Square Garden when they have never held a show there.

Like the rest of the game, the audio portion of the game does a lot of right things while having some strange omissions that are confusing when you consider how well everything else is done. The highlight of the audio has to be the commentary by Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg. They add an air of legitimacy to the fights, and more importantly they say a lot of interesting facts about the different fighters during the game. You’ll hear many of these repeat after awhile but it’s a great way to find out more information about the fighters, especially for those who might be playing the game but know very little about the UFC. The background music for the game is a mixture of rock and nu-metal and feels appropriate for the game.

Where the sound fails is in areas like career mode where there will be awkward times when there is nothing but silence. Sparring is the main example of this, as you have to do sparring a lot in the game. During these times your fighter and the sparring partner look like they talk to each other after the sparring match but there is absolute silence. Why have cut scenes during camp training or sparring where there is lip movement but no sound? It looks weird.

The commentary is great most of the time, but there are areas where it is weak. Career mode is a major portion of the single player game that is played with a created fighter, and the commentary is nearly silent for the created fighters. Understandably there isn’t really any history to draw from at the start of career mode like there is for all of the other fighters in the game, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the four or five times in my career fighter faces Chuck Liddell that the commentators possibly mention the previous fights. During the mode of the game where you re-create classic fights the game talks about those fights in the past tense, sort of ruining the illusion that you are recreating the fight. Sometimes if you play the game with fighters who have had major fights in the past, like Brock Lesnar fighting Frank Mir, they’ll talk about one of the fighters as if they weren’t even part of the current fight.

Some of those complaints are pretty minor, but anything that takes you out of the experience is an area that needs to be improved on.

There are several modes in the game including:

Career Mode. In this mode you create your own fighter and start by trying to impress Dana White to earn a spot in the UFC. From there you start at the bottom of the weight class you are in and train, spar and fight in order to work your way up the ranks and become a Hall of Fame fighter. At the beginning of this mode your fighter starts off with low stats and you have to train in order to become a better fighter over the years. Most of this mode is done via a calendar menu and through in game email. Generally you will get an email from UFC Matchmaker Joe Silva that let’s you choose between three fighters of varying difficulty. Once you choose an opponent then you have a set amount of week until the fight to get ready for the fight. During that time you can train, which lets you upgrade one of the basic stats of Strength, Speed or Cardio. You can spar, which pits you against a sparring fighter that emulates the style of your next opponent. Sparing earns points that you can allocate into the sub-statistics like Submission Offense or Defense, Striking, etc. Or you can rest, which is important because all of the other options use stamina and going into a fight with low stamina is a huge handicap.

Other opportunities are present during Career, like autograph signings, interviews, and impromptu fights. Doing these earns cred, and cred gets you more sponsors and better gym equipment. However most of those things get you a minimal amount of cred compared to just fighting, and it also wastes a lot of time that could’ve been spent training or sparring. Each activity takes a whole week, so if you decide to do an interview for 200 cred, that’s a week that you could’ve been sparing or training to increase your overall stats. A regular fight will pull in about 1000 cred, more if you win.

The only other useful activity is camp invites. With camp invites you can train with other fighters camps to increase your ability in either your striking or ground skills. Gaining levels in these skills earns additional moves and stat bonuses.

The main problem with the career mode is the fact that it is pretty bland. Of course the training period for an actual UFC fighter might be pretty bland, but you spend more time in menus and allocating points during the career mode than actually fighting. The training portion of the game is just choosing which stat you want to improve, while the sparring portion only lasts for two minutes. It’s hard to figure out how to deal with an opponent over the long haul when you can only spar for two minutes. It’s just completely non-interactive to a point where it’s boring between fights.

Another problem is in the beginning of the mode you have to choose an age. Then over the course of seven years you never age. In 2016 you end up the same age as you were in 2009. Same with all of the other fighters in the game. The creation tools for making a fighter take a little time to get used to, but they’re pretty well done for creating a fighter. Once you choose a weight class you don’t get to choose a weight though. All created heavyweights are 235 pounds. At no point during career do you have to cut weight, which is probably one of the more crucial things that the fighters do in between fights. There is no way to play the career mode with the fighters included in the game, so for anyone hoping to recreate the career of a fighter there is no way to do so unless you create a duplicate.

Also for Career, why does it take SEVEN menus just so I can change the sponsors on my shorts? That’s ridiculous.

Exhibition is exactly as it sounds. You choose which weight class and which fighters and duke it out. You can choose 2, 3, and 5 rounds. By default all 5 round fights are title fights. The game doesn’t keep track of champions in exhibition, so anytime you choose 5 rounds it will make the fighter in the red corner champion everytime. Only a handful of fighters are available in more than one weight class so don’t expect to be able to face Anderson Silva off against Frank Mir.

