UFC Undisputed 2010 Review (PS3)

Last month's UFC 114 highlighted how unpredictable the world of MMA can be. Mike Russow, a lumbering, fat-bellied underdog took on the role of human punchbag for Todd Duffee and his super-sculpted man-pecs. For nearly 15 minutes Russow's face was pummelled, each connection bringing a wince from the crowd as the inevitably of the fight became clear. Remarkably, everything changed with one shot. Russow, picking his spot excellently, floored Duffee with a single blast to the face; the knockout made all the more harrowing as the man-mountain's skull reverberated off the mat. In the blink of an eye, the tide had turned.

Of course, not all of MMA fights end with the commentator's bellowing that we've just witnessed “the greatest comeback in MMA history.” Although the UFC is full of excitement, real life Homer Simpson moments like Russow's don't come round too often. This unpredictability, and the feeling that anything can happen at any time, is something THQ have tried to incorporate into this year's UFC update. With minor tweaks made, accessibility has been added to a franchise that often left minds bewildered and thumbs sore last year.

You can now push your opponent's against the cage, or indeed, be squashed against it yourself

For the most part, THQ have achieved this without sacrificing the great depth of the series. Undisputed 2009 rewarded those who learnt the intricacies of wrenching an opponent's arm out of place in a Kimora, mastered the technique of effective striking, and most importantly, learnt how to transition successfully from one position to the next. If players were to keep engaging with last year's game, they would be forced to learn all of these terms, and were often punished by the AI's immense submission ability. The fact is, get stuck on the floor in UFC Undisputed 2009, and you'd have a major problem on your soon-to-be broken hands.

While submissions are still difficult to fend off, the rest of the game has been improved thoroughly. Flash knockouts have been toned down so that they're more rewarding, as you'll have to expertly time your kick to the face or nose-bending uppercut to perfection in order to see your opponent fall to the floor. A huge emphasis has been put on catching the other fighter off-guard, as momentum and balance becomes an important factor. The ability to lean out the way of incoming punches leaves room for you to strike back if you time it correctly. Get it wrong, and you'll slam your face into their fist harder than if you gave them a free shot. Similarly, catching an opponent when they're about to attack can send them hurtling towards the ground and scurrying away from the onslaught that's about to ensue. It's risk and reward stuff, but thrilling nonetheless.

Dodging sets the good strikers apart from the unstoppable, and can really 'sway' a close fight. Get it? Sway!?

Arguably the most important aspect of MMA is the ground game, and Undisputed 2010 has implemented a number of changes that allows the experience to flow better than last year's outing. Transitions are smoother and feel more natural, allowing you to work out exactly where you need to move your body to in order to take the advantage. Flash submission finishes have been added, meaning you can strike with the vigour and unpredictability of those who prefer the standing game. More importantly, the camera zooms in to the body part which is being targeted during a submission attempt, allowing you to see the damage as it happens. Not only is this a welcome feature to capture the brutality of the sport, it's vital for seeing how successful your attempt is. Twisting an opponent's body into horrific positions is as rewarding as landing a knockout blow, but there's still a long way to go before submissions become anything less than irritating to battle out of.

Last year's career mode was arguably the most disappointing aspect of the game, so it's fortunate that this year's has seen a decent overhaul. Choosing your fighter's voice, stance (including the newly added southpaw position) and ring actions is fun, and means you can begin to build some kind of personality for your fighter . Training is robotic, although definitely more strategic than before, requiring you to take each fight as it comes with a new game plan and fitness regime. You can visit camps to learn new moves, meaning the opportunity to build your own style is in full effect. Presentation is superb here, with super-fast menus and visual cues ripped straight from the television broadcasts, including the pre-match trash-talking and weigh ins that UFC fans love to see.

It's unfortunate that once you've worked your way out of the amateur division that this title sets into it's old ways again. The same old fighters loiter in the same positions on the rankings board, which means you'll face them over and over again. We want to see computer created starlets making a run for our position as champion, instead of kicking Rampage's head in for the fifth time. There's a decent ultimate fights modes that allows you to recreate classic battles from years past, but aside from the career mode, the main focus is on the bug-ridden online play.

Submission victories are as brutal as knockouts now, but are mightily hard to break out of

Although there's some excellent ideas when playing online, a host of problems has plagued the experience for most players across the world. Be it connection issues, stats not being recorded correctly or even their redeem codes failing to work (which are needed to play), this potentially superb section of the game is disappointing to say the least. The potential still rings true though, as online camps can be formed to ensure you're not just fighting for yourself. Just like the real sport teams of fighters can get together, sculpt a training regime and then tackle their rivals for bragging rights. If THQ managed to completely fix the online play, this will be huge.

It's definitely a year of refinement for the UFC Undisputed franchise. Still rough round the edges, we're lucky such a quality base was put in place last year for a series that'll only continue to get better. 2010 is much more accessible, and as the sport continues to increase in popularity, the perfect game for those who admire the real-thing. More importantly, it's actually one of the best fighting games available on the market in its own right, so it shouldn't be overlooked by those who enjoy the genre but not the sport. If certain aspects were ironed out and fixed, this would be an essential purchase. Right now, it leaves us content, but avidly looking forward to next year.

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