UFC stands for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and if you’ve never seen a UFC bout, it’s quite a spectacle (to put it mildly). Boxing isn’t a particularly pacifistic sport, but even in the punch-happy world where the Queensbury rules, when you hit your opponent so hard he falls down, the referee steps in and gives them the count. In UFC, however, you’re quite welcome to jump on the downed fighter, pinning him down with your knees, and then keep on punching him repeatedly in the face while he attempts to half-blindly fend off your raining blows. It really is a very brutal “sport”.
Just the sort of thing it’s sensible to partake of on a console and not in reality. However, if you’re new to the world of UFC Undisputed, there’s still a considerable element of intimidation here; delivered by the instruction manual. At first glance the controls don’t seem too complex, with the usual punches, kicks, blocks and throws. But then you realise there’s a separate set of controls for entering clinches and attempting take-downs, and another for grappling on the floor, plus button presses for attempting a submission hold.
Initially this is a lot to get to grips with, but fortunately there’s a useful guided tutorial mode to acclimatise the beginner. Granted, you’ll have forgotten half of it by the time you’ve gone through the entire thirty minute training session, but a revisit to the earlier sections, plus a couple of practice matches, and you’ll pretty much have the basics down solidly. It helps that the same controls are used in different situations. When grappling either standing up in a clinch, or wrestling on the floor, rotating the right stick shifts your fighter around in an effort to get a better position.
A prime position on the floor, where you can “posture up” and get the leverage to rain down blows on a prone opponent, is a vital advantage. If someone is doing that to you, the idea is to rotate the right stick yourself and try to shift out of that position, preferably before your facial features end up emigrating to different positions on your head. This can lead to a sort of mad-right-stick-waggle-itis, particularly for the panicking novice, but this pretty much effectively captures the struggle on the floor as it is in reality, with the two fighters writhing, scrabbling for an advantage, trying to pin limbs and dig the odd vicious elbow in.
Overall, UFC Undisputed does a great job of capturing the flavour and intensity of these no-holds-barred scraps. And what’s also impressive is the way different fighters have very different styles: you can really tell whether you’re up against a slugger who can hit hard, an all-kicking martial arts fanatic, or a wrestling type who’s going to try to take it to the floor. The only fly in the realism ointment is that rather too many bouts seem to end in the first round, a fair few times by knock-out. Although our career fighter’s hard punching style may have had something to do with that bias.
In terms of presentation, which is often an area where sports games leave us disappointed with their efforts, UFC Undisputed scores highly. There are pre-match cards, lengthy TV style introductions to big fights, highlights after each round, and some great commentary which – shock horror – actually makes contextual sense almost all the time. There are also extras such as little magazine articles in the career mode, different sponsor logos that you can plaster over your trunks (or shorts as we Brits prefer to call them), T-shirts and so on. Our only problem with the interface was that it’s a bit slow to load up the different items of clothing for customisation purposes.
The career campaign, which lets the player design his own boxer and train him up through the pro ranks over twelve years, is marvellously detailed too. You’re responsible for scheduling attribute training and sparring sessions to build skills, judging the pacing up to a fight to ensure you’re in optimum condition right before the bout.
Staff hiring shots have to be called: do you work with a coach on raising strength and speed attributes, or employ a new sparring partner to up your fighting skills further? Or hire an extra janitor to mop up all that blood (well, that should be an option). There are also training camps a fighter can visit to learn brand new special moves. UFC has a good solid depth to the career, without forcing you to deal with an overwhelming level of detail.
On top of this, there are plenty of other modes to tackle, including a title chase (and title defence once you’ve attained it), and a batch of unlockable historic fights which recreate famous matches, from the great, to the good, and the downright ugly. Throw in Xbox Live online play, and Xbox Live fight camps – basically clans of fighters you can form up with friends, to take on other clans – and this is a really well rounded out UFC package.