Things We Liked
Career Builder: If you've ever wondered what it's like to toil away for hours upon hours in a sweaty gym with nothing but a title bout on your mind, UFC Undisputed will take you there. The well constructed Career Mode plucks your character out of nowhere and places him at the bottom of the UFC totem pole. Every decision you make will affect your climb to the top. Sparring between fights doesn't just provide more gameplay, it also helps build up your fighter's speed, strength and stamina attributes for the next match. Just don't overdo it. If you're coming off a tough fight, you might be better off choosing to rest. In this deep mode, even which sponsors you pick and how you promote yourself will impact your career.
Always in Control: If you think the goal of a UFC fight is to smash your opponent's face until his brain turns to tapioca pudding and he falls down ... well, you're right. But it's not as simple as repeatedly throwing haymakers at the other guy's noggin. A well crafted attack starts with a flurry of combos that lead to stronger punches and kicks and then, hopefully, a knockout blow. One of Undisputed's best elements lies in the game's nuanced controls. You can punch the head or the body; kick the body or the legs; even elbow the face or knee the body. If you're on the defensive, you have the flexibility to counter high or low. Oh, and if you're challenger keeps running away, there's always the takedown. The moves can all be produced by a string of trigger, toggle and button combos. Sure, the game's instructions may make you feel like a rookie studying Bill Belichick's playbook, but once you've mastered the controls it pays off in the Octagon.
Style Points: It's not just individual moves you need to bone up on. Judo, Muay Thai, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu highlight the various fighting disciplines you can choose for your fighter. Master the strengths and weaknesses of each style to advance. Fail to pick up on the intricacies of each method and you'll continue to lose matches, career points, and teeth.
Name Brand: Chuck Liddell headlines more than 80 UFC fighters who lent their names to the sport's official video game. The trainers, the referees, the announcers, even the ring girls - they're all cherry picked from the biggest headliners in the business.
Check out UFC 2009 Undisputed in action ...
Things We'd Change
Power Outage: How is your fighter feeling? Can he go on the defensive and last until the next round? How many more punches can he take before he hits the mat? The answer to all of the above: It might not matter. The high (read: unrealistic) number of knockout blows adds a wild card to each fight that you might not be prepared for. It's always exciting when the next punch could be the last punch, but it can also be a frustrating experience if you've put together a detailed game plan and it's derailed by one random hit.
Animation Abomination: The close-ups on the fighters before and after matches are almost photorealistic (I could practically count chest hairs and spot tattoo typos). However, the in-fight action loses crispness once the punches start flying. Even worse, many of the slo-mo knockout replays show plenty of space between the winner's fist and the losers' chin. What is this, wrestling?
Sound Off: The announcers, Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, are misused. The voices help make the fights seem like a real broadcast, but the canned superlatives rarely ebb and flow with the action in the octagon. The only time you'll get a rise out of the commentators is with a knockout blow. Then there's the cookie-cutter heavy metal soundtrack that screeches on while you navigate through the menu. The last thing we need is another reason to hate loading screens.
Bottom Line: Just like the sport it represents, Undisputed combines jaw-shattering violence and carefully planned strategy. This is game producer THQ's first go at a UFC title, so we can forgive the graphic hiccups and quick knockout blows. With a couple of improvements, the UFC's official video game could become just as popular as the sport.
-- Reviewed by Paul Ulane