Although England has a history of international football tournament failure, here in the UK we're nonetheless renowned for our sporting patriotism - by which token UFC 2010 should make a good impression. Last year's game only had one English fighter, Michael Bisping, but for 2010 we're getting The Ultimate Fighter 9 winners Ross Pearson and James Wilks, as well as Dan "Dhalsim" Hardy - a Brit who survived an armbar and kimura submission attempt by legendary Welterweight Champion GSP. Other 2010 British additions include Terry Etim, Mostapha Al-turk and Andre Winner (unconfirmed), as well as James McSweeney for DLC. Get in.
Playing 2010 on the Xbox 360 this week at an event in London, it's clear why Yuke's kept the Undisputed tagline, as the ebb and flow of the game will be immediately familiar to those who've played 2009. The control setup has been left mostly unchanged with everything from the right analogue stick counters, to the face button punches and kicks, remaining intact. The ground game transitions are also achieved through the quarter- and third-circle motions which took time and patience to master in the first game.
But while there's no escaping a sense of familiarity, it's also clear that 2010 is an evolution of the 2009 template, with its share of mechanical overhauls and improvements. Perhaps the most significant addition is the new Sway system, which allows the player to swiftly dodge oncoming attacks by holding the right bumper (high guard) and flicking the left analogue stick. A flick forward, for instance, will allow your fighter to duck a loaded punch to the head, and by immediately following up with a counter you can land an uppercut which has knockout potential.
Another substantial change - which will require 2009 vets to rethink their gameplay strategies - is the new Cage Physics. By catching your opponent in a standing clinch or grapple, you can now pressure them against the Octagon wall and use the increased leverage to bash their body with knee strikes, rendering their blows less effective. From this position you can also attempt a takedown, either going for a safe double-leg, which will put you in a full guard, or instead attempting a riskier single-leg, which will net you a more advantageous half-guard position.
Yuke's has also made subtle changes to the existing mechanics, not least of which is the adoption of the ground game transition system to the stand-up clinches and grapples. Effectively this means you can transition from a double underhook to a collar tie with carefully timed motions on the right analogue stick, which, while still hard to master, feels more intuitive. Further additions include doctor stoppages, new flash submissions and a less rigid combo system - effectively allowing players to experiment with their own punch/kick combinations.
With only the Heavyweight and Welterweight divisions in the preview build, match-ups like Shane Carwin vs. Frank Mir and Dan Hardy vs. GSP were the obvious choices, and after recreating the UFC thrills of first-round knockouts and five-round baited endurances, 2010's many tweaks and new systems feel relevant and help to make this MMA simulation, and by extension the fighters themselves, more authentic. Both Shane and Dan have an excellent stand-up game, which, in the right situation, has one-hit-KO potential, but once things transition to the ground Frank and GSP tend to dominate. Just like their real-life counterparts.
For those who prefer to build their own fighter, rather than fill the 4XL gloves of Brock Lesnar, the revamped Create a Fighter mode looks to improve upon the original. This time there's more choice in crafting your fighter's physical appearance, as you can choose from a broader selection of body types, as well as having full control over facial features. Players can now choose between some 59 different haircuts - including long hippy styles - as well as giving their MMA avatar that extra edge with arrow-shaped sideburns.
UK fighters can also pick between seven hometown cities, and while London, Manchester and Liverpool are all obvious additions, the inclusion of Sunderland over Newcastle is a curious choice. That said, I thought the omission of Truro was the more shocking oversight.
Less superficial, however, is the way in which creating your own fighting style has changed. In the last game everything revolved around picking one standing style and one ground style. But while this helped to maintain a balanced gameplay experience, it also felt unnaturally restrictive as most UFC fighters are proficient in multiple styles. For 2010 this old system has been knocked out in favour of giving the player creative control.
You can start either by selecting either a technique template base - with choices like Russian (MMA base) and Grappler (BBJ base) - or if you know your triangle chokes from your rubber guards you can jump straight into technique editing. THQ claims UFC 2010 has double the number of submissions, triple the number of ground positions and quadruple the number of standing strikes, and by looking at the moves available in fighter creation I don't think the publisher's exaggerating.
Suffice to say the list of techniques is vast, with players able to map any starting move to an appropriate input. This is more freeform and allows for greater diversity. Plus, when you consider all the extra techniques offered by the new Karate, Sambo and Greco-Roman Wrestling fighting styles, the Mixed Martial Arts badge that Undisputed wears becomes more meaningful.
But with so much versatility, Yuke's obviously needed a strict rule-set to stop anything too broken, and in this sense we've got a point system that limits how many moves a single fighter can have. A few high-level moves are modelled on specific UFC fighters, including Hendo's Right Back Fist and GSP's Head Kick, whereas the rest are more catchall manoeuvres like the Right Karate Back Spin Kick and Gopoplata submission. Apparently some of the new submissions have never been successfully pulled off in the UFC.
So the Create a Fighter mode is shaping up to be a fairly well-rounded improvement, with extra options for South Paws, Navigation Styles and even Dominant Hand selection. But these changes also come in tandem with a new Career Mode. Whereas the wafer-thin story of 2009 was conveyed almost exclusively through text and emails, this time Yuke's wants to immerse you into a cut-scene laden UFC world where the "Game is Watching You". Everything starts out in the World Fighting Alliance (in football terms the Championship compared to the UFC's Premiership) where your fighter is being trained by famed MMA coach Marc Laimon.
From here you'll win a few fights in the WFA before the abrasive Dana White shows up and calls everyone who doesn't fight in the UFC a bitch. He then offers you a chance to relinquish your "bitch" status. This time your fighter also has a voice, with the player deciding on how to vocalise it. So during a pre-fight weigh in against Rampage Jackson you can either show him a little respect or instead insinuate that has mum works night shifts lying down.
Time scheduling between bouts will once again be dictated by the career calendar system. This means the usual micromanagement of strength, speed and cardio attributes, as well as sparring to improve MMA Skills, which will now decay unless certain threshold levels are reached. Fight Camps appear to play a more significant role too, as by training with certain fighters and coaches you can learn advanced techniques which may be exclusive to a particular camp.
There's also a new Game Plan system, which allows your fighter to work on key areas before a fight. So if you're going up against a strong BBJ practitioner, by working on a submission defence plan you'll receive temporary bonus points in the relevant skill areas. And rather than being eternally youthful, the Career mode will now see your fighter age with accumulated muscle damage, making title defences in the later years all the more challenging.
Although our hands-on time was limited to the Exhibition, Create a Fighter, and new Tournament modes, the Career demonstration, at least on the face of it, seems like a worthy venture. I just hope Yuke's has made the story part vaguely meaningful, rather than penning some wince-worthy WWE soap opera [back off, Edwards! -Ed]. But at least in terms of the new online Fight Camps, this feels like a relevant addition and a good way to allow the UFC community to develop gameplay strategies together.
So, as a sequel to one of the biggest surprises of 2009, UFC Undisputed 2010 is shaping up to be as accomplished as its predecessor, and in many ways better - more natural and less scripted. We still need to find out how well it plays online, but with the game due out on 28th May we haven't long to wait.
The only question is, can EA Sports forthcoming MMA title do the unthinkable and TKO the undisputed champion in the second round? I'd say it's about as likely as GSP beating Anderson Silva in a catch-weight super fight. However, as for the up-and-coming UFC 116 Brock Lesnar vs. Shame Carwin? I wouldn't want to call it, but there's no escaping the fact that Shame demolished Mir a whole three minutes quicker than Brock...
UFC 2010: Undisputed is due out for PS3 and Xbox 360 on 28th May.