Game Description: What do you get when you cross boxing, aikido, Greco-Roman wrestling, and more than 25 other fighting styles? If you answered Ultimate Fighting Championship, you're correct (if you answered by cowering under a desk, we don't blame you). This is not some soap opera of thrown chairs and unrealistic moves. Two fighters and a referee enter the Octagon—the UFC's caged, eight-sided ring—where the fighters meld martial-arts styles to receive points for hits, holds, and takedowns. Ultimate Fighting Championship features over 20 of the top UFC fighters with their specific moves and likenesses. You'll choose from 3,000 moves and 1,200 combos and string them into devastating attacks. Training mode allows you to learn the martial-arts discipline or combine moves of different schools.
Any expert on the subject of martial arts will tell you that its history is filled with more myth and legend than actual facts and dates. One of the oldest and most enduring of those ancient legends are the epic battles that took place between the kicking-styles of northern China and the punching techniques of southern China. The northern kickers boasted faster legwork and mobility while the southern punchers achieved greater power and stability. Which fighting style was superior became one of the great debates of martial arts lore and also the subject of many novels, comic books and kung-fu movies in the 20th century.
In the 1990s, that age-old debate was updated by an unlikely source: the self-proclaimed, no-hold barred bare-knuckle fighting tournament known as the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Only the debate was no longer about kicking and punching. For the combatants that entered the UFC's trademark octagon-shaped ring, it was about striking versus grappling. Strikers preferred stand-up fights and tried to knockout or pummel opponents with fists, elbows, knees and kicks. Grapplers, on the other hand, preferred to subdue their opponents on the ground with submission skills like joint-locks and choke holds. Only this time, there would be no question (but still plenty of debate) as to which side was superior. Brazilian jiu-jitsu artist, Royce Gracie, went on to dominate by winning 11 consecutive matches (often besting notably larger and stronger opponents) in five different UFC tournaments with his expert grappling techniques.
In doing so, Royce Gracie single-handedly rocked the martial arts community. Different schools across the board had to reevaluate the effectiveness of their techniques and military forces like the Airborne Rangers decided to incorporate Gracie fighting techniques into their training. The success of Royce also propelled UFC to the height of its popularity and became a much sought after Pay-Per-View event on cable. Unfortunately, that success as well as impending mainstream acceptance was short lived and derailed by conservative advocate groups in the United States. Lead by none other than Senator John McCain (who now leads a similar crusade against videogames), those activists choose to ignore the skillful grace of techniques exhibited by the martial artists. Instead, they were appalled and choose to condemn the often brutal and violent nature of the competition. UFC promoters also did little to help themselves by recruiting questionable martial artists/brawlers into competition and exploiting the ultra violence in their marketing. UFC's suffocated under the intense media pressure, and its visibility took a steep nose dive.
Today, in spite of persistent badgering from watchdog groups, the UFC still manages to continue (albeit in more obscure locations, smaller venues and Direct TV). The tournament is still highly regarded by its peers for the new breed of hybrid-style mixed martial artists—well-versed in both striking and grappling—that compete in the octagon. Its popularity hasn't been restored to its former glory, but there is still enough interest to warrant the development of a videogame based on the tournament. More over, I am ecstatic to report that the game itself is a momentous achievement and every bit as revolutionary and mentally stimulating as the actual event itself.
At a glance, most would consider UFC the game not much of a step forward or even much to look at. Not only does the game resemble something like a footnote to every 3-D two-player competitive fighting game that preceded it, but the basic premise remains indistinguishable as well. Two combatants (either player or computer controlled) square off and victory goes to the man still standing at the end of the fight. However, upon closer inspection, differences between games like Soul Calibur and Dead Or Alive 2 do become more readily apparent. For example, the roster of 22-plus controllable fighters in UFC aren't dressed in elaborately decorative or sexually charged costumes. Fight locations don't range from the exotic to wondrous either. Bouts in UFC always take place in the same octagon-shaped ring, and the near uniformly dressed fighters available are made to resemble their real-life counterparts (none of which are female—with the exception of a secret hidden character) without any significant visual differences aside from their nationality, physique, facial details and tattoos. Despite the banal/realistic-looking fighters and the extremely sparse indistinguishable environments, UFC is still technically impressive. The in-game graphics engine is rock solid and 3-D character models look very convincing. To top it off, the motion capturing and animation, which runs at a smooth 60 frames-per-second, is flawless.
