A couple of weekends ago, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida were getting ready to engage in what looked to be a completely unpredictable battle for the UFC Light Heavyweight championship belt.
With his 18 victories and no losses Evans had looked terrifying with his combination of good movement, boxing and wrestling. Machida on the other hand had not lost one single round in all of his six UFC fights, had barely even been hit and looked like something from another world. The PPV event went on at 4 in the morning on a Sunday, and although it was one of the most exciting fights of the year, I was probably one of a very select few Danes to watch it.
While the UFC has been adopted by the US public as the successor to the money dictated sport of boxing, it is not so in the kingdom of Denmark. While Mikkel Kessler has been turned into a small piece of Danish culture and pride, few know who Martin Kampmann is, even though he recently won an amazing fight over former WEC champion Carlos Condit in the UFC.
UFC 2009: Undisputed is the Trojan horse set to change all of this. It is a game that it set to capture gamers worldwide with its fast knock outs and amazing submissions, but is also introduce and teach the sport to a whole new audience. Thinking about it I can't imagine how big the headache must have been, for the developer given the job of translating such a diverse sport to gaming form, while making sure not to lose any of the authenticity.
Yukes' solution has been to develop one of the most complex fighting systems to date, luckily introduced in a way that should make it manageable for most players. Arms and legs have therefore been spread out over the face buttons - Tekken-style. The shoulder buttons on the right side takes care of defense both low and high, while the shoulder buttons on the left side dictates if attacks are to the body or face, and opens up certain special attacks.
The complexity of the system is multiplied by ten as soon as you get near enough to your opponent to grab him. While grabbing the opponent it is possible to go for a take down, forcing the fight to the floor, where, with a little technique it is possible to hit a submission or let the punches rain down doing damage and making him quit. The most effective thing to do on the floor though, is to constantly work for better position, giving me full control of the opponents body and thereby maximizing the damage I can inflict.
Clinch and grabs are all done by using the right analogue stick and combining it with good timing, and the result is the most complex and exciting portrayal of submission fighting yet in a game. Catching an opponents arm and using the his momentum to exchange positions, and ending it all with an arm lock in a matter of seconds, ranks among the most satisfying moments I have ever had with a fighting game.
Whether I choose to fight standing or on the ground, depends wholly on which combinations of martial arts I choose however. In the games career mode I can select between boxing, kick boxing and Muay Thai when it comes to standing combat, while wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo takes care of the ground fighting. Which combinations you choose to use should be based on your way of playing, seeing that the selection of moves available will vary depending on your choices. Muay Thai focuses on the use of knees in the clinch, while boxing allows for quick combinations with a bit more distance. Likewise wrestling can be used to control your opponent, while Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will give you a higher chance of actually catching your opponent with a submission no matter your position.
What combinations of martial arts I choose will mean nothing however if I don't train them, which requires a bit of strategy. Training takes time and wears down your fighter, which means that I have to plan it all according to my calendar. After accepting a fight I am given a set couple of weeks which can be used for training in three different intensities, each requiring more stamina than the other. Lacking stamina will mean certain doom for me, if I haven't taken the proper time to recoup before a fight, and therefore it all has to fit together in the calendar. Should I have a surplus of time to train, it is even possible to train with camps like Greg Jacksons or Extreme Couture to add new moves to the repertoire.
The hard training does pay of in the ring though, where the accumulated experiencepoints can be used to sharpen my kicks, take downs, submissions and a slew of other options making me a more devastating fighter. The most important factor of all is timing though, and with that on your side all counter attacks can send your opponent to the floor, or rattle him to such a degree that he can't fight back.
The sudden knock outs will also be one of the first frustrations you will encounter with the game, and at times it can seem outrageously unfair to be dominating a fight, only to have it suddenly end due to a well-timed hook. This however is the reality of the sport and at the same time a motivation to always try to be more than a one-dimensional fighter.
One frustration not as easily explainable is Yuke's continued fondness of meaningless menus. The developer who is also responsible for the WWE Raw vs. Smackdown games, has now been criticized for stuffing their games with constant updates and extremely slow menus for years, and still they have not changed anything. I can't possibly explain to you how absolutely little I care about a string of status updates such as "Now Saving - Saving - Waiting - Game has now been saved - Loading" after each training camp, but I can tell you that I drives me insane when I must constantly wait 30 seconds to 1 minute extra, because of a lazy developer.
UFC 2009: Undisputed can seem punishing at times, especially if you are expecting Tekken or Street Fighter, and the learning curve will probably seem sky high. If you are as impatient as me you will probably also have a hard time stopping yourself from cursing out the infernal loading times of the game. It is worth waiting for however.
This is not only the best UFC game to date, but also a new chapter in a genre that besides Street Fighter IV, has been in severe need of new blood for years. It is a tactical, mature fighting game that takes everything good from a game like EA's Fight Night and shin kicks it to another level.