UFC Undisputed 2010 Preview
When publisher THQ revived the MMA video game genre with last year's UFC 2009 Undisputed, in some ways they seemed to be bracing for the worst - generally, today's sports games don't often do well in their first iteration. But to what seemed to be THQ's surprise, it was one of their biggest hits of 2009, selling over 4 million copies on Xbox 360 and PS3.
But the success probably seemed well deserved to those of us who are fans of MMA, especially considering the huge amount of support from Dana White and the UFC team in making it by far the best MMA game ever made. Now, THQ and Japanese developer Yuke's are putting the finishing touches on UFC 2010, and they've got a lot of new features in store for fans.
The first thing you'll notice about UFC 2010 is that the interface is slicker and smoother, with less waiting, fewer loading screens, and more time spent actually training and fighting in the Octagon. The whole thing is loaded with real elements of the TV and pay-per-view broadcasts, with signature UFC introductions, the voices of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan commenting on the action, Bruce Buffer announcing fighters, more detail going into the ring entrances and exits, post-fight results and interviews. Put together, the game can pretty accurately put on a whole broadcast night full of fights – even if you're only fighting in one of them.
The new graphics of the UFC's latest broadcasts have been integrated, and THQ also cut back on the horrible, angry rock music. Ok, so the look of Joe Rogan, Mike Goldberg, and Dana White aren't really great in-game and some of the acting in the game's many career-mode cutscenes are kind of iffy, but let's face it – THQ rightly spent most of its time in improving the action in the ring rather than the conversations that go on outside of it. Either way, UFC 2010's presentation is one of the most authentic and well-rounded that you've likely seen not only in sports games, but any licensed property like this.
Of course, the fighting is still the most vital part, and THQ went in to improve or redo almost every element of the action inside the Octagon – and just about everything they did makes the game better. To start, the fighters look more lifelike, sporting smoother animations, more moves (and more signature ones for the big names), and a fluidity that was missing in UFC 2009. Last year we saw Anderson Silva and a few other fighters toss out some cool and unique moves, but beyond that, many fighters had identical move sets. Now, each of the game's 100+ licensed UFC fighters will have unique sets of moves that mimic what the real fighter does in the ring (no more Machida rubber guard), and you'll even be able to assign moves one at a time in the Create-a-Fighter and career modes. You can even cherry-pick your favorite moves any of the game's disciplines and make a truly well-rounded fighter, although you won't have enough points to give every move fight-ending power. Switching stances is now in the game as well, so that a boxer can, for example, switch to Southpaw if he wants to more easily defend his right side.
UFC 2010 brings in three new fighting disciplines: Karate, Sambo, and Greco-Roman Wrestling. Each of these adds something original and unique to the game on top of the original six, even if they may seem really similar to other disciplines – but that's only at first. Going beyond that, though, developer Yuke's has also worked on the controls, unifying everything a bit so that the standing clinch controls work similarly to the ground game, where rotating the right stick in a quarter circle will improve your position, and rotating it past a quarter circle will improve it even further (with left bumper/L1 as a modifier for your fighter's special moves). Of course, this is assuming that the opponent isn't ready for your maneuver and isn't already punching, kneeing, or actively defending himself in the meantime.
There's a new system in the stand-up game, too, where you'll get to evade and lean away from punches. It's not quite as visually detailed as what was in Fight Night Round 4, but at least UFC 2010 doesn't purposely sabotage your opponent and put him into slow motion just because you slipped one of his punches. Inside boxing is still just a little bit wonky, but the evasion system helps it to work better as you can set up powerful counters, like the overhead right, by ducking first. You really need to be able to read your opponent well to make evasion work – especially since he can do a takedown or strike the body and legs all he wants while you're leaning around – but when you get it right, it feels great.
Fighting up against the cage is now actually implemented pretty nicely, even if it's not super-detailed. Cage clinching is a great way to force an opponent to try and reverse their fortune while you're over there pounding away, and in a lot of ways it mirrors the ground game where you can defend against transitions or against strikes but not both.
When the fight does go to the ground, we've got a new submission system to look forward to. Now, the animations match actual submission moves properly, as you spin the right stick as fast as you can (yes, the "shine" thing makes its not-so-triumphant return, and it's still more difficult to do on a PS3 controller due to how close the sticks are) and you'll see your fighter actually crank a Kimura or hyper-extend the elbow in an Armbar. The victim, also spinning the right stick (no more mashing buttons for a brute-force escape, as those don't happen very often in the UFC nowadays anyway), will better understand what's happening by seeing the camera zoom in our out, telling him whether he's gaining ground or losing the battle.
