Don't panic too much if that all sounds like a lot to remember, because the game does a pretty good job of guiding you through everything. THQ and Yuke's have wisely bundled in a tutorial that does a reasonable job of going over the basic moves, but the easiest way to learn the ropes is to jump into the career mode. Here you'll build a fighter from scratch and work your way up through the UFC food chain. Between fights you'll have to manage your spare time, choosing whether to train, spar, attend media events or simply rest. The first activity merely works as an automatically-handled booster for your fighter's stats, but sparring actually takes you to a ring where you'll be given the chance to practice against an AI opponent. In a neat touch, your sparring partner will actually fight in the style of your next proper opponent - so these practice sessions give you a genuine chance to fix holes in your game before facing a real opponent.
In addition to giving you hands-on practice, sparring will also earn you points that can be invested in boosting your fighting skills. Media appearances, meanwhile, will help to boost your fighter's profile, and as you get more famous you'll unlock new equipment and the chance to work on your techniques with established fighting schools. All of these activities are managed by a functional-if-clunky diary interface that comes with its own email system. The latter soon proves to be quite pesky, spamming you with endless UFC newsletters that you'll quickly learn to ignore. The messages you receive from rival fighters and from UFC chief Dana White are a little more interesting, although these too lose their appeal once they start to repeat. On the whole, the management side of Undisputed does its job solidly without being too much of an annoyance.
In any case, the minor irritations of email spam are swiftly forgotten once you're actually in the ring. The bread-and-butter action of Undisputed is brutal, addictive and surprisingly deep. You may think you've got the game pegged after your first five victories or so, but as soon as you meet your first skilled grappler you're bound to find yourself crashing to Earth with a bump - and your arm will probably be bent into a horrific knot, too. The longer you stick with Undisputed, the more you appreciate its nuances - the subtle but important differences between the disciplines, and the need to adapt to each opponent's style. You'll learn that Demian Maia is a nightmare on the ground, or that Dan Henderson is extremely good at takedowns. You'll inevitably lose a few matches - but when you do you'll build up a massive grudge, to the extent that you immediately yearn for a rematch. It’s this magic ingredient, rather than the simulated email or limited character creator, that sucks you into your fighter's career.
But above all else, it's the sheer joy of violence that makes Undisputed so much fun. Fights can turn on a sixpence at any time. You might knock out your opponent in under 30 seconds, or you may find yourself drawn into an epic struggle on the ground. You're never really safe, and with the default setup you don't even have a stamina bar on the screen. Sure, you can turn it on - but despite the small advantage this affords you, it somehow feels better to go without. There's a certain purity to the clutter-free screen, allowing you to focus on the large fighter models and the grimly detailed damage effects. Flesh bruises, skin cuts and bleeds, eyes swell and puff, and all these details help to boost the drama of a tight match. When you pin someone down and knock them out, you can carry on punching your unconscious opponent until the referee drags you away. It's nasty, nasty stuff… and you'll love it.
If I were Dana White and Yuke's were a fledgling UFC fighter, I'd be commending the young pup on a barnstorming entry to the competition. There's room for improvement, certainly: the character creation tools are a bit limited when compared to similar titles, while the career mode could do with fleshing out a few of its ideas. However, neither of these complaints prevent Undisputed from being the best thing that Yuke's has made in years. It's stylish, fresh and deeply engaging. It is, in short, a bruising powerhouse of a game.