While Brian was off shredding his skinagainst the other GameSpot editors in the interest of proving his office-wide MMA dominance, here in the Aussie office we decided to go for a more subtle approach.
Previously, we've tackled (pun intended) UFC Undisputed 2009's multiplayer gameplay, sized up the fighting controls, and taken the more than 80-character-strong rosters to the mat. Although the multiplayer stands out as a particular strong point, it's hard not to act on the appeal of the single-player Career cage fighting when there's no physical risks associated to you the player. We got our hands on an almost-finished build of the Xbox 360 version of the game and tried to build ourselves a name in the octagon.
The first thing you'll do when you decide you want to sign away your natural good looks and symmetrical facial-bone structure for a mouth guard and legions of roaring fans is to customise the way that you appear onscreen. UFC 2009 offers plenty of choice here, and you're able to either pick from a selection of premade character types or build one from the ground up. Our version included 13 different torso appearances, ranging from stomachs with chiselled washboard abs to the less-physically-defined beer gut. Although the templates are a good way to jump straight into the gameplay, if you want to take the time to play god and craft your perfect physical specimen, the customisation options are certainly available to you. There's even an entire subset of menus dedicated to naming your character, choosing a nickname that the announcers will call you by, your hometown, your fighting location, and your character's age. These are all purely cosmetic decisions, so making a character the maximum 45 years of age has no impact on your stamina or strength once you start doing matches.
Proportional height and weight sliders mean that you can choose a behemoth hulking around the ring or a nimble character with a lower centre of gravity, though our brief amount of time with the code means that we're still unsure if your size and martial-arts style are linked, such as picking a smaller-stature body type and specialising in ground grappling. Skin tone, hair type, head and brow size, eyes and nose, cheeks, and mouth can all be tweaked and prodded until you're happy, and there are separate menus to pick your tattoos, clothing style (including yellow form-fitting short-shorts if you so desire), and branded outfits as you unlock them through the Career mode.
Once you're done messing around with the beauty sliders, you'll want to make your two tough decisions: your character's standing-striking and ground-grappling styles. For upright, you'll be able to choose between boxing, kickboxing, or Muay Thai, whereas on the ground your options are Brazilian jujitsu, wrestling, and judo. Regardless of whether you prefer upright hard hitting or the ground cuddling of throws and clinching, you'll be given an initial 174 points to spend on fight skills. You'll also get 285 points to allocate to your strength, speed, and cardio performance.
Once you're kitted out and ready to fight, you'll need to choose from two available boot-camp trainers. Mike offers you a five-point bonus to your offensive and defensive standing attacks, whereas choosing to train with Antoine will improve your submission skills by the same amount. Now that all of that is out of the way, it's time to focus on what the UFC is all about: e-mail. Wait, what? Inside your gym you'll begin getting messages from UFC president Dana White and your promoter Joe Silva as they school you on appropriate fighter conduct, your responsibilities to training, and being a suitable role model to the kids when choking out your opponent in unsanctioned backyard matches across the country. As you train, you'll get e-mail updates that detail match results and ranking changes. The option of choosing an opponent also comes through your e-mail; Joe will send you known fighters who you can take on, or you can opt for the random element and go into the match blind.
Once you've selected who you want to pummel, you'll be given a countdown to the bout in weeks, and it's up to you to prepare in the way you see fit from choices of cardio, strength, or speed training. Points in each of the skills are gained in relation to the intensity of the training done. One point is usually awarded for a light workout, and two for a moderate or intense session. It's worth mentioning that you'll also need to manage your stamina bar. Gaining a few points in one discipline is great for advancing your skills, but doing it with high-intensity training will mean that you'll deplete your energy levels faster, and you'll need to throw in a rest week before you can go again. Sparring training is also available and is the only interactive form of workout. Here you'll battle an AI opponent in the ring against a timer, with your success determined by how many blows you land, how many times you're taken to ground, and the number of hits you successfully mitigate with your blocks.
Career matches run much like their multiplayer counterparts, except that you'll go up against the game's AI instead of a living, breathing human player. Regardless of our opponent's fighting style, we found that our opponents in early matches played reasonably conservatively, though they often left themselves open enough for getting in quick jab combos and enough window to follow up with a haymaker power punch. Winning will give you a breakdown of points from the match, including, where relevant, a performance bonus, fight award bonus, sponsorship bonus for wearing sponsor clothing, and your total cred reward. As you win fights and your cred reward grows, you'll have the option to take on better brand sponsors and align yourself with various gyms.
UFC Undisputed 2009 is rapidly approaching its late May global launch date, and a demo has just been unleashed on Xbox Live and Sony's PlayStation Network, giving you the chance to try out your skills before the game knocks over shelves shortly. Check back soon for our full review.