There are a ton of new submission moves and some fighters now have the ability to transition from certain submissions to other ones - a staple with some real-life Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu experts - which forces your opponent, who's spinning the right stick to try and break free, to change direction. Then there's the new system of posturing up (pulling your torso away from the opponent when on top), as well as a new balancing factor: when you're postured up, your punches and elbows do more damage, but the opponent can more easily escape. Overall, you'll find that there's still a steep learning curve to the ground game, but the new training and tutorials better help players understand it.
One issue with UFC 2009 was how shallow the game was for people who wanted to play the real-life fighters. Now, in addition to the original exhibition fights and legendary fights where you recreate a specific fight between two guys (and now have challenges to change history as well as repeat it), you've got Title Mode which is similar to a fighting game's basic Arcade mode. You'll climb the ladder of tougher fighters and fight for the title, getting an instant rematch if you lose any fight. Injuries are an issue between fights so you have to be careful not to get too many parts of your body wrecked, otherwise not all of the damage will heal. If you win the title, then a new mode called Title Defense is unlocked and you will get to fight opponents until you lose the title. It's a pretty simplistic way to play and I still wish that they could have figured out a way to put the real fighters into the much deeper Career mode, but it's understandable from a UFC branding perspective why they didn't.
The career mode has been redone and expanded in several ways, some of which will be of huge interest to MMA junkies, and some of which might seem a little iffy in the long term of playing a fighter's career for many hours. First, you will get to choose your character's voice and will get to do things like weigh-ins, interviews, and maybe show a little respect or talk some trash to work on stats like Relations, Credibility, or Popularity with the fans. These can lead to new opportunities and special events, even helping you call out a fighter for a particular match. These features definitely add some flavor to the career mode, and the non-interactive elements are skippable, but after weeks of playing career mode they may just take away from the important parts - training and fighting - and bog down the whole experience. After seeing it in action, it certainly looks interesting right now, but opinions may likely differ in the long run.
You'll also get more of a chance to figure out your fighter before getting thrown into the UFC's deep end. Now, there's an amateur fighting league you start in to figure out which of the four difficulty modes you want, and once you go pro, you lock in that difficulty for the course of the career. What is nice is that you'll get more points for fighting on Expert mode, and you'll need it too because UFC 2010's career mode is significantly tougher than the first game's, both in the sense of optimizing your training as well as the action inside the Octagon.
Beyond that, though, the game will now track how you fight over the course of your career; if you keep beating the AI with the same move, the commentators will start to mention it mid-fight and your upcoming opponents will actively try and defend that kind of move while trying to exploit a related weakness in your game. You'll be able to join many different fight camps to learn specific moves and techniques from experts at some training sessions. So if you decide that your boxer really needs a head kick, you can get some training from Georges St. Pierre himself and learn it.
Sparring is still pretty much a one-minute scramble to beat up your sparring partner, but now you're only worried about landing and defending moves - you don't need to knock him down (or out) just to get a good score. Bonus points from "focused sparring" help later in the game when abilities cost a ton of regular points, and now all of your stats can decay if you aren't keeping them up. This is a major part of the career mode, but luckily there are milestones at 30, 50, and 70 points (for both basic stats and fighting abilities) where they can't decay any further than that.
It seems likely that they'll be fine, but then again, the incessant emails of UFC 2009 didn't seem so annoying in the first two hours of play, either.
UFC 2010 includes some new online features that go beyond just fighting people over and over in a mad dash to level up. Now you can create fight camps - loosely set up as what we'd call a clan in other games - and train and fight online as part of that camp. There aren't a lot of details yet on how this works, so this whole feature could be amazingly fun or just crash and burn depending on how it works and how many people use it. Of course, the regular game is improved, too, with better limits for created fighters and stiff punishments for people who quit instead of taking a loss.
My biggest disappointment with UFC 2010 is probably with the game's inability to save and watch replays. It'd be wonderful to see user-made replays, maybe even with audio commentary recorded with a standard 360 or PS3 headset, on how to beat one fighter with another - right from inside the game. The other odd thing is that there are a few fighters that are conspicuously missing, including ones that are currently fighting on UFC PPV broadcasts. Fighters like Randy Couture, little Nogueira, George Sotiropoulos, and Paul Daley are missing, even while less-prominent fighters made it into the game.
It's hard to say whether the announcement of EA Sports MMA has spurred on the team at THQ and Yuke's to make an even better UFC game, but it's clear that this game is leaps and bounds better than the 2009 edition. Not only is the roster bigger and better, but the fighting is more intuitive and fun, the career mode's more involved and authentic, and the online play gives players plenty to do together. It remains to be seen if some of the new features get on people's nerves when playing the game for days or weeks at a time, but so far the prognosis is good. Very good.