The UFC is not famous for its locker room drama or big spectacles like some other sports entertainment. You’re a new recruit freshly primed, primped, plucked, pressed, and processed from your master's (that's you player) imagination and the create-a-fighter mode. The tools at your disposal to get to the top are feet, fists, training, and some good PR. Yes, the game actually implements a reward system for displaying brands on your trunks and doing publicity like giving interviews and working with THQ on their next UFC game. What is the reward you ask? Why more fights of course!
Now for the nitty gritty. The gameplay in UFC 2009 is a complex system of jabs, punches, hooks, upper cuts, kicks, knees, clenches (grapples), blocking, dodging, reverses, and in most situations combinations of one or more of these maneuvers. On the Xbox 360 controller you'll have a pretty standard setup for the limbs: the X and Y buttons control the arm and fist strikes, the A and B buttons control the kicks and knee strikes, right button (RB) is high block and right trigger (RT) is the low blocks. Where the control scheme gets complicated is the modifier buttons left trigger (LT), left button (LB), depressing the right analog stick for modifying grapples (RS), and sprinting by depressing the left analog stick (LS). Relax, I'm not going to spend the next few paragraphs explaining the different combinations but if you want to know more before purchasing the demo of UFC 2009 Undisputed on Xbox Live includes the tutorial. Just know that while many games have a steep learning curve this is the first fighting game I've played that was difficult to pick up and play without the tutorial. However once you get it down your brain which might have previously been wired to smash buttons should now be thinking of the next the two attacks that you will unleash, watching the opponents for any patterns, and taking advantage of any openings.
A word of advice, don't get in a ground battle if you're more about reflex than timing and patience. The grapples are hard enough to execute using the right analog stick while standing but once you get on the ground it becomes very difficult because in order to gain position or flip the situation on the opponent you're required to fluidly move the right stick in any number of different ways. Think about the flick system in the Skate series; now make it tedious and unresponsive. Of course it makes sense that I, who has a hard time understanding wrestling maneuvers, would have difficulty with the strategy involved in grappling but this is the only “fighting” game that I've played where it was nearly impossible to get off the ground. By default the stamina meter is turned off to clear the HUD and make the action more immersive, but if you find yourself wearing down your fighter too soon too often or taking long naps on the floor of the octagon then you might want to turn this feature on until you can read the situation presented by the different behaviors and wounds the fighters exhibit when they take damage.
Speaking of animations, the fighters look great and each kick, punch, and clench looks like the real thing. There can be a few hiccups in close quarters standing strikes as you and your opponent swing at each other but when a punch really connects you can see the fighter reel. The fighter creator mode has a great number of options for customization but even though you can pick what kind of muscles and prominence of body hair on your fighter they all tend to fall into the same kind of template. One of the reasons for this is that in the UFC weight class is very important and, if you've ever noticed, most of the fighters do look very similar in build. This just makes the details even more important when creating your fighter. The one I created was Pokey “The Fury” Copeland from Vancouver, Canada; a 30 year old boxer who has a lot of strength and a cute button nose (yes I know I'm strange). The most tedious part of the whole process of creating the character and the career mode was allocating points to dozens of skills and abilities using a points system. Which is a shame that I couldn't just set it to some template and have that done for me automatically but I love doing that kind of stuff in an RPG so I'm not sure why it bugs me in this case. I guess it might be that I can tell the difference between a fire and ice spell and not the difference between standing clench strike strength and ground clench strike strength. Other than the realistic fighter models two more factors greatly add to the authenticity and immersion of playing UFC 2009. In the 12 “Classic fights” which you can participate in from the main menu each has its own intro video giving a little bit of background to the fight. The classic fights lack the great video clips and the recreation objective system that WWE Legends of Wrestlemania had but with the career mode being as engrossing as it was I don't have any complaints. The second thing about UFC 2009 that makes it feel real is the commentary. The commentary during fights is the most responsive and contextual I've ever heard and it's just like the real matches. Even during the sound track for the career mode menu there are snippets of commentary of fighters after their post fight interviews that can really get your pumped up for your next fight.
The audio in the game is fantastic. The pumping rock music at the main title, the sounds of fists and feet hitting flesh, and the spot on commentary all sound great. The crowd wasn't as responsive to the fight as I would like and once again it's another fighting game where the audience looks like a bunch of megablocks people. UFC 2009 isn't the worst offender by far but the more I play games like this I'm convinced that there needs to be a few development teams out there that work solely on audience skins and animations.
Wrapping up we'll talk about the achievements and online real quick. While they aren't very hard to get the achievements they do take a lot of patience to acquire especially since the game has a steep learning curve and the training and fights of the career mode take a long time to complete. Bottom line: hunt for your achievements in a different game. The match options on Xbox Live are the standard ranked or player options with the ability to quick join or set up and match with your own rules. There isn't a lot of variety in the mulitplayer however it is the true test of your ability to train your fighter up to snuff because it is more of a challenge to face a live opponent than the AI. Also there wasn't any noticeable lag and there is a quick option for the host to request a rematch which takes a little head ache over matching making so all in all a solid but not very unique online multiplayer.
It takes hard work to play UFC 2009 Undisputed learning the controls, the intricacies of the career mode, and how to stand up after getting knocked down. Bring a large amount of patience to the table and this game can be very rewarding and even educational as you experiment with the different forms of combat and how they compliment and counteract each other. Looks good, plays well, and its very satisfying to knock your opponent to the mat with a well timed hook. If your still waiting for the next fight night or your a big fan of the UFC this is definitely a purchase and play but if your just looking for something different and the last fighting game you really were into was Street t IV you might want to give the demo a go before laying down the cash.
Story!? We don't need no stinking story. This is exactly the question you need to ask yourself before picking up a copy of UFC 2009 Undisputed. Not only is the game a challenge it's not the typical button masher as Adam found out. You need patience, skill, and ,in my created character's case, a mean right hook to climb to the top of the ranks and earn a championship belt. Would be fighters and fans of the UFC will find that this game offers one of the deepest and intricate recreations of mixed martial arts ever but if you're just a fan of games like King of Fighters, Tekken, Virtua Fighter, Street Fighter, etc. then your might want to get your fists bloody with a different game.
Rating: 8.9 Class Leading