One thing that nearly every successful gaming franchise has commonly displayed is an ability to adapt and change. Without the ability to move your franchise in new and exciting directions, it doesn't take long for a franchise to become stale beyond repair. When the first Ultimate Fighting Championship title was released on the Dreamcast four years ago, it showed remarkable promise. Unfortunately, every subsequent entry in the UFC series has simply been one retread after another, with little innovation and few real differences to speak of. UFC: Sudden Impact for the PlayStation 2 is the latest game to bear the UFC license, and just like many of its predecessors, it brings nothing new to the table. In fact, Sudden Impact is easily the most unflinchingly halfhearted effort in the series to date, and it only serves to further run the once-promising UFC name into the ground.
If you've ever played any of the previous entries in the UFC series, you've pretty much played Sudden Impact. Each of the four face buttons on the controller specifically controls one of your fighter's limbs. By hitting two buttons at once, you can perform a takedown, a grappling move, or a submission move or other similar technique, depending on your fighter's personal style. When on the ground, you can move around and attack from a few different mounted positions, as well as go in for various submission moves and counters. The one slight addition made to Sudden Impact's gameplay is an added focus on fence positioning. When backing an opponent into the cage that surrounds the UFC's famous Octagon ring--or when backed up yourself--going in for a grapple or special maneuver will put you into one of several different possible positions, including a standing face-off as well as a special ground-mount, where the bottom fighter's head is literally pressed against the cage. Generally speaking, these added positions don't come into play a whole lot, but they do add a smidgen of variety to what is otherwise the exact same gameplay system that's been done near-to-death at this point. The only other change to speak of is that the fights are a bit faster this time around, though all this does is seemingly rob the game of some of its strategy, since half of the game's countering strategy is rendered practically useless in the process.
UFC: Sudden Impact includes every standard mode you've come to expect from a UFC game, including the progressive championship and arcade modes, as well as a standard versus mode. There are about 40 fighters in the game, nearly all of whom are familiar faces from previous UFC games, including Tito Ortiz, Chuck Lidell, Bas Rutten, Kevin Randleman, Tsuyoshi Kosaka, and Ricco Rodriguez. The only added mode to this year's game is a career mode, which lets you create your own fighter from a fairly lengthy list of prerendered models and lets you train him to become a UFC fighter. This mode seems like a great idea at first, but, unfortunately, it's so poorly executed that you won't want to play through it more than once.
Essentially, the game's career mode tries to give you a bit of backstory to your character by setting him up as a street tough (with nothing to lose) who is recruited by a UFC trainer. The trainer sets you on the path of making it to the UFC within three years. Once you start, you go about choosing a dojo to train at, which essentially dictates what kind of fighting style you'll practice. Every aspect of your training and story is told through barely-coherent-talking-head boxes at the bottom of the screen that are really only useful for gameplay tips and not much else. Additionally, you really don't ever get to actually do anything very interesting in the mode. Each aspect of your training requires you to perform a specific challenge, such as landing three left punches or taking an opponent down twice in a match, and more. Winning challenges earns you stat points and new moves. Unfortunately, the list of actual challenges is fairly short, and they repeat from year to year.
Every once in a while, you'll be presented with an evaluation challenge at the end of the month, but you don't actually do anything during these evaluations except hit a punching bag in a timing-based minigame or you do nothing at all while your created character sits in the corner of the screen, punching and kicking at thin air, which is supposed to represent sparring against another recruit or fighter. To be fair, at the end of each year, you do get to take part in a real UFC-style tournament against a bunch of generic characters, though the outcome of the tournament doesn't seem to have any real bearing on whether or not you graduate to the UFC level. Additionally, graduating to the UFC level only means that you can use your created fighter in the remainder of the game's modes. Once you've hit year three, if you make it to the UFC, the mode ends. Again, the idea of a career-based training mode to design your own fighter is a great idea, but Sudden Impact's career mode barely scratches the surface of a mode of this type's potential, and the mode ultimately fails to be anything more than a tepid, dull waste of time.
Though the UFC games up to this point have always managed to sport some generally attractive graphics, Sudden Impact's visuals are decidedly lackluster. Most of the basic character models for the fighters look roughly the same as they always have, though the faces seem a bit lower in resolution, by comparison, and the body types seem more exaggerated and less-to-scale than in previous games. The fighting arenas look almost exactly like they always have, and nearly all of the same fighting animations from earlier games have been recycled as well, save for the animations for the few, new fighting positions. Overall, the look of the game just seems extremely dated. The same can be said for the game's less-than-stellar audio, which mainly just consists of the standard theme songs that play during fighter entrances, the usual grunts and impact sounds of punches and kicks, and the flat ring announcing of Bruce Buffer.
When it comes right down to it, UFC: Sudden Impact is just another languid translation of the exact same game you've been playing since the days of the Dreamcast. Sudden Impact is pretty much on autopilot in every aspect of its execution, presenting just the bare minimum to make a playable UFC game. If you own any other entry in the UFC franchise, you don't need to own Sudden Impact, because the minimal number of additions--such as the few added fighting positions and the incredibly lame career mode--do absolutely nothing to further the UFC name in any meaningful direction.