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Adam Miller
03-30-2009, 05:10 PM
On the surface it's a fact that's almost unfathomable. Sports video games are a billion dollar industry, driven heavily by young men who love Madden, NBA Live and the like. Few sports are more successful at reaching that young adult male demographic than the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Yet it has been almost five years since a UFC video game was last released.

Well, the wait is almost over, guys. On May 19, video game developer THQ will release the first UFC video game since the MMA boom. It's a potential cash cow for all involved if the game clicks with consumers. So what can fans expect? I recently had the opportunity to try out a near-completed version of the game at THQ Studios and discuss with the developers the various aspects of the game.

UFC Undisputed 2009 features a roster of 80 fighters. These fighters range from the most famous main-event stars to rising up-and-comers to relatively unknown journeymen. Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Tito Ortiz, Wanderlei Silva, Rashad Evans, Anderson Silva, Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, Georges St. Pierre, Matt Hughes, Thiago Alves, B.J. Penn, Kenny Florian and Nate Diaz are just a few of the featured stars. The game will also feature a few other unlockable characters, although THQ won't yet reveal who those will be.

Fighters were put into the game using a 3D scanning device as well as high-resolution photography. The fighter models look impressive in their realism.

From beginning to end, the video game delivers an authentic UFC experience. After you select the fighters you want to use, a tale of the tape comes up, just like at a UFC event. Bruce Buffer delivers his inimitable introductions and each fighter receives a mixture of boos and cheers from the partisans in the crowd.

Well-known trainers and managers like Greg Jackson, Marc Laimon and Ed Soares lean over the cage to give their fighters advice, while holding up sponsorship banners or national flags. Licensed referees like Herb Dean and Steve Mazzagatti oversee the action, while "professional hot chicks" like Arianny Celeste hold up the cards.

There are a number of playable venues in the game, including the Mandalay Bay, the Palms Hotel and Casino, the Red Rock Hotel and Casino, the UFC Gym and even likely future UFC destination Madison Square Garden. Inside the arena, the layout is pretty much identical to an actual event, right down to the announcers seated behind the red corner and the press seated behind the blue corner.

The announcing is provided by the familiar team of Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, who recorded 36 hours of audio commentary for the game. This includes shorter sound bites pulled from actual UFC events, longer spiels about different fighters in the game, as well as commentary that Rogan and Goldberg provided watching a demo of the game.

Any game is only going to be as good as its control scheme. No matter how spectacular a game looks, it needs to be fun to play.

Sports games have traditionally gravitated in one of two directions. Some games take an "arcade" approach, with more simplistic controls that are designed to be fun and easy to use, but not necessarily realistic.

Other games use more complex schemes that are designed to provide a more accurate depiction of how the sport functions and to reward those who invest the time to learn the ins and outs of the scheme.

UFC Undisputed 2009 clearly takes the latter approach. You can utilize a wide array of MMA techniques, both standing and on the ground, and, just like in real life, there are many different ways to win a fight. Hardcore MMA fans will be pleased at all of the different skills they can use, while more casual fans might be introduced to the practical benefits of techniques they didn't fully understand previously.

Each fighter in the game has one striking discipline and one grappling discipline. The fighters function differently depending on their skill set. Karo Parisyan has his judo throws and Chuck Liddell has his loopy punches. The fighters are not all evenly matched. The better fighters have better stats, and like in real life the key is often to exploit the weaknesses of your opponent.

Given that the designers have the last word on the stats in the game, this led to some pressure from some burly video game fanatics. Lead developer Neven Dravinski laughs about late-night phone calls he has received from certain unnamed fighters lobbying for better stats for their virtual selves. If Houston Alexander in the final version of the game ends up with a 95 rating for his jiu jitsu, you'll know what happened.

The player in the game strikes by using one of the four main buttons. The left triggers can be used to modify those strikes, and the strikes vary depending on whether you're closer or farther away. This allows for a whole host of different strikes, from hooks and jabs to head kicks and flying knees. You can score a flash knockout at any point in a fight and you can also daze your opponent. The other fighter will fall and try to cover up, while you rush over and throw punches hoping for the referee to call off the fight.

Grappling in the game is achieved using the right stick. Pushing the right stick allows for a clinch or a takedown. Players can fight for control in the clinch, securing a sweep takedown or landing knees in the Thai plum.

Once the fight goes to the ground, the player can go on offense with strikes or fight for positioning and a potential submission using the right stick. Rotating the right stick 90 degrees allows both the top fighter and the bottom fighter to work for a better position. You can transition from full guard to half guard to side control to north/south or full mount. On the bottom you can use the rubber guard and reverse your opponent using an omo plata.

When your opponent is vulnerable, you go for a submission by spinning the right stick frantically. These submissions include guillotine chokes, rear naked chokes, knee bars and more. However, these submissions may prove to be harder to secure than many players would like.

Fighters over time will be weakened by the damage that they take. If a fighter has a successful round he will walk back to his corner with confidence. If a fighter just barely survived the round he will limp back, sweating profusely, breathing hard and possibly bleeding from a cut or two. His corner will then provide advice for how to approach the next round.

In addition to an exhibition mode, there are a few other modes for players to explore. The most prominent is career mode, where you create your own fighter and move him up through the UFC ranks.

After you create your character, Dana White introduces you to the UFC and puts your fighter in a tryout fight that will determine where he starts on the totem pole. At first he will be fighting fictional lower-end fighters, and over time he'll move on to mid-level fighters and eventually the upper-echelon stars.

Your fighter progresses by improving his skills and gaining "cred points" that can be used to move to the next level. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva will offer you a number of potential opponents with different styles for your fighter's next bout, with the tougher opponents yielding more cred points. It is then your responsibility to properly prepare for the fight.

To prepare for the fight, you are provided a calendar. Each week your fighter can do activities to improve his skills, such as sparring and training. He can even travel to famous real-life camps for instruction from MMA's best tutors. He can also meet with sponsors and secure sponsorships for fight gear that will earn extra cred points. However, you also have to avoid overtraining by providing your fighter rest that will allow him to enter his fight in peak shape.

As your fighter's career advances, you can also watch the UFC advance. Your fights will take place on UFC cards featuring a host of real fighters, and the results of those fights could dictate your next opponents.

Career mode lasts for seven years, at which point your fighter will have a retirement fight. If you perform well enough you will gain induction into the UFC Hall of Fame. In addition, players can take their created fighters and compete online against the created fighters of other players. The developers say career mode for any given created fighter will last around 10 hours.

An additional feature in the game is "classic fights." In this mode, the player will have the opportunity to re-create 12 classic UFC fights like Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin and Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

After selecting a given fight, the player will get to watch an exclusive video introduction by Rachelle Leah, who talks about the classic fight. The player will then need to duplicate the finish of the original fight, such as using Quinton Jackson to knock out Chuck Liddell in the first round. If the player succeeds, he or she will unlock a video montage on the original fight.

Todd Martin has covered mixed martial arts for the Los Angeles Times, Wrestling Observer, SI.com and CBSSports.com. He can be reached at toddmartin4l@aol.com (toddmartin4l@aol.com).

Takamura Bear
03-31-2009, 02:05 AM
The exhbition mode sounds like a lot of fun.

THQ are trying to make it as authentic as possible to a UFC experience from what I have read.

This classic fights mode sounds interesting; reminds me of the ones in Fight Night Round 3.

Can't wait. :)