Classic Fights let you reproduce some of UFCs greatest fights. All of the fights are preceded by a video package highlighting the fighters involved, and then it’s up to you to try and finish the fight the way it happened, whether it went to decision or ended via armbar in the second round. This is easier said than done, as there will be times you accidentally flash knockout the other fighter when you wanted it to go to decision or vice versa. Once you meet the requirements for the match you unlock a video clip of the actual fight. It would’ve been nice to feature the full fight, but it does a good job and I imagine that they don’t want to take away from their DVD sales. A great addition to introducing several fighters and important moments, although the match selection is suspect. Liddell versus Ortiz 2? Not sure why they didn’t include the first confrontation instead. No Guida, or the Shamrock brothers, or Couture, or a dozen other fighters who had classic fights sort of hurts this mode.

Like many fighting games, multiplayer is where most of the fun can be had. Other than Exhibition for local multiplayer, there is also online multiplayer over Xbox Live. There are only three options for fighting, Ranked, Player, and Leaderboards. Ranked matches are where most of the competition is at and there are some great features to this mode. Winning increases experiences and you can gain levels. Other than experience you gain fans while playing, and there it’s an interesting feature since unlike experience you can actually lose fans if you lose. On top of that there are a number of different medals you can earn, much like in Halo 3 where you could earn medals for specific kill types, in UFC Undisputed you can earn medals for winning matches in certain ways. These are updated weekly along with a weekly leaderboard for scores. After a fight you can also check out how much damage you did to different parts of an opponent’s body. After having a fight the game will start to show three different statistics for your fighter, like Good Ground Game, or Vicious Ground and Pound, which will change depending on your recent fights. It’s a good way to quickly get an idea of how the other person plays.

There are a lot of great ideas for how the online is set up. Sadly none of these ideas make up for some severe issues.

The online doesn’t seem very stable. Even though I had no drop in my internet connections I’ve been disconnected from Live while winning a fight, even though this has never happened in any other game. Using the option to search for quick matches doesn’t appear to work. There’s currently no penalty for disconnecting, and since there is a delay between the KO or submission and when the game saves a lot of people appear to drop to the Xbox dashboard when they’re in danger of losing. About one-third of the fights I’ve played ended this way so far and it’s irritating to finally find a match, get close to winning it, and then have the person disconnect and have the match invalidated.

Please THQ, patch this immediately. What’s the point of even having leaderboards when people quit when they’re in a situation where they might lose?

There are also some issues with lag when connected to people with a worse connection or poor ping rate, and possibly a patch to the matchmaking system to set up fights with people who have better ping rates with each other. Lag completely messes up stuff like the timing on grapple reversals.

When things are running smoothly, it’s an adrenaline rush to play online with people who fight differently from the AI. In one fight I had another player try to keep it standing, but when I finally took them down we both realized he was better at the ground game than I was and from that point our strategies completely changed. It is completely different than any other fighting game out there.

Not that the AI is any slouch either. There are four different difficulty levels in the game, and on highest difficulty the computer is a beast. What’s great is how they’ve programmed the way some of the fighters fight in real life. Lyoto Machida is constantly backing up and throwing counter strikes. Chuck Liddell stuffs takedowns left and right and if taken down tried to get back up immediately. They’ve done a great job representing the different fighters in the game.

The lowest difficulty level and the in-depth tutorial should be fine for people to get used to the game, however it’s not a game that anyone can casually just pick up and play. It’s deep, and will likely turn away people who want to just quickly KO opponents with Brock Lesnar.

There’s a lot of small other area I can nit-pick to death. There’s no left handed stance, no catch weight, and there is no fighting up against the cage. While UFC hasn’t held one in some time I would’ve liked to have seen a tournament mode in the game. However even in spite of all the small issues that I’ve listed throughout the review, one thing is for certain: UFC Undisputed 2009 is the best MMA game out there. None of the previous UFC or PrideFC games came even close to replicating the human chess game that is MMA like UFC Undisputed. Sure there are area that can be improved on, but for the time being Yukes and THQ have created a fantastic base upon which future games can be built. If you like MMA, than buying UFC Undisputed is a no brainer.

The Scores:
Modes: Good
Graphics: Great
Sound: Very Good
Control/Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Incredible
Balance: Great
Originality: Good
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Decent
Final Score: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
As a fan of both MMA and video games I can say that without a doubt UFC Undisputed 2009 is the best MMA game available and a great start for a franchise. There are a few mist-steps that need to be corrected for it to truly be a classic game, but it is still an amazingly fun game.

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