Jumping into UFC 2010 Undisputed feels a bit like your first day back at school after the summer holidays. You recognise a few faces and the general layout of everything, but there's also a surprising amount that's changed, too. The world has evolved, and if you get cocky and try to do things the old way, you might find yourself being brought back to earth with a bump. Also, there are big boys (well, men really) who push you around and put you in painful headlocks. They won't throw your bag over the playground fence, but they might bend your arm back till it pops – and when they do, there'll be no crying to Miss Giddings for sympathy. No sir.
As expected, the MMA gameplay fundamentals remain the same as last year: two large men enter an octagonal-shaped ring and batter each other until one of them experiences some form of painful anatomical failure. When the men are standing, it feels a bit like a boxing game with the added ability to use kicks, grabs and elbows; when you're on the floor, it becomes a deadly game of limb-twisting Chess – or perhaps someone playing Twister on top of a game of Chess. This year things are further complicated by the inclusion of three new fighting styles – Karate, Sambo and Greco-Roman wrestling – as well as moves that involve the side of the ring, and the ability to lean and sway during punch-ups.
Strangely enough it's this last addition that seems to have the biggest immediate effect on the action. By holding RB (on the 360 pad, the version tested) and flicking the left stick, you can deftly duck or swerve away from your opponent's blows. As in so many parts of life, a few inches can make all the difference: with a well-timed dodge your rival will find themselves swiping at thin air, allowing you to reply with a hefty fist or kick to the head. Veterans of EA's Fight Night franchise will be well-versed in these shuck-and-jive antics, and they prove equally useful here. Indeed, it's pretty much essential to master them if you want to last longer than five minutes.
In terms of the ground game, the most important revisions lie with the revamped submissions system. Provided that you're in the right position (an important consideration at all times), clicking in the right stick will initiate some form of agonising limb-bending exercise, conducted using the "Shine" system. If you're the aggressor, you rapidly rotate the right stick, perhaps using the palm of your hand, until your opponent gives up; if you're the defender, you do the same thing – but if you're playing against a human, you'll need to rotate your stick in the opposite direction to your adversary. Last year it was possible to power through submissions using raw strength – a feat that required you to simply mash all the buttons as fast as you could – but this year there's no choice but to embrace the Shine. On the other hand, it is now possible for the attacker to "charge" submissions (by pressing in the stick again, mid-move) or to change positions during their move. The latter requires human players to start spinning their stick the other way, as if there weren't enough to remember already.
UFC 2009 was a hard game, but its 2010 big brother is an even tougher slice of beatdown pie. The AI seems to have been given a notable boost since last year, and there's an awful lot to worry about whether you're on your feet, on the floor, or in some kind of painful half-way house between the two. This spread of situations plays a major role in giving the grappling its laudable depth, and yet it's hard to escape the feeling that it's all a bit overwhelming. The first Undisputed used archetypes to simplify each fighter's style: you might have been a kickboxer while standing and a wrestler on the ground, for example. Now, while that system was pretty unrealistic, and while it failed to reflect the diverse nature of the UFC's muscle-bound roster, it had one solid advantage, in that it let the player know what their chosen scrapper was actually good at.