Where UFC really sets itself apart and achieves gaming nirvana is in the gameplay. Like the visuals, the gameplay and control scheme is deceptively simple on the surface. Incorporating only the D-pad for movement, and the four face buttons for left-right punches and kicks (submissions and reversals are achieved by pressing two-button combinations simultaneously), UFC is comprehensible in an instant. But like the mark of most truly great games, beneath the approachable exterior lays near boundless depth, and the same holds true for UFC.
As any typical stand-up fighter, UFC is more then adequate in comparison. Most fighters are capable of stringing together devastating punch-kick combinations, but what really sets UFC apart from the pack is its attention to ground fighting and the ability to make an opponent submit or "tap out" in an instant. Most other fighting games fail to recognize that a majority of real hand-to-hand fights end up on the ground. By representing this area of combat, not only does UFC break new ground in terms of realism, but it also opens up all kinds of new dimensions that the genre has never explored.
To elaborate further, the ground fighting in UFC is revolutionary because it is conceptually complex, yet so simple in execution. The actual takedowns, submission holds and reversal moves vary from fighter to fighter, but the principles and control scheme to executing these techniques remain the same. To make things more interesting, every single move can be parried, countered or broken altogether. So no technique or hold is all-powerful, and every tactic can be reversed repeatedly to the point of a stalemate. What ultimately determines the outcome of each match is superior understanding of positioning, use of technique and timing. This style of play makes UFC very chess-like in that you have to anticipate what your opponent will do next and think ahead in order to succeed. The resulting experience is this surprisingly intense and a unique mix of strategy, agility, skill, wit and brutality.
Make no mistake though, UFC is a very tough game. It may be easy to pick up, but it is also very difficult to excel in. The game uncompromisingly simulates the real-life tournament (rather accurately I might add), and matches can be highly unforgiving and end in a matter of seconds if one isn't careful. It's also worth mentioning that outside of the exhibition and tournament modes, UFC offers very little diversity. The inclusion of a lackluster create-a-fighter does little to alleviate that, but thankfully two things do make up for the overall meager options. First, the computer AI (artificial intelligence) is incredibly competent and challenging, which makes nearly every battle hard-fought and well-earned. Second, competition between two human players in UFC is excellent. With two equally skilled human opponents well-versed in striking and grappling techniques, the action can become amazingly intense and requires players to bring their best physical as well as mental game in order to be victorious.
In closing, I would like to say that UFC is very challenging, but not impossible. Conquering the game is indeed rewarding and mastery over the concepts and techniques in the game gave me a feeling of indescribable euphoria. UFC stands tall as a revolutionary fighting game and as a remarkable tribute to the actual tournament and martial artists who step into the octagon.
While Chi and I came upon the UFC sport at roughly the same time, it is clear that Chi developed a fondness for ultimate fighting that far surpasses mine. It isn't that I didn't appreciate the individual skill of the combatants or their desire to win, but it was hard to get by the sheer brutality of the matches and the apparent lack of rules or code of ethics. Looking back on those early days, I have to own up to fact that I didn't really give the sport a fair shot. The UFC can not be appreciated at a glance, it has to be seen a few times for most people to grasp the intricacies of the competition and the level of intelligence and talent a competitor needs to win. Once examined below its surface, it is apparent what the UFC has to offer and not coincidentally, the same is true of Crave's latest.
