It's time to go back to the octagon for a second round with the undisputed king of mixed martial arts games; UFC Undisputed 2010. Since going toe to toe with this franchise last time, I've gained more insight into the culture and, to a smaller degree, learned how to fight (in real life). While this real world experience is helpful in understanding UFC as the sport it has become, my lack of virtual training left me once again tapping out due to Undisputed's unforgiving difficulty.
Saying that Undisputed is a difficult title to “pick up and play” is not entirely accurate. Undisputed is difficult to “pick up, play, and do well in.” I had a buddy come over to test out the controls, and after several bouts (and going through the tutorial) he was still having his butt handed to him...by the AI...on beginner difficulty. Complicated controls coupled with required near precise timing makes Undisputed a practice in frustration to inexperienced and intermediate players alike. This type of challenge won't be alien to anyone who has invested time in the Guitar Hero or Ninja Gaiden series. Even though there is a helpful tutorial and practice mode, this game assumes you're here for a challenge, and it is unforgiving in delivering a challenging experience.
Two game modes heavily rely on the build up of increasing difficulty to keep players coming back for more punishment. The title challenge mode is a series of fights in ladder format. Players face a series of fighters in their weight class before squaring off against a “boss”, in this case the title holder. The career mode is essentially the same, it's just a much longer ladder to climb and there is character upkeep between fights. In the career mode, training and honing your fighter's skills and stats is very important. Training doesn't just involve working on new or improving old skills; as time wears on some stats will decrease due to lack of training or injury. Even with something that should be relaxing, slow paced, and methodical, Undisputed tests your organizational skills. Not only do you have to manage your time to make room for training and sparring, but there are numerous media events that involve sacrificing precious time for a chance to learn a new technique or gain some popularity with the virtual fans. Sometimes I felt that the entire goal of being a fighter was to garner attention, and not to train and fight to be the best in the world. Pandering to the crowd was not just an option but it felt like a necessity. This may be a more realistic view on the way the “business” of UFC works, but I felt unmotivated to continue fighting for fame and glory's sake. Give me a kingdom to save, a dastardly villain to bring to justice, or even a village to support with my fighter's winnings. A deeper story would have made the career story a lot more enjoyable.
The title challenge and career modes are the meat and potatoes of Undisputed but there are a few tasty side dishes as well. The legendary fights allow fans to relive memorable fights from UFC's past and the online boot camp is sure to be a fan favorite for any player who tends to invest heavily in the online multiplayer. The boot camp is set up to be a dojo where players can meet to practice and hone their skills, develop their created characters, and set up online tournaments with their buddies. Aside from the boot camp there are standard ranked and non-ranked player matches online, with an option to jump into a fight created by another player or set up your own. Fight options include the different weight classes, number of bouts, and whether created fighters are allowed. If you don't feel like playing online you can still take advantage of other player's creativity and download their created fight cards (scenarios). Personally, I had serious problems with lag every time I fought an opponent online. Also because of the extra charge (400 microsoft points) for enabling online for used copies, online multiplayer isn't the most attractive feature of UFC 2010 Undisputed. There's fun to be had, but it might cost you extra and the experience may be frustrating rather than rewarding. Even if you choose to ignore the complex control scheme and wildly press buttons with abandon, the action on screen will still look smooth. A combination of improved animations, smarter context sensitive strikes and grapples, and a lack of specialized fighting styles means that fighters move and fight with fluidity. Thankfully the specialized fighting styles with their unique and often awkward restrictions to what a fighter could and could not do are gone. Now all fighters behave in roughly the same ways with only minor tweaks to stance and a few special moves to reflect their style of fighting. The appearance of the fighters and the environment around them have also have had a graphical upgrade. There are more details, especially in HD quality, that are noticeable. Tattoos on the fighters and the media pit surrounding the octagon itself were a few I noticed. The graphics aren't a huge leap into a more realistic realm by any means but I'm sure with time and maybe another console generation they will come closer to photo-realism.
Bass powered thumps rattle virtual and real ears with strikes that land square. The lack of any cries of pain only serve to strengthen the sudden force of a solid hit as they punctuate the din of the roaring crowd. Such forceful blows make even the commentators stop their jabbering and take heed. Indeed the sound effects, while in a fight, serve to strength the sense of being in the octagon. The commentators follow a pretty basic script but the sound bits are blended together in such a way that their commentary feels natural. The sound track that plays in the menu system and load screens however, grated on my nerves. That epic cinema quality chamber choir suspense pieces really do build up drama, the first few times you hear them. Imagine someone sitting in the passenger seat while you are driving and yelling “look out!” every time you pass a car on the road, and you will get a sense of how annoying the menu sound track is. Please THQ and Yuke's integrate the track skip feature in the next UFC game. It's a great feature in any game where there is a lot of time spent in menus.
A handful of new features and an impressive roster of fighters from all weight classes makes UFC 2010 Undisputed an improvement over last year's title, but it's not a huge evolution for the franchise. Fans of the first Undisputed will undoubtedly love the online boot camp and the new career mode, but the game still has the same high learning cure and level of difficulty that makes it rather inaccessible to new comers. As I am not a diehard fan of UFC or the games I found little added value from the online multiplayer. It's not that UFC isn't accessible to everyone, it is, but to get any sense of accomplishment requires too much commitment of time for the average gamer to invest unless they already have a personal attachment to the sport.
I recommend UFC Undisputed 2010 to fans of the series or sport only. If you're new to the series and still want to check it out there is a demo online where you can try out the controls. Because of the amount of practice it takes to obtain enough skill to become competitive (online and off) you must be either a natural at the controls or dedicated enough to master them. Having skill in only one form of fighting doesn't cut it anymore with UFC. You must be able to fight in any situation and quickly adapt if you want to get to the top. Otherwise it will just be a long series of virtual beat downs, with your fighter's blood covering the mat.