It all sounds terribly promising, if a bit technically dense - but then Undisputed 2009 was never one to give its players an easy ride. I've not yet had the chance to delve into career mode for myself, but after several hours of rumbling in exhibition mode, I can certainly attest to the quality of the matches themselves. As I predicted after seeing the game for the first time earlier this year, the action is immediately reminiscent of its predecessor, and yet the subtle refinements start to show their worth within minutes of jumping into the Octagon. Producer Neven Dravinski says that he can no longer play the 2009 release, so great are the changes to last year's system; that may sound like a marketing line, but in this case I'm actually prepared to believe him.
Put simply, Undisputed 2010 has the same winning mix of tactical depth and variable, slightly unpredictable gameplay. You may be comfortably into a match, laying into your rival with elbows and fists, when suddenly something goes wrong: you miss-time a punch and get countered, perhaps, or you fluff a head kick and get driven down to the matt with a quick takedown. Without warning, you're out of your comfort zone - and if you don't get your wits together quickly, the match will be over before you know it. There's now an awful lot more that can and will go wrong, too: holding R1 or RB allows you to duck and weave with the left stick, allowing you to dodge an incoming blow and then respond with one of your own, while a well-timed flick of the right stick will let you grab an approaching limb. On the ground things are even more tense, the upper hand passing back and forth as fighters wriggle, shift posture and attempt to snare loose arms and legs - paving the way for a devastating submission.
Naturally, there's an awful lot to learn. Since each fighter now has their own personal move list, rather than simply following the discipline-specific templates used by the last game, it can be quite daunting to pick someone you've never used before. Pausing the game allows you to consult a database of every move you have in any given situation; each move also has a level from one to three, so you'll be able to immediately see where your chosen fighter's strengths lie. This can be especially handy if, like me, you don't have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the UFC's roster.
Like its predecessor, Undisputed 2010 will be one of those games where practice makes perfect. On the other hand, even immediate newcomers should be able to appreciate the mix of boxing game-style mechanics and the complex shenanigans on the ground. Yuke's managed to create a genuinely original fighting experience with its first stab at UFC, and all evidence points to this being an excellent follow-up. Beyond the technical refinements, everything simply looks and feels better. The large character models of the first game drew plenty of praise, and they now look more realistic than ever, particularly when in motion. The crowd and other background details have also been given a tune up, and the result is a game that looks impressively close to life.
There is, of course, the small matter of EA's own MMA game - a title which we've still yet to see in proper detail. However, there's an air of confidence at the Undisputed camp. The developers know that they did well with the first game - earning sales nearing four million copies - and they reckon they've now taken things to the next level. You'd be a fool to write off EA at this early stage, but with a year's experience and a killer license in their corner, Yuke's and THQ may be the odds-on favourite in this particular clash.
UFC Undisputed 2010 will be released on May 28 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PSP.