Monday, June 22, 2009

UFC 2009 Undisputed (PS3/360)

At the turn of the millennium the world began to change: generation Y came into maturity leaving disgruntled baby-boomers nigh on retirement, animal-orientated flues got bored and started to take a jab at humans, and the West realised that flashy reliance on credit wasn’t such a good idea. This effected many countries the world over, however curiously enough it effected a certain form of entertainment which ill-defined itself as a sport – Wrestling. WWE – formerly WWF until a few panda bears got confused and started knocking out patrons with chairs – has fallen from its flashy grace and since been replaced by the more realistic and downright brutal form of uber masculinity and man-love known as the UFC, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. As the sport gained momentum stateside it proved inevitable that it would follow in the footsteps of its glam-loving cousin (WWE if you haven’t been following) and hence games were made...but these were, in a word, crap. But now enter THQ and Yukes Media Creations, who you may remember made the WWF games so popular back in their heyday, to save the day giving gamers UFC 2009 Undisputed.

THQ’s past work on wrestling games pays dividends in UFC’s favour: the control scheme – while at first overwhelming in its complexity incorporating the use of nigh every button available – is very responsive and produces some savage bouts when used accurately. Obviously aware that such complicated controls may lead to casual players to be turned away the game automatically gives new gamers the option to immediately teach you how to fight via a lengthy but ultimately useful tutorial. With many games the tutorial will only last 15 minutes maximum, UFC2009 on the other hand throws so much information at you that while it is possible to breeze through the tutorial within 15 minutes the player is almost guaranteed to forget something basic like how to clinch – don’t giggle, it’s an actual move. In UFC2009 the player will be throwing punches and kicks, performing take-downs or throwing their opponents down to the ground where they can further punish them by going human-pretzel on their ass, forcing them into submission. The point that I am ever so slowly getting to is that UFC2009 gives the player so many ways to fight that the controls feel jumbled and very confusing. For example to perform a take-down (a glorified tackle to the ground) you have to hold down the left trigger while pushing the right analogue stick toward the opponent before rotating the same stick to complete the move. This may not seem like a major gripe, but it surely would have been far more logical to apply the exact same scheme to the left analogue stick – which is assigned to moving the player’s chosen meat-bag around the ring. Suplexes and other throws from the arts of judo, BJJ and wrestling can also be performed but the truth of the matter is that by simply focusing on the simple task of knocking the sense out of your burly opponent by way of boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai will yield a win far more quickly – and with a lot less hassle. In fact not only is it easier to go into each round fists and feet flying, but when you do win it looks so much more spectacular. By navigating your way past your opponents blocks – which are controlled by the right trigger and shoulder buttons for low and high respectively – your blows whittle down their unseen stamina leading to the moment when you do land that king hit when all goes slow-mo and the camera zooms in on them as they fall like a tree sending a mouth-guard laced with blood to the ground about a foot from said metaphorical tree. While it is good to see that THQ have put in the effort to squeeze in the complexity and range of moves into the game itself it is unfortunate that most of the wins that I clocked up came down to first round TKO’s, something that is doubly wasteful when each fight is supposed to last five rounds.

Along with the normal exhibition mode UFC2009 holds a create-a-fighter option which you inevitably use to carve up a piece of meat in your own image for use in the game’s career mode. The tools presented allow for the creation of a baby-faced 7-foot heavyweight or a vertically-challenged lightweight axe murderer with the possible nicknames of ‘The Claw’ or ‘El Turro’ among others. While it provides an adequate package the game’s allowance of up to one hundred possible fighters feels a bit overkill unless you want to recreate all of your favourite action and sit-com stars duke it out – finally, an opportunity to see Chuck Norris roundhouse that wanker Matt LeBlanc’s head off!

The vast majority of time invested in UFC2009 by any player will be in the in depth career mode in which you create a fighter, or choose from pre-made nobodies, and lead them to glory in televised-style fight-nights bludgeoning your way to gain the belt of their weight class, of which are light, welter, middle, light-heavy and heavyweight. In between bouts you can participate in practise fights with you sparring partner in order to gain skill points to assign to the offensive/defensive aspects of the game’s different general fighting styles. In addition to this you can train to build up your stamina, strength and speed as well as flicking through annoying UFC newsletters and other emails whose text is too small to read anyway. Regardless whether you win or lose you gain reputation points that go towards training camp invites and sponsorships from UFC’s most renowned gyms which give you the opportunity to learn new combos as well as add to your fighter’s attributes that would normally be attained via training and sparring. Outside of the quest for fame in a virtual world of glitz and shiners UFC2009 also holds a mode particularly tailored for the hardcore UFC nuts out there in ‘Classic Fights’ where if the player can finish famous bouts in the way that they did in reality they will be rewarded with unlockables.

Visually, UFC2009 looks great: cuts show up realistically and fighters’ faces contort in pain, and in between rounds the fighters look properly exhausted and drenched in sweat, however once you get outside the octagon everything else looks a bit bland. The crowd and fellow fighters in your home gym look dull and robot-like while curiously enough the ring-girls have more pixels in their bouncing boobs than in their faces – Dead or Alive fans rejoice! The audio does a great job building up the testosterone with angst-ridden hard rock and nu-metal accompanying the menu screens and enthusiastic crowds and the ecstatic commentary providing great weight to the energetic atmosphere of the octagon. The combination of great visuals and sound that really sells UFC2009 to the player, a ferocious no-holds barred vibe is constantly present when slugging away inside the octagon which is intensified when the game picks up on the brutal smack of a knock-out blow.

While the sheer diversity of the controls results in a steep learning curve that will probably turn away newcomers and non-fans UFC 2009 Undisputed feels and looks like a Mixed Martial Arts game should – brutal and oozing with testosterone. By blending diverse fighting styles with proper fight-night atmosphere UFC 2009 Undisputed is something that will surely satisfy any fan of the sport. WWE eat your panda-fearing heart out.