So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
UFC Undisputed 2010
UFC is on quite a roll these days
- A worthy sequel to the original, refinements in every key area, additional game modes and new challenges offer greater replayability
- Intricate fighting system can be overwhelming, career mode isn't quite perfect and needs some improvements
The slick interface, brutal knockouts, and technical sophistication found in last year's title helped turn a legion of gamers into fans of mixed-martial arts, but gamers have even more reason to be excited this year as Undisputed 2010 is a vast improvement in pretty much every key area. It's a terrific follow-up to what was an already excellent game, and it should help elevate the stature of the UFC to untold heights.
Price$ 109.95 (AUD)
Last year's UFC Undisputed 2009 was a surprise hit, not only garnering rave reviews from critics but registering monster sales numbers and helping to elevate the stature of the entire UFC brand. That's no small feat for a game that fans were sceptical of from the beginning; many of us wondered if a video game could realistically represent the sport in digital form. Many casual observers may think MMA consists solely of two people trying to pound each other into submission, but the truth is that the sport is incredibly complex.
Undisputed 2009 was a success because it did an admirable job of capturing MMA's many nuances, but it suffered from a handful of issues which grew more apparent the longer you played. The 2010 instalment of Undisputed addresses many of those problems, and it really feels as if the developers listened to the concerns of the community when they went to tweak, change, and in some cases totally revamp, sections of the game. As a result, Undisputed 2010 feels like an actual upgrade rather than the simple roster update other yearly sports game franchises are sometimes guilty of.
The most dramatic change to the franchise formula is the new sway system. It took me a little while to get the hang of it but it's a solid addition that adds a new layer of strategy to the striking game. A quick tap of the right analog stick causes your fighter to duck, lean or sway to the right or left. It allows you to manoeuvre away from your opponent's strikes rather than just absorbing them with a block. Combine a well timed sway with a counter punch and you'll not only deliver extra damage but gain an increased chance of stunning or knocking out your opponent. Fortunately there are repercussions for excessive swaying back and forth as leaning into an incoming punch causes extra damage (something I learned the hard way when I suffered a quick knock out after dancing around too much).
The clinch game, which in my estimation was handled poorly in last year's game, has also been overhauled with great success. Being on the wrong end of a Muay Thai clinch is no longer the death sentence it once was, and jockeying for position is now done with the same semicircle movements used in the ground game. Pushing opponents against the cage can also open up another avenue of strategy, making the clinch an actual asset rather than a clunky feature that doesn't work as well as it should.
Yuke's also addressed ground grappling by adding numerous new transitions, positions, and submissions -- I am especially thrilled to see the inclusion of the crucifix pin Matt Hughes famously used to defeat BJ Penn at UFC 63. The addition of exotic submissions like the gogoplata, BJ Penn's arm-trap rear naked choke, and the Peruvian necktie are also welcome, and offer a nice change of pace from the usual tap-out manoeuvres. Button mashing is no longer an option for defeating submissions; rapidly spinning the right analog stick is the only way out. You can instantly transition from one submission attempt to another with a quick button press, forcing your opponent to change the direction of his rotations to escape. This may not sound like a big deal but it's trickier than it sounds and represents how a fighter can quickly change his technique mid-move. Fighters now have a passive defensive ability that helps eliminate the "punch, transition block" cycle of last year as well. Additionally, fighters can eventually break through an opponent's sustained transition defence, which will hopefully eliminate the block spam from last year and keep players active on the ground.
All of these improvements to the fight engine are terrific and add a greater sense of realism but it can prove confusing at times. You have to know when and how each discrete set of moves work, which left me making frequent trips to the pause menu for a quick refresher. Remembering that your left bumper modified sweep applies only to "side control bottom position down" is rather cumbersome, and will no doubt turn off gamers who don't have the patience of learn every subtle nuance. You can still have fun by learning a basic move set but to really get the most out of the game -- as well as the actual sport -- it helps if you dig deeper.
That's where the career mode comes in: like last year, it is a great way to slowly master the intricate fighting system over the course of your career. Create a fighter has been greatly expanded and predetermined styles are eliminated. Individual moves are selected à la carte, giving created fighters a much needed sense of individuality. You no longer get a free ride to the UFC, either; instead, you follow a realistic career progression path, starting off as an amateur than rising up through the ranks. Cut scenes build an actual sense of narrative to your journey as well, fleshing out the overall career experience, and you can engage in pre- and post-fight interviews with Joe Rogan to disrespect your opponent or suck up to the fans to boost your popularity rating. Unfortunately most of the post fight dialogue is bland; it would be more fun if they allowed you to exhibit a more colourful personality. And for those that were wondering, UFC President Dana White won't harass you with 20 emails a day like a jilted ex-lover, taking on his familiar role as the UFC's charismatic and foul mouthed front man instead.
Multiplayer is another important aspect of the game, and while I didn't get a chance to try out the mode -- servers were not available yet -- I have high hopes that Yuke's has addressed the issues which hampered last year's online fights. Quirks like people fighting with created characters with blown up stats and transition block spamming really cut into the joy of taking on human opponents. This year's version adds some new twists to keep the action more interesting, including the ability to recreate actual UFC pay-per-view event cards and a central database to upload stats to. There's no telling how the mode will hold up over the long term until the servers go live but it looks as though Yuke's is at least learning from their past mistakes.
And that's what makes Undisputed 2010 such a success: it addresses the problems of the past while making subtle improvements that make the product better. The graphics are crisper, the animations are better, and several new tweaks make the actual fighting more enjoyable. Even the menu system and user interface is cleaner and easier to navigate. This attention to detail makes Undisputed 2010 an intensely satisfying experience, and if THQ can keep up the momentum, the future of MMA games looks bright indeed.
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