Crave Entertainment's Ultimate Fighting Championship: Tapout for the Xbox is the latest game bearing the UFC label. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is America's premier mixed martial arts competition, which hosts numerous pay-per-view events and is the venue under which many of the world's top fighters get their moment in the limelight. Based on the Ultimate Fighting Championship game that debuted on the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, UFC: Tapout is an unconventional fighting game that pits real-life no-holds-barred competitors against each other in matches that test their fortitude and fighting prowess. UFC: Tapout presents the same fighting system that appealed to so many players of the Dreamcast version, adds a heavily updated roster, and improves the graphics in such a way as to nearly bring the fighters to life. Though it's essentially similar to the Dreamcast version, and does have a couple of shortcomings as compared with that game, UFC: Tapout is still the best fighting game available for the Xbox.
UFC: Tapout features some of the greatest real-life martial artists to ever enter the octagon. Among the most notable are current light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz, former champions Maurice Smith, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman, and a number of other savvy veterans such as Bas Rutten and Pat Miletich. Making their video game debuts are fan favorites "The Titan" Mark Kerr, current lightweight champion "Little Evil" Jens Pulver, and former UFC powerhouse Dan "The Beast" Severn. The sizable roster includes 27 fighters from the get-go--that's before you unlock all the hidden characters in the arcade mode.
The roster of fighters may be impressive, but unfortunately UFC: Tapout lacks a couple of the modes of play featured in the original Dreamcast game: The career mode and the practice mode are no longer available. The remaining gameplay modes include arcade mode, where you consecutively challenge all of the fighters on the roster; UFC mode, which is a tiered tournament where you need to conserve stamina to make it all the way to the finals; and tournament mode, where you can set up large custom tournaments for many players to compete in or simply create your own dream match pay-per-view event.
UFC: Tapout is a great-looking game, featuring superrealistic character models and incredible motion-captured animation. Many games that use characters based on real-world personalities fail to make them look like their living counterparts, due to flat textures, stilted animation, and a variety of other reasons. But for the most part, UFC: Tapout gets it right. Each of the characters is an excellent likeness of its real-life counterpart, down to the facial detail, musculature, skin tone, and tattoos. Characters' clothing also looks fairly authentic. The fighters' dramatic entrances into the octagon are nearly as impressive looking as the fighters themselves are, because UFC: Tapout makes use of an unusual method of reproducing crowds--full-motion video footage of a crowd is blended in with showy lighting effects and the real-time rendered character model.
Once the fighters are ready, the camera tightly focuses on the huge characters. The fighters look even better in motion, because the animation is superb. The fighters react to each other realistically while fighting, both on their feet and when grappling on the ground, and their movements rarely look awkward. Even relatively simple moves, such as the straight armbar, are smoothly animated, and more-intricate motions can be seen when, for example, a fighter goes from a sweep to the mounted position in one fluid maneuver. There are a few graphical shortcomings you'll notice, such as the occasional clipping problems, where a character's limbs appear to pass through the opponent's body, or a ground fighter's head pokes through the fence. But for the most part, UFC: Tapout's graphics and animation are of exceptional quality and make it one of the best-looking fighting games available today.
It may be a pleasure to watch, but one of the serious problems with the game is how poorly the camera reacts to the constantly shifting action. Since fights so often move from standing to the ground, the camera often moves to an angle meant to provide a good view of in-close grappling action, but instead it often becomes a nuisance. It's not uncommon for the perspective to shift squarely behind the referee or behind one of the posts, with your vision further obscured by the chain-link texture of the fence. Consequently, the camera problems can directly interfere with gameplay. You'll at least learn to expect this.
As good as it looks, UFC: Tapout is even more impressive as a gameplay experience. In UFC: Tapout, two fighters square off within the chain-link confines of the eight-sided ring. A single green bar measures each fighter's remaining stamina and health. Portions of the meter turn red as the fighter tires out and can then be replenished with rest, or the meter can diminish entirely while the fighter's receiving damage. Blocking moves will prevent your fighter from taking damage, but the blocked blows may still reduce his stamina. Some moves, such as a spinning backfist or a telegraphed overhand punch, may be damaging enough to stun the opponent, leaving him vulnerable to follow-up attacks, takedown maneuvers, or even a quickly cinched-in choke.
While there are a great number of moves available to each of the fighters, pulling them off is simple enough, thanks to the responsive and easy-to-learn controls. The control scheme in UFC: Tapout is deceptively simple--as in the Tekken series, the four face buttons correspond to each of the fighter's striking limbs. Front and back steps can be used for alternate strikes, and each character is capable of a number of varied combinations. When pressed simultaneously, the right and left side buttons will perform counters, which deflect incoming strikes and often result in damaging takedowns. On the other hand, pressing either both punch buttons or both kick buttons will cause your fighter to go for a shoot (a leg takedown) or a bodyslam. Using the counters and takedown moves will result in taking the fight to the ground, where the complexity of the UFC fighting system shines.
