Version tested: Xbox 360
Why isn't the UFC as popular as boxing? Are the MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters of the UFC not superior in overall combat, demonstrating that fighters of a single discipline invariably have inherent weaknesses when their respective rulebooks are thrown out of the window? Well, the UFC certainly fields some of the world's most talented combatants, but it doesn't always deliver the most entertaining fights. For every bloody slugfest - where two stand-up fighters beat each other senseless for three rounds - we get a first-round submission finish, where a dominant ground fighter trips up his opponent before forcing him to submit with some manner of ankle or arm lock. An impressive demonstration of hand-to-hand combat, yes, but not as entertaining as seeing someone knocked out with a tornado kick to the face.
In videogame terms, the challenge Yuke's faces with UFC 2009 is even more daunting. Gamers, rather than being limited to what the human body is physically capable of, can dragon punch a giant Russian wrestler 40 feet into the air. With a character wearing little more than an Elvis costume, they can shrug off several hits from a claymore - whilst wielding nunchaku with even more flair than the late Bruce Lee himself. Comparatively, a UFC game must toe the line of a simulator like Fight Night. Its value is measured on how well it represents the sport, but it must also be entertaining to play. Thankfully, then, UFC 2009 is a more enjoyable experience in terms of tightness and entertainment than any wrestling or boxing game I've ever played (with the notable exception of Fighting Mania).
Undisputed's fighting system focuses on the six main standing and ground styles used in the UFC. On their feet fighters have a proficiency in boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai. And whilst grappling or wrestling on the floor, fighters can utilise techniques from wrestling, judo or Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The dual styles of your chosen fighter generally dictate your best chance for victory. If your style is kickboxing and judo, you'll be able to zone your opponent with long-range kicks, and should you get in close, you'll have the means to throw them to the ground for a submission. In contrast, Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu is all about in-close fighting with deadly knees to the face. And if a judoka or wrestler takes you to the ground, jiu-jitsu gives you the means to dominate with counters and submissions - even if in the defending position.
Despite being effectively mapped to the pad, understanding Undisputed's many systems will take some time. Dead or Alive this certainly isn't. An Undisputed novice will get to grips with the punches and kicks of the standing game relatively quick. The face buttons each represent a limb - ala Tekken - and can be used to string together basic combos. Attacks are normally aimed at an opponent's face or chest, but holding left trigger will aim your attacks at the legs and midriff. Right bumper and trigger can be held for low and high guarding. Although Undisputed aims for a more seamless approach to combat by removing any onscreen health bars, I'd recommended first-time players turn on the stamina display in the options menu. Training with it gives a better understanding of the importance of stamina.
Stamina and health are intertwined, because the maximum amount of stamina a fighter has is equal to their remaining health. Offensive techniques drain stamina, but stamina can be recovered safely by guarding or backing away. However, as a fighter takes damage their health gradually lowers and they become exhausted more rapidly. A player with stamina in the red is significantly more susceptible to submissions and knockouts. I've played a few online matches where the opponent, even though close to full health, was knocked out in the first minute after completely draining their stamina and failing to recover it.
Light punches and kicks are incapable of putting an opponent to sleep, but are quick and hard to counter. By holding a direction, the fighter's punches and kicks gain more weight, and if the conditions are right, have KO potential. Even more flamboyant techniques are opened up by holding the left bumper, which accesses style-specific strikes. These include flying knees and superman punches. If you miss, the recovery time is typically punishing. However, all strikes can be countered by flicking the right analogue stick up for high attacks and down for low attacks. Implementing this into your game is crucial, especially against a strike-happy opponent. Thankfully the counter window is quite generous. Catch a foot and you'll take the opponent to the ground. Whereas catching a fist puts you in the clinch.