UFC Undisputed 2010
How do we kill UFC Undisputed 2009?’ Predictably aggressive words from Neven Dravinski, the producer of a game that is all about pounding your opponent into a bloody mess or applying a submission move that will make them pass out or at least tap out when the pain is too intense. But the strong statement is a signal of intent that Dravinski and his team take their challenge very seriously. With competition from the master of the sports franchise, EA – who will be entering MMA territory this year – THQ is under immense pressure to not only improve on its hugely successful UFC Undisputed title of last year but to ensure it can best whatever EA brings to the table.
It seems fitting then that THQ chose Las Vegas as the venue to give us the first showing of the latest UFC iteration. As neither publisher is sure of which cards the other is holding, but hope that when their hands are shown they are the ones holding all the aces, and given what we’ve seen of UFC Undisputed 2010, THQ certainly has no reason to bluff. Given the surprise success of last year’s game the developer might’ve been inclined to make a few token changes and give the visuals a fresh lick of pixel paint, but any half measures seem to have been completely rejected by the team in favour of delivering a much more rounded UFC experience.
This all-encompassing experience starts with the UFC roster and, given the fact that EA has to keep its hands off the company’s talent, it could be one of UFC 2010’s biggest boons. Over 100 prolific UFC fighters will grace the Octagon this year and, unlike last year, none will be made from the in-game creation mode, every fighter will be fully rendered and many motion captured to ensure their individual style and look translate to the in-game experience. Dravinski explains: “We wanted to give players the best experience possible and a big strength of UFC is the size of its roster, so we wanted to get as many of them in as possible. It wasn’t easy, though, as these guys live all over the world so we had to send photographers all over to make sure we got all the reference material we needed. It took a lot of global organisation and collaboration to get it done but UFC were great and gave us everything we needed.”
As fans of the SmackDown series will be aware, Japanese dev Yuke’s often goes that extra mile to ensure a level of finite detail that might not be appreciated by all but will delight the sport’s hardcore following. That same attention to detail was evident in the demo we witnessed, as Mike Swick squared off against Paulo Thiago. Everyone from the commentary team of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg to the ‘Veteran Voice of the Octagon’, Bruce Buffer, are present and correct (for those of you wondering, the legendary ‘Buffer 180’ does make its debut this year) but that’s no real surprise. What was pleasing was to see that even the subtle pre and post-fight customs had been included, such as fighters’ T-shirts and baseball caps being slung on for the announcement of the official verdict. Not a huge improvement, admittedly, but tie that together with new referees, real trainers and, of course, the jiggling Octagon Girls and you have a product that feels much more realistic before you even try out the revised fighting mechanics.
Aesthetics aside, the fighting mechanic is where the biggest changes are to come. If competitors are to look like they do in real life it’s important that they fight like them as well, so, rather than being tied to just two of a possible six fighting styles, players can create individual move sets from numerous MMA disciplines including recently added styles such as Sambo, Karate and Greco-Roman Wrestling. This will make for a much more varied experience when it comes to both the standing and ground game, as will the inclusion of a new ‘Sway System’. Last year’s game was lambasted for its lack of such a system, as you would often be left open to a series of blows while engaging in close combat but now upper body and head movement allows for quick dodging of attacks. Sways, leans and ducks are all ways in which to turn defence into attack but, as with much of the new combat in Undisputed 2010, it’s often a case of risk and reward. You might just lean out of the way of one blow and into the path of an oncoming strike, flattening you for a ‘flash’ KO. With EA already revealing that it will be using a hybrid of its popular Fight Night fighting system in MMA, these kinds of tweaks are essential for UFC to have an intuitive feel.
The first game was commended for translating a very complex sport from arena to console. However, due to the nuances of the sport, a complex control system was inevitable and with the introduction of even more combat modifiers a worry arises that the casual audience might be alienated in favour of hardcore fighting fans. This was a concern we put to Dravinski, who explained that while UFC 2010 will still be accessible to newcomers it is attempting to add more variety for those willing to experiment. “I think the dynamic of ‘easy to pick up but difficult to master’ existed in the first game and it remains for this one. We’ve just added extra levels of depth. The new features are there to encourage you to try to learn them in order to become a better fighter. In the last game the close combat didn’t have as much effect as the ranged blows, but with the advent of the sways and leans we’ve revolutionised the way the game is played. There’s less of a tendency to stand back and then suddenly attack, now you can get in close and experiment with new moves. We’ve given people the tools to do much more if they want to.”
With the addition of sways and leans to the standing game it was important for the ground game to evolve as well. With the confirmation of double the amount of submissions and the introduction of a new targeting system, action on the mat is going to be a completely different prospect. Whereas in the previous game submissions were very much a staged process where you would simply transition from various static states with no real indication of who was winning, a new system now gives you a visual representation of what is transpiring. Your opponent’s limbs will move as he tries to break the hold and the camera will begin to zoom in the closer you get to earning the victory.
You can also switch position mid-submission but, just as with the standing game, this involves risk and reward – you could earn a greater advantage or risk ending up in a worse position, either way it forces your opponent to try to react. We were also privy to the new posture system that allows you to execute multiple submissions from the same position based on posture, this can lead to an assortment of finishes including the recently incorporated ‘flash’ submissions. Those in the know will also appreciate the addition of fighters’ signature submissions – such as BJ Penn’s arm tap – to ensure an additional level of authenticity. Educated fighters might also be pleased to learn that the clunky button-mashing system that could be used previously to break submissions has been cast by the wayside in favour of more elegant stick rotation.
During the unveil, the team was keen to address some of the complaints levelled at the first game by confirming that the cage will no longer be a static object and can be interacted with. You can hold your opponent against the structure while you throw fists or perform takedowns. The cage has the ability to change the direction of a fight depending on how you use it, as does the fighting style you adopt and now, courtesy of the new Southpaw stance, it’s possible to change to southpaw at any time by clicking H. Not only does this enable fighters to adopt their true-to-life fighting technique, it also allows you to keep your opponent guessing throughout a bout by switching the dominance of your hands.
Of course, a big issue that arose after the release of UFC 2009 was online play, with reprehensible types pulling the plug if they lost with no consequence, but despite the problem being rectified by ‘the patch’ there is much more in store for online combatants this time around. With THQ encouraging camaraderie by forming fight camps and leagues to participate in, as well as ranking and champion tracking systems. After training and earning your virtual stripes, your camp can then go online and compete against other fighting factions.
When unchallenged, THQ enjoyed a huge amount of success with UFC Undisputed 2009 and rightly so, as it successfully managed to re-create a sport some thought too intricate for interactive play. But now, with another big hitter like EA entering the fray, the rules of the game have changed, as it’s not just about making improvements on the previous release but ensuring the fighting experience is the best it can possibly be. Given our initial look at the new build of UFC Undisputed and the determination of the team, we have every confidence it can succeed.
In his closing statement, when asked about the opposition, Dravinski said: “We are very competitive and to us our only competition is ourselves. We don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t know what we’re doing. Our big advantage is that we have Dana White. He demands excellence and having a guy like that around pushes us to be the best we can be and make the best game possible. The need to be number one permeates through his whole organisation and that extends to this game.”