Although THQ's upcoming UFC 2009 Undisputed won't be the first UFC game on the market, it will be the first one that arrives at just the right moment. After all, at the original publishing date of games like 2000's Ultimate Fighting Championship or even the more recent UFC: Sudden Impact from 2004, the sport on which they were based was still in its relative infancy. Fast-forward to today and UFC is as close to a mainstream sport as it has ever been and skyrocketing in popularity. So UFC 2009 has a unique opportunity to capture a growing market at a time when the sport has never been hotter. All it will have to do is deliver a game that is true to the real thing. We've been following the game for a while now and, though we unfortunately didn't get a chance to play the game at the Games Convention today, we can say that we continue to be intrigued by what we see of UFC 2009.
Consider the numbers alone: There are 80 real-life UFC stars to choose from, somewhere in the ballpark of 3,000 moves in the game (including 200 submission moves alone), and a body-damage system that registers approximately 100 "cut zones" on a character's body where he can bleed. With all of that, you've got the makings for an impressive game. Add to that a create-a-fighter feature, a career mode, and gorgeous character art and animations, and it's tough not to be excited by this one.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to see many of those new features in today's demo. In fact, the demo still featured the same two fighters who we've been watching since the game's initial debut: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Forrest Griffin. Though it seems as if there's still a massive amount of tweaking to do, we did get a slightly better understanding of the game's combat system. The built-from-the-ground-up engine will be very context-sensitive when you're throwing punches and kicks. For example, if you're throwing punches while far away from an opponent, your fighter will extend his arms as far as he can; should your opponent move in close, however, then those same punches will automatically turn into elbow and forearm shots. Similarly, kicks that will extend out fully at a distance will turn into knee strikes or ankle kicks when up close.
We also got another peek at the ground game, which, as any mixed-martial-arts fan will tell you, is where any fighter lives and dies. You'll have multiple positions to attack and counter from when on the ground, and your opponent will have plenty of opportunities to turn the tables on you. Producers told us that they've even gone forward with little touches to ensure realism in the game. For example, if you're on the ground with your opponent on top in "guard" or "half guard" position, there will be very little chance that you'll be able to punch your way out of trouble. Just as in a real UFC bout, you'll instead need to look for ways to maneuver out of trouble. Another excellent detail: As a match progresses, fighters will begin to sweat; if you try a submission move on a sweaty opponent, there's a chance he'll slip right out of it, which is something you often see in MMA fights.
One look at the player models in UFC 2009 and you can guess that this is a Yuke's-developed game. The character models are composed of 25,000 polygons apiece, and the same loving detail that goes into the SmackDown vs. Raw roster is found here. However, unlike in SmackDown, Yuke's has upped their game with the damage system in UFC 2009; every bruise and cut shows with gruesome clarity. In addition, producers are promising outstanding audio, with enough recorded dialogue between announcers Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg to rarely, if ever, see repeated comments during a match.
Details are still sketchy on the career mode and create-a-fighter feature, though we do know that you'll be able to assign multiple fighting styles to your created brawler. It seems as if the real challenge for the team now until the game's release will be finding balance between all of the available styles in MMA and making them work evenly in the game. When asked how they're approaching the ratio of submissions to knockouts; producers said that it was still a work in progress. Ultimate Fighting Championships rarely end with one-shot KOs, so the onus is on the developer to make sure that winning with an arm-bar is just as fun as blasting your opponent in the grill and watching him fall like a garbage bag full of tomato soup.
UFC 2009 Undisputed is scheduled for release in 2009, and we'll be closely watching its progress, so stay tuned for more.