Hands-On Preview: Throwing Punches with UFC Undisputed 2010

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Last week, a few days before their big pay-per-view, THQ and UFC hosted a slew of journalists for a night of hands-on play with this year’s video game version of their mixed martial arts competition.

Now, I need to preface the rest of this write-up with a bit of disclosure: I don’t follow UFC or any other MMA promotion and didn’t play much of last year’s game. Basically, I was coming into the demo of UFC Undisputed 2010 cold. But, I did know about a bit of the controversy surrounding the game. In the past, UFC CEO Dana White threatened to ban any fighter from UFC if they threw in EA Sports, who are also putting out an MMA game this year. He’s also ranted about the competing game being the result of EA trying to cash in on MMA’s popularity.

But White didn’t have much to say by way of trash-talking this year. One face I did recognize from my days of hardcore pro wrestling fandom was Brock Lesnar. Lesnar talked about how happy he was to be the game’s cover athlete and spoke to his eagerness to getting back in the ring this summer. After some brief remarks from other UFC talent, I finally got to play a couple rounds inside the Octagon myself.

The build I played on didn’t have a full roster of UFC talent, but THQ reps assured me that more big names would be playable. The thing that surprised me is how UFC 2010 immediately gives you a sense of intricacy. A series of punches can be stifled by a grapple, where more strikes can be thrown, and the bout becomes a struggle to pin your opponent to the ground. If that happens, you’re pretty screwed. All of this transpires pretty quickly and you can be spitting out teeth before you know it. This increase in speed is by design, according to dev team member Omar Kendall. The team re-evaluated all the animations from last year’s game and moves like standing punches and ground positions were quickened to make them flow seamlessy into each other. The game seems to be knitting three systems together–standing strikes, grappling and ground fighting–and right now, you can still the seams between those disciplines. Of this year’s new features, I did manage to use the Sway mechanic to evade a few kicks to the head, but the animation was too subtle for me to feel confident in my ability to dodge. Also, the new Posture system let one of my opponents knock me out with the quickness. I was fuzzy on exactly how it worked but it’s the kind of mechanic that could be cheesily abused if it’s not balanced correctly against other strategies. Of course, there’s tons of polishing to be done until the game comes out this May. Stay tuned for more UFC Undisputed 2010 updates until then.