While on the ground, fighters are immediately placed into one of two positions--the mount or the guard. In the mount, the fighter on top is past the defending fighter's legs and thus in prime position to rear back and rain powerful blows, with great leverage behind his strikes. In the guard, the character on his back keeps his opponent close by keeping his legs hooked around those of the character on top. It's also possible to set the opponent in a highly vulnerable back mount. In a subtle change from the Dreamcast version, fighters are now much more capable of turning the opponent and reversing positions. Players who successfully turn their opponents while in the guard usually end up in the mount, and vice versa. Those fighters with greater grappling abilities are nearly impossible to turn, so ground counters come into play.
Just like standing counters, ground counters rely upon the player to react quickly to the striking player's movements, except instead of deflecting a punch or kick, it's the right or left arm. Guessing games can come into play for equally skilled players, but quick reactions and strategy are key. Ground fighters can weaken the opponent with both body blows and bloodying facial strikes and can further mix things up by feinting strikes, hopefully drawing a whiffed counter attempt and opening up a stubborn defense. However, good defensive play can extend a fight greatly, since a blocking player cannot be rendered unconscious when successfully defending. While a fighter's stamina and health bar may be totally diminished, it takes a successful submission or unblocked strike to end the fight, which further emphasizes the importance of strong defensive play. Stopping strikes won't save players all the time, though--submission victories are a constant threat throughout a match, lending every Tapout battle a real sense of tension.
When on the ground, and in some cases while standing, fighters are capable of attempting submission maneuvers, which have the effect of instantly depleting the opponent's health bar, which ends the fight. Submissions can range from simple arm and knee bars, to rear naked chokes, and more. Each fighter has his own style of submissions, and learning all of them, and the situations in which they're best suited, is incredibly fun. What's so great about these moves is that they're performed in nearly the same manner for each fighter so that game mechanics don't have to be relearned when switching from one character to another--only the circumstances in which to use them need to be anticipated. In effect, each character's "special moves" are intuitively learned, which breaks down the learning curve in such a way as to make experimenting with many different fighters simple and enjoyable.
Matches in UFC: Tapout tend to end very quickly when fought between two players who haven't learned all of the intricacies of the game. Flash knockouts and quick submissions lead to exciting, bloody matches, similar to those that sometimes occur in the real-life events. The characters, while having individual strengths and weaknesses, are all very playable and provide for great variety, which can lead to extremely fun two-player sessions. However, there is a lot of room for developing your skills with the game's fighting system, which allows for dedicated players to explore the many different offensive and defensive capabilities of the fighters, leading to thoroughly exhausting and ultimately satisfying fights.
Experienced players may find themselves disappointed that the game's computer opponents can no longer keep up with their talents. Aggressive play and well executed defense can lead to continuous win streaks in the arcade mode, even on the higher difficulty settings, although the computer can always win in a moment's notice with a surprise submission maneuver.
UFC: Tapout looks and plays great but falls relatively short in other areas besides its missing gameplay modes. Specifically, both its sound and its create-a-fighter feature could have been better. Many of the fighters do have unique voices, though they merely consist of grunts, and Bruce Buffer provides a capable introduction. But the crowd noises can be grating during matches. As for the create-a-fighter mode, you're able to pick from a good variety of fighting styles for your custom fighter, such as capoeira, sumo, and professional wrestling, but the customization options fall short from there on. There are limited facial options, despite the sizable number available, mainly because many of them look alike. You can also only allocate stat points for your fighter in stamina, health, punching power, and kicking power, so there's no way to make a custom grappler. The create-a-fighter mode is certainly worth playing around with for those who want to get a little more out of the game, but it's hardly one of the best parts of UFC: Tapout.
If you're familiar with the fighters and fighting in the UFC, you'll truly appreciate the amount of detail that went in to giving all the characters moves that accurately simulate their real-life repertoires. Yet those who are unfamiliar with mixed martial arts competition can still appreciate the pick-up-and-play appeal of UFC: Tapout and its ability to provide exciting, realistic matches. You can always grab a controller, mash on the buttons, and have a lot of fun your first time with UFC, but continued play reveals more and more depth to the game. Those who've played the Dreamcast version may think that UFC: Tapout isn't very different from its predecessor, and they'd be right. But on its own merits, UFC: Tapout is an excellent, original fighting game that's especially fun for two players.