After turning on the Dreamcast, I was not all that impressed with what I saw. Although the graphics are nicely done, the selection of fighters look pretty ordinary -- it's hard to get excited about a cast of guys in spandex with names like Pete Williams and Eugene Jackson. It was only after giving UFC a complete goings-over that I began to see its great potential. Each fighter, however plain, comes with his own unique fighting style. It's not just a cheap mention in the instruction manual that tells you this either, it is readily apparent as soon as the action begins. Bas Rutten and Kevin Randleman, for example, are completely different fighters, and you have to approach their matches accordingly. Rutten -- known for his powerful kicks -- could do monumental damage from afar while a hulk like Randleman could end a fight quickly by getting you on the ground. Each wrestler plays to his strengths during the match so you can't go into a fight haphazardly. Strategy becomes even more crucial thanks to the unusually realistic computer AI. Some might say that it is too difficult, but in fact it only underscores the level of planning and technique needed to win matches and to progress in the game.
Like Chi, I was impressed with the surprising amount of unique moves that can be performed with little more than the four face buttons available on the Dreamcast's standard button pad. After only a few matches -- and learning the importance of things like back mounts and the guard positions -- I was handling my fighter with aplomb. Reversals and counters had quickly become second nature, and I was constantly amazed at what kind of moves the computer (or myself) was capable of pulling off when in a pinch. And what's more, a victory is just as legitimate whether it was from a well-executed reversal that rolled into a submission move or one by means of a relentless flurry of kicks and punches. This puts the onus on the gamer to plan ahead and stay focused throughout the match since tides can turn with unforgiving speed.
That isn't to say that there aren't some nagging issues in the game. I feel Chi should have further stressed how unforgiving the play modes can be. In UFC mode -- a tournament with up to eight fighters -- I had to fight until I was the last one standing. This earns the winner a silver belt and unlocks the Championship mode. Here in a sort of Iron Man tournament, I had to last through 12 consecutive matches without a full replenishment of energy at any point. This would be fine with me, but there wasn't ever a chance to continue from where I lost. Instead I had to start all over from the beginning. Of course, as I improved in skill I had to restart less, but that doesn't make it any less forgiving. One wrong move near the end of a tournament sent me back to square one in a hurry. There are some more minor issues like the horrible lip-synching job done on Bruce Buffer; or how facial textures don't always match the body textures -- resulting in heads that stick out from bodies; or the way the camera sometimes sticks in counterproductive positions during the course of a match.
Overall, such a variation on the fighting theme is so refreshing that I can ignore these bad points for the most part and enjoy the game for the true representation of the martial arts combat that it is. On all fronts, this is a truly gutsy release by Crave Entertainment, and those who give it a fair chance will surely agree.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood, Animated Violence
For parents, UFC is a tough call. On one hand, the matches can get pretty brutal with fighters mounted on top of one another while someone gets pummeled into unconsciousness looks frighteningly realistic. On the other hand, some of the real-life fighters could be ideal role-models and kids could stand to learn something about the martial arts from the way its respectfully and realistically depicted in the game. Blood splattering can be reduced via an adjustment options and outside of the scantily clad ring girl in between rounds, there's nothing overtly sexual about the game, and there's no verbal profanity either.
Long-time fans of more traditional Street Fighter II-style fighting games may be in for a surprise when it comes to UFC. You're not going to find any bouncing breasts, fireballs or upside-down spinning helicopter kicks here. UFC, while very accessible to all, could still be described as a fighting simulator, and many may be put off by its realism and its unconventional approach to ground fighting.
For fans of the actual UFC tournament who dream of fighting in the octagon, your prayers are answered. The game doesn't capture every single aspect of the competition perfectly (the pacing seems a bit more accelerated for gaming reasons), but it does come amazingly close, and I think very few will complain. I'd also like to mention that for those who choose to undertake the challenge, make sure you use an arcade stick. The game often requires two-button combination presses that are far more comfortable to pull off on an arcade stick. And it is also worth noting that the instruction manual is grossly inadequate at explaining even the most basic and fundamental concepts to grappling on the ground. Players who want to exploit all that UFC offers will need to find a FAQ file on the Internet or purchase a strategy guide.