There’s something to be said about a fighting game that has no HUD to speak of – no health bars and no ultra meters going ballistic – but can still accurately indicate exactly how well or how badly you’re doing in a fight purely through gameplay. UFC Undisputed does that brilliantly, and that’s one of the reasons why last year’s game was a surprising success. The one criticism levelled at the game though was that it was extremely technical. In the game’s defence, mixed martial arts (MMA) itself is technical. But very much against today’s gaming trends, it just wasn’t accessible enough. This year, UFC Undisputed 2010 aims to change that.
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As much of an MMA fight is fought on the ground as it is standing up; may be even more. Accommodating this into a game is tricky, especially since MMA fights are a complicated mix of striking, grappling, transitions, and reversals. So a game that didn’t accurately convey all that wouldn’t be a very good UFC game. But the developers have tried to walk that tight rope between technicality and accessibility all the same, and fortunately for MMA fans, they’ve failed. This game is still hard and it’s still technical, and you’ll still need to keep going back to its 45-minute tutorial from time to time to learn its many gameplay nuances.
But with EA’s MMA title coming soon, Yuke’s and THQ are in no mood to rest on their laurels, and Undisputed 2010 sees several improvements over last year’s game. The most noticeable improvement is the individuality of the various fighters in the 100-strong roster – the UFC’s biggest USP. The strengths and weaknesses of the real fighters are replicated in the game with eerie accuracy. Chuck Liddell comes at you with his trademark looping hook; Anderson Silva displays a vicious stand-up game; and Mirko Cro Cop can finish you off with one head kick before you can even break a sweat. This individuality is also underlined in the game’s career mode. If you focus primarily on your fighter’s stand-up abilities, your ground game will suffer and you won’t be able to fight off a submission hold for too long.
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There are several more subtle improvements to this year’s game as well, such as the ability to use the walls of the cage during fights and the addition of more fighting disciplines like Karate and Greco-Roman. The controls for clinches and grapples have also been reworked, but this is more of a step back than an improvement. Transitions and reversals aren’t as intuitive as they were last year, and even though this has been fixed to an extent via a post-release patch, you’ll still often find yourself frustrated by your inability to perform clinch or grapple transitions, especially during tense matches. This results in annoying losses in matches you should have won only because you weren’t able to perform a three-quarter circle on the right stick accurately and at the right time. If Yuke’s were aiming for accessibility, this is quite the opposite, but it’s just one fault in an otherwise brilliant fighting engine.
This is an intelligent game, and in the career, you’ll have to develop your custom fighter intelligently. There’s no such thing as an all-round fighter; not for the first few years of your career at least. You’ll need to pick your specialty and work from there. If you’re not good on the ground, you’ll have to make sure that your takedown defence is up to scratch, so you can stay on your feet. And it isn’t just your fighter you need to be worried about. Each opponent has his own strengths, and he will use them against you. So negating your opponent’s strengths is just as important as building up your own. Training, sparring and camps are important activities to undertake in between career matches, as they help you learn special skills and boost specific attributes between matches. The one glaring omission in the career is the inability to read up on your upcoming opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, so unless you follow the UFC and know the fighters, you can’t really train with the opponent’s style in mind. This means you’re going to have to get in the cage and use the opening round or so to get a feel for your opponent.
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A new feature in Undisputed 2010’s career is the introduction of cutscenes, much like those in the WWE games, but on a more basic level. After winning certain matches, you’ll be interviewed by Joe Rogan, and you’ll be able to choose your dialogue options; earning credits, popularity, and sponsors based on your choice of words. You’ll occasionally get the opportunity to challenge a fighter too. You can also boost popularity by engaging in side activities like TV spots and PPV appearances. The popularity side activities get quite annoying after a while, especially since gaining popularity has no real effect on your fighter. Thankfully, you can easily skip these popularity side activities; it’s saying no to UFC presenter Rachelle Leah that’s the hard part.
The career lasts 12 years, which is not as long as it sounds, considering you’ll spend 8-12 weeks between fights just training and sparring. But even between fights, there’s a whole lot to do, and it can feel quite overwhelming at first. The aim, of course, is to become the top fighter of your weight division by winning the UFC title. The career mode is certainly deeper this year and it makes you feel more involved in your fighter’s career. As you age and near the end of your career, your conditioning will worsen and you’ll fatigue more easily, and it will affect you in matches, which is a nice touch.
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There’s a whole lot to do in this game even once your fighter has retired and the career is over. The Ultimate Fights mode returns, where you can relive some of the greatest UFC fights, and recreate the same result. And this year, you can also fight as the loser and change history. Completing Ultimate Fights objectives unlocks the video to the actual fight, which is a nice bonus. Apart from this, there are also the standard Exhibition and Tournament modes, as well as Title and Title defence modes, which are fairly basic, but fun if you don’t want to get into the career.
Quite a bit of work has been put into the online side of things. You can now create online camps, which are a bit like clans, where you can invite friends for sparring sessions to help improve your skills. One of the biggest gameplay improvements is best experienced in multiplayer. Multiplayer matches in Undisputed 2009 often descended into mindless stand-up slugfests since stand-up fighting was overpowered compared to the ground game. This year, the two are more balanced, and the introduction of the sway mechanic, flash KOs, and more powerful counter-attacking mean that multi-player fights aren’t as one-dimensional. Players now go for takedowns and initiate clinches; something I never experienced with last year’s game.
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If you do decide to buy this game and have the liberty to choose between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, go with the latter. In terms of performance, they’re both identical, but the PS3 version has bonus content such as exclusive fighters, exclusive Ultimate Fights matches, and HD videos of some of the best UFC fights till date. It’s also worth mentioning that if you intend to play the game online, you’ll have to get yourself a new copy of the game rather than a used, since it comes with a one-time-use code to unlock the online functionalities.
Having seen the way Yuke’s WWE games had been stagnating prior to Smackdown vs RAW 2010, the fear was that UFC Undisputed 2010 too would fall into a rut and be content with marginal annual increments. But whether it’s due to the developer’s determination to shake off that reputation or in view of the threat of EA MMA on the horizon, UFC Undisputed 2010 is a worthy upgrade to last year’s game, and probably more of an upgrade than you’ll see in most annual franchises. I’m afraid there still isn’t enough here to make this series accessible to newcomers, but if you’re an MMA fan, and more specifically a UFC fan, you really can’t ask for a whole lot more. In terms of exploiting the potential of a brand license, this is as authentic as video games get.
(+) Improved career mode
(+) Distinct fighter personalities
(+) New fighting disciplines and moves
(+) More balanced online gameplay
(+) A wealth of game modes and bonus content
(-) Transitions and reversals could be better
(-) Some boring side activities in the career
(-) Not accessible enough for newcomers
Title: UFC Undisputed 2010
Platforms: PS3 (Rs 2,499), Xbox 360 (Rs 2,499)
Reviewed on: PS3