If there's one thing this modern age has taught us, it's that nothing stays the same for long.
The tired old conventions we adhered to in the name of tradition are steadily being replaced by new, innovative and exciting concepts designed to spur our species on to even greater achievements. We live in an age where a corporation can send a person into space. Where Formula One can be challenged by drivers fuelled with little more than patriotism. And if you think Boxing is boring and nowhere near brutal enough, you can invent an alternative.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship emerged as a valid sport in the early 1990's, and quickly gained a reputation for brutality and lawlessness amongst practitioners. After the growing popularity of Martial Arts through the 1970's and 80's, debate reached a fever pitch as to which was the best, and in part this fighting league was created to settle the score. As a result, the sport has not only evolved to cater to mixed disciplines, it's managed to shape and enhance the disciplines themselves, resulting in new techniques and increased combat effectiveness.
UFC 2009: Undisputed isn't the first UFC game ever made. We've seen UFC: Sudden Impact, UFC: Tapout and UFC: Throwdown, to name just a few. However Undisputed is the first UFC title that has been fully licensed by the UFC governing body, so developers Yukes have a pretty good incentive to make sure it satisfies a huge fighting fanbase.
THQ were keen to extol the virtues of Undisputed during our hands-on session. It seems as if the title has become a firm Friday-afternoon favourite around their office, and it's easy to see why. You can pick from a list of over eighty fighters, each equipped with a comprehensive array of statistics that mimic real-life performance. Each fighter comes with two specialities chosen from boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, kickboxing, judo, muay thai or wrestling, and the various specialities are categorised as either stand-up or grappling.
Moving into the ring, the first thing you notice is that there are no damage meters. While combat makes it pretty obvious that you're taking damage, it really takes at least one round to see the effect this has on your fighter. Severe impacts will cause cuts on the players skin to open up, and repeated pummelling will result in bruises. The detail is simply superb - with over 30,000 polygons for each fighter, a cursory glance at the screen could have you convinced you're watching the fight on pay-per-view.
The lack of a damage meter also increases the tension. THQ explained to us that they'd seen KO's occur extremely quickly in their multiplayer battles; grab the right combination of buttons at the right time and you can deliver a blow that your competitor simply won't recover from. More often than not however, each fight is a brutal campaign to wear down your opposition and place yourself in a position to deliver a final, satisfying blow that will seriously ruin his afternoon. At the end of each round, you can review your king hits in a video montage, or simply skip the commentary and get straight back into the action by watching your fatigued player hobble out into the ring to face more punishment.
As UFC is a multi-disciplined sport, you'll need to perfect all types of takedown moves. Grappling is a more advanced technique, but correctly applied it can bring about a quick end to the fight. You can use a special combination to bring your opponent to the ground and deliver a series of abdominal punches, but you need to watch out for reversal moves that could see you on the receiving end of your own takedown. As each fighter is tailored towards particular specialities, you'll need to know your enemy well to avoid their special techniques.
While Undisputed's multiplayer really shines, it also has a robust single-player campaign. We'll be following this up in a full review shortly, but we have seen extensive character customisation and training routines designed to sculpt your fighter from scratch.
There's no doubt that UFC 2009: Undisputed will be the most detailed and visually impressive UFC title on offer when it's released in New Zealand on May 22nd. If you're in the market for a fighting title that oozes realism and is based on a massively popular sport, or if you're simply looking for a legitimate excuse to beat the hell out of your mates, then this one is for you.
If you'd like to try before you buy, there's a playable demo for UFC 2009 available from Xbox Live and PSN. We've also mirrored an HD trailer over at GP Downloads (213MB).