Modern games have turned me into a sissy. Back when I first started killing pixellated threats to humanity, games were actually a challenge. Difficulty levels were so insanely high that most games lasted about as long as it takes to sneeze. There were no tutorials, pause buttons, or mercy. Sometimes there weren’t even enough buttons on the arcade machine to perform all the actions possible in the game. Think about that for a second.
I’ve since decided that the only rational explanation was that programmers back then somehow derived power from the tears of vanquished nerds. Yup, those were the golden years, alright, and they made men out of us all, except the women, which they made into hermaphrodites.
It brought a nostalgic nerd-tear to my eye, then, to have my ass so thoroughly handed to me when I first played last year’s mixed martial arts brawler UFC 2009: Undisputed. For the uninitiated: the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) is the biggest MMA (mixed martial arts) organization ITW (in the world). Two combatants face off in an octagonal cage, and may use any combination of fighting styles they wish (with the exception of Klurkor and Gun Kata, I believe) to submit, knock out or out-point each other. It’s fast, brutal, and exciting, and thus perfect fodder for a video game.
UFC 2009 was a solid game that didn’t rival something like arcade classic Defender in the will-breaking stakes, but it certainly placed a pretty steep learning curve in front of would-be fighters.
UFC 2010: Even More Undisputeder has a lot in common with its predecessor. The same deep control scheme is back; you strike with the face buttons and clinch, grapple and submit fools by twirling the right analog stick. You can build a warrior from the toes up and develop his abilities as you play, or just dive into an exhibition match using an existing UFC fighter. You can bash or choke out your mates. You can change the colour of your shorts.
Basically, you can do all you could do in the 2009 edition, but everything has been expanded just a wee bit. Think of it as a tweaking of an already-mostly-successful formula as opposed to a complete overhaul. Given that UFC 2009 was above average but not spectacular, this is both good and bad.
I’ll admit this though: graphically, UFC 2010 is sexy. Fighters are animated well, and they move and behave as they do in real life. The attention to detail here is in fact quite staggering. Some fighters are so lifelike that my “uncanny valley” reflex kicked in, and I felt quite weirded out watching them stare blankly out of my TV. Audio quality is also high, although the commentary gets repetitive pretty fast – especially if you stick to the same fighting style your whole career. A small tweak though: this time around in career mode, Joe and Mike comment on your overall career when calling your fights, which is a nice touch.
Following the rule that sequels must be bigger and contain more explosions, there are more fighters and moves to train in UFC 2010. The roster was already impressive, but now it’s damn near comprehensive (Ross Pearson! Yes!).
Additions have also been made to career mode, but they aren’t all good. Now, as well as micro-managing your fighter in the weeks leading up to a fight (which includes sparring to earn points you can spend on boosting his stats or learning new moves), you are constantly badgered to do extra sparring sessions for UFC photo ops or to predict the outcomes of upcoming events. These mini-games affect your popularity slightly, as does the way you conduct yourself after a fight, but this stuff has no bearing on the game as a whole.
You can apparently create rivalries with other fighters by dissing them after a fight, but I gave the most negative answers (which ain’t that negative) to all questions about every fighter I faced and everyone still loved me. Maybe they realized that as a bully, deep down I just hated myself, or that I was beautiful on the inside, but either way, the “cred” system is a missed opportunity to add an interesting dimension to the game.
And the combat. Oh the sweet, slow-motion combat! Compared to Fight Night, a scrap in UFC 2010 feels stiff and laboured, almost as if you’re fighting underwater. There isn’t that outsized feeling of force behind your strikes that you get in most fighting games; successful hits register with a pat rather than a BOOM, and fighters are comically stoic about being punched in the face, to the point where you sometimes wonder if you are actually doing any damage. It’s like watching two guys with inflatable fists and iron faces attempt to knock each other out.
This is exacerbated further by the fighters moving in the same manner whether they are completely healthy or if the suggestion of a slight breeze will bowl them over. Sure, they bruise and bleed a little, but it’d be nice if injured fighters dropped their hands slightly, staggered a bit, or at least breathed heavily through their mouth. As it stands, your only indication as to how things are going are the stamina bars, which by default are switched off. And at the risk of sounding sadistic, there isn’t enough blood in this game. Guys bleed heavily in UFC bouts, just ask Joe Stevenson.
The combined effect of all this makes the gameplay like a quiet, friendly facsimile of the UFC. All the danger and tension has been sucked out.
As far as controls go, clinches and grappling could have been handled better. The current system is adequate but nothing more. You better your position by performing variations on a quarter circle with the right analog stick, and the game factors in your clinch/submission/wrestling ability before deciding if you have successfully passed someone’s guard or escaped a clinch. With a well timed flick of the stick you can perform reversals, but these are so hard to pull off they happen more due to luck than by design. This means that you often enter a clinch and then can only watch helplessly as your guy eats knees, especially early on in career mode when you have poor clinch stats. I do like the new ability to power up a submission and to change it midway through the attempt though.
My final gripe combat-wise is regarding leg kicks. In the actual UFC they are a devastating weapon that can be used to cut down a larger opponent or completely remove a striker’s ability to throw a decent punch. Here: nothing. I selected kicking machine Anderson Silva and booted a guy in the thigh for an entire round. He didn’t limp, grimace, or slow at all. Maybe he was a robot imposter, or maybe this gameplay mechanic is broken. Which do you reckon?
Despite all these criticisms, UFC 2010 is by no means a bad game. As a matter of fact, it’s still pretty fun. Thing is, I can see the incredible game that it could be, and am disappointed that it’s not quite there yet. If you’re a UFC fan, you’ll still get a kick out of it, but others may want to wait for the inevitable 2011 iteration.