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UFC: Undisputed 2010: What Happens in the Octagon, Stays in the Octagon

Company: THQ

I love it when a game gets me interested in something. Prior to my time with UFC Undisputed 2010, I was as casual as UFC fans come. I knew a few of the top fighters and occasionally watched a match or two if they were on TV, but that was about it. Throw in the one-two combo of a night of hands-on time coupled with a workout at The Ultimate Fighter gym with UFC fighters and coaches, and I guess you could call me a born-again UFC fan.

Late last week, THQ invited us out to Las Vegas for our first hands-on shot at UFC Undisputed 2010's new Career mode and the aptly named UFC Undisputed Boot Camp. If the image of 40+ out-of-shape videogame journalists going through an intensive workout involving strikes, takedowns and submissions isn't enough to get your attention, the newly revamped Career Mode should.

Early Thursday morning, we headed out to The Ultimate Fighter gym, which UFC fans should recognize from the show of the same name. After a brief warm-up, it was off to a series of workouts designed to show us some of the ins-and-outs of MMA, such as boxing and Jiu-Jitsu. While the entire workout mainly served as a great way to watch game journalists attempt to properly apply a kimura (or throw a successful punch/ knee combo -- skills that are sure to come in handy during E3 2010), it was also a great introduction to what we'd experience in the game later that evening with Career mode.

Revamped Create-a-Fighter and Career Modes are two of the more exciting additions to UFC Undisputed 2010. Create-a-Fighter has received a few notable upgrades - both cosmetic and mechanically. When creating your fighter, you can now choose from a list of around 100 first and last names and fifty nicknames. It's a small thing, but hearing Bruce Buffer announce your fighter's name, not just his pre-set nickname, adds a lot to the experience. UFC Undisputed 2010 also offers the ability to customize your fighter's look, including his trunks, accessories and even tattoos. It's the small things that make all the difference.

On the mechanical side, you can now set custom navigation styles. Rather than sticking to one fighting posture, you can now set one that more accurately reflects your fighter's style. Building off the navigation styles, you can also set either a lefty or righty preference, which translates into more in-game damage from the favored hand.

Delving deeper into your fighter's styles, you're no longer limited in what techniques your fighter can learn. Instead, you select a base style, but then use what developers refer to as an "a la carte" system to fill out your fighter's personal attack style. Once you make it to the professional ranks, you can learn moves from some of the top MMA Camps in the world and even top coaches like Sean Tompkins. After choosing a Fight Camp and move, you'll earn points by performing tasks like accurately hitting the pads. This is harder than it sounds because I routinely punched my trainer in the face when I should have been kicking low. With enough points banked, you'll earn a new move to add to your repertoire. Once learned, you can then rank the move up and even earn the right to add the camp's logo to your clothing.

Out of everything in Career Mode, I think creating my own custom style was my favorite aspect. It took a while to get used to all the new systems in Career Mode, but once I found my way through the system, I eagerly dived into the various camps to create a fighter that completely fit my play style. Of course, the morning workout helped give me an added bit of perspective, but even without the workout the system it is incredibly rewarding once you manage to scale the learning curve. After a demoralizing hour of getting the snot knocked out of my fighter, I was loudly cheering once I captured my first win.

Moves, like nearly every other aspect of Career Mode, are in some way tied to your fighter's stats. While creating a character, you are given a set allocation of points to distribute among a number of stats, including Striking Offense and Defense and Grappling Offense or Defense. Skills are rated 0 - 100 and play into what sort of fighter you want to bring into the Octagon.

The new stat system connects to training, which you'll do a lot of during your 12 year career. After creating a combatant, you're tossed into the Amateur ranks. Though you can opt to jump from Amateur ranks right into the "minor league" WFA, I'd advise sticking around for the five fights just to get a handle on the new system, in particular, training and stat decay. Between fights, you're given a few weeks lead-in time to prep for your next fight. You can participate in training sessions to improve stats, spar with a trainer, learn new moves in Fight Camps or rest up.

Much of your time between fights is spent simply learning how to manage stats. There's a definite learning curve to the whole system, which is why going through both the Amateur and WFA process is so important. Early in my career, I decided to divvy up my initial point allocation evenly across all stats to produce a nice, well-rounded fighter. A few fights in, my stats were in the toilet thanks to the new "Stat Decay" system.

With Stat Decay, if you don't use it, you lose it. If you have points in a stat, you'd better keep training the stat - either to improve it or keep it at an even level - otherwise it will drop. Hitting milestones of 30, 50, 70 or 100 guarantees the stat won't drop below the milestone number, but you still need to work your stats as much as possible if you want a crack at a successful career (or just an UFC invite).

The weeks between fights are key to maintaining your stats. Stat points are generated through successful sparring sessions. For players who'd rather skip through sparring, an automatic system is available, though you'll earn fewer points to put towards your stats. Though the game encourages you to build a well-balanced fighter over your career, you'll find more success focusing on specific traits and branching out. You'll lose a few fights along the way, but it's worth it in the end.

Once you make it to the WFA (and eventually, the UFC), you can further customize your character by earning Popularity and CRED. Popularity is earned by winning fights and, more importantly, playing nice with the media. Between matches, you can participate in interviews or media workout sessions. Interviews are particularly interesting. During your career, you can either talk up or disrespect opponents. Your comments are tracked throughout your career and go towards your popularity. The more popular you are, the more sponsorship deals you'll earn, unlocking new items for your fighter.

CRED determines how well received your fighter is in the MMA community. Higher CRED opens up the opportunity to hire better coaches (which affect your Attributes) or sparring partners (which affect your Skills).

Depending on how you handle interviews and other events, you'll build relationships and rivals with other fighters. Call out Frank Mir after a match enough times and you'll get a shot at a Rivals match. Winning will boost your Popularity and CRED. On the flip side, making nice with fighters will help boost your progression if you decide to learn moves at their Fight Camps. Like everything in Career Mode, it's all about finding the right balance and figuring out how to best navigate the system.

In addition to keeping tabs on your relationships with fighters, the game will also track your in-ring accomplishments. Score a quick knockout with a particular move, and during your next fight, announcers Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan will mention it. Make a habit of using that move, and it will become a part of your personal history. It's a another of the really cool things UFC Undisputed 2010 is adding to the mix, making it one of the most personal sports games I've ever experienced.

Look for further coverage of UFC Undisputed 2010 later this week as well as a full review later this month.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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