UFC Undisputed 2010 Preview (PS3)

After a stellar first showing, the UFC finally has a series worthy of the license. Last year's offering built a sturdy base for the franchise to improve on, as THQ brought the growing-in-popularity cage sport, and all of the technical mumbo-jumbo, to the current gen for the first time. We were invited to London to get a close-up of the new game, as it continues to evolve into something more accessible for those who aren't fans of the sport.

That's the message that THQ was trying to convey, anyway. Last year's game was hugely cumbersome, from a clunky menu system to ground work forcing players to sacrifice hand-cramp in order to pull off a submission. Fortunately, the first noticeable improvement is that everything has been sped up. Menus change seamlessly, it doesn't take five seconds to load a new piece of hair when creating your own fighter, and the in-cage action flows more tidily than 2009 did at its best.

Technically speaking, you'll still need to have a knowledge of the sport to think anything other than 'that guy's twisting that other bloke's arm round and it must really hurt' when pulling off a submission. One of the biggest flaws of Undisputed 2009 was the almost invincibility of submissions; take an opponent down, lock in a tight grip, and it was goodnight. THQ have worked hard to ensure fighters now have a realistic chance of getting out of such situations with their success rate based on stats. Get taken down by Georges St-Pierre, and you're still going to face an uphill struggle on the tougher difficulties. Reverse roles however and you'll be pulling limbs into inhumane poses ready for the ref to step in and give you the win. Flash submissions have also been added, meaning you can wriggle out of a tight situation and tap your opponent out with the deadly finishing power of the knockouts from last year.

These minor changes to gameplay act as an early indication that the entire series is growing in order to attract unfamiliar players. Personality is now very much part of the game, as each UFC competitor has a unique set of moves that no-longer adhere to the static 'wrestling' or 'muay thai' bases from before. THQ were keen to indicate that every fighter on the roster has been motion capped and tweaked so that they fight realistically alongside the same move set as their real-world incarnations. Each fighter can pull off different manoeuvres to a ranging level of proficiency. For example, Joe 'Daddy' Stevenson has a devastating guillotine choke hold that other fighters cannot replicate, and Shane Carwin can unleash cranium-crushing blows from inside the opponent's rubber guard.

Another huge step for the series is the ability to sway and lean away from your opponent's incoming strikes. Although the action is faster, flash knockouts have been toned down to ensure the majority of fights don't end in out-of-the-blue head kicks like last year. Leaning out of the way of an opponent's strike not only opens space for attack, it means you'll catch then off balance and land a stronger blow. Miss time a sway though, and you'll be on the receiving end of some heavy punishment, as more often than not you'll slam your face into their fist rather than dodging round it.

We continued to find subtle differences in the cage the longer we spent pummelling our enemies. The steel structure itself can now be used, as you can lean up against the cage in order to exert some physical pressure on their weakening torsos. If you're pressed up against the cage by the likes of Frank Mir or Cain Velasquez, there's hardly an opportunity to attack until you've reversed or escaped the situation (or indeed, been knocked out). Defensive knees will barely reach your opponent's gut, and you're likely to receive a battering from the more aggressive players. If all else fails and you're in the final round of a championship bout, with stamina wavering like an obese man running a marathon, utilising the cage as a resting point could save the title.

At this stage, UFC Undisputed 2010 is shaping up to be cage-fighting's equivalent of Fight Night. Indeed, huge influences have been taken from EA's boxing sim, as the camera zooms in and out depending on how barbaric the submission move is, and the fighters themselves have gone under a visual make over. Marcus Jones' 'Big Baby' face looks as gormless as ever, Roy 'Country' Nelson's gut shimmers and flops in perfect harmony of throwing a sluggish blow, and Minotauro Nogueira's gargoyle face whimpers with every step. As a sequel, the subtle improvements are not only vital for this year's game to outshine the original, it also has the added competition of EA MMA to overcome, which is sure to be no easy task.