I know we’ve all gone through a large wave of wrestling-based titles lately. Don’t get me wrong, some of them have been very good (Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF Smackdown come to mind), but most of them are from mediocre to just plain awful. The same can be said for fighting games. Aside from Capcom’s fighters, most are not worth mentioning. But those that are worth mentioning these days are now following the same cookie-cutter format as the past ten or so years. Even the mighty Capcom is falling into the trend they originated.
It is about time someone added a little originality to the fighting/wrestling genres.
The place: The Los Angeles Convention Center. The date: May 11, 2000. The event: E3. Crave Entertainment wows the crowd with a preview of their latest Dreamcast title: (and to be later released for the PlayStation) Ultimate Fighting Championship. Featuring an elaborate setup consisting of a virtual Octagon (the UFC proving ground), and several UFC fighters (middleweight champion Tito Ortiz, former champ Frank Shamrock, and kick boxer Chuck Liddel), and the "Voice of the Octagon" Bruce Buffer, the Crave booth was committed to making UFC a complete success.
But what mattered was not how elaborate the setting was, it was how the game played, and considering the game was in pre-Alpha state at the time, it was unbelievable. In fact, it even won the E3 Award for Best Dreamcast Fighting game. The only problem I had with this was I had to wait until September until I’d be playing this masterpiece for real.
Week followed by grueling week passed, and all I had to ease my pain was a couple screenshots and a few movie clips, not to mention a very basic demo copy released in a mainstream Dreamcast publication. It wasn’t enough for me after seeing the impressive E3 version.
Fortunately for us, time does pass by, and August 29, 2000 came with the long-awaited UFC launch for Dreamcast. Let’s just say it’s about time, as UFC comes out to finally break out of the mold of cookie-cutter fighters and wrestlers and makes a genre all its own!
I’m sure that there are a few select readers out there who do not know what the Ultimate Fighting Championship is. Put simply, the UFC was started in 1993 to showcase the best-mixed martial artists in the world. Every discipline imaginable was present, from simplistic styles such as wrestling, karate, and pitfighting, to the more advanced hybrid styles of Ruas Vale Tudo (named after UFC 7 champ Marco Ruas). While some competitions involve stand-up fighting (punches and kicks), most of the action takes place on the mat, and anyone who has seen three-time UFC champion Royce Gracie would know that groundwork can make or break a fighter.
UFC can get very violent at times, and a lot of blood ends up being shed. In fact, it is banned in many states, and discouraged in others. But it is still held in several key locations (Birmingham, AL, Cedar Rapids, IA, Sao Paolo, Brazil, and Tokyo, Japan), and is still available to watch on pay-per-view by many satellite TV services.
Many former UFC legends find success in other promotions as well. Both shootfighter Ken Shamrock (UFC 6 Superfight winner) and wrestler Dan "The Beast" Severn (multi UFC championship winner) have had success in the World Wrestling Federation, while pitfighter David "Tank" Abbott (by far the most popular name in the Octagon) is currently employed by World Championship Wrestling.
The UFC has attained semi-mainstream success, through its pay-per-views and videotape sales, and now with the release of the Dreamcast UFC, those sales should skyrocket greatly.
Usually titles based on key licenses turn out to be abysmal, but not here. To start off, Crave Entertainment looked upon the services of Anchor Inc. This is the same Anchor responsible for premiere PlayStation fighters such as Tekken and Soul Blade, and it can be felt in the control. Even the control system is a mock up of Tekken’s. Each button controls a various body limb (X/Y for arms, and A/B for feet), and pressing two buttons in combination makes you attempt to grab your opponent. It seems very simple at first, but when everything heats up, it can be a challenge.
UFC incorporates a highly complex reversal system. Basically, any move can be countered with the right button combination. We’ve seen a limited version of reversals and counters in Dead or Alive 2, but nowhere near this level. No longer are we content with mindless button mashing, fighters are now partaking in a virtual (and violent) chess match, where one wrong move can mean a knockout or submission.
Fights can be anywhere from 30 seconds, or go all the way to the time limit (if one is selected in the options menu). Victory can be made my knockout, by submission (one move that causes an opponent to tap out, even with full strength), or by judge’s decision if a time limit is enforced.
Twenty-two fighters are available for selection. Many of which I was able to recognize (Tito Ortiz, Frank Shamrock, Mark "The Hammer" Coleman, and Marco Ruas), but some appear new to me since I watched a UFC PPV (Evan Tanner, for instance). Also, some of the more familiar UFC fighters weren’t present, such as Tank Abbott. I can only assume he wasn’t available because of being contracted by WCW.
Recreating these legends can be done with one of the games modes, the Career mode. A fighter can be created using the various disciplines available (five can be selected at start, with more available during the games progress), and skill points can be obtained to add to your fighter’s abilities and moves. The only problem I had with the Career mode was there is not much variety with the fighter’s looks. For instance, when I tried to re-create Ken Shamrock, I had the body and attire correct, but his face was too Japanese. (It almost looked like Masato Tanaka from ECW). I remember having the same problem with WWF Smackdown, so I hope this will be fixed in UFC 2002.
Other modes available are Exhibition matches, and multi-player tournaments. But the two modes that will provide the most attention are the single player ones. It starts off with what is simply called "UFC Mode." This is the tournament itself, an 8-fighter elimination bracket, where the environment is equal to that of a real UFC PPV, which I will get to later.
The second mode, known simply as "Championship Road," follows up on UFC Mode. A fighter who wins a UFC Silver Title must defend his title through 12 straight matches to obtain a special Gold Hall of Fame belt. It’s not easy at all!
As I mentioned before, this game is a virtual Pay-Per-View. Everything about it looks like it comes off a satellite feed. When each round begins, a tale of the tape (identical to the ones on PPV) explains the fighters’ disciplines, height, weight, age, and towns where they are from. Afterwards, we are treated to the most elaborate fighter intros I have ever seen.
Now I know I’ve criticized the overkill of FMV in games (Squaresoft, you’d better listen to me on this!), but Anchor has finally done it right. As the fighters (all real-time renders) enter the ring, they are surrounded by an ultra-realistic FMV crowd with no signs of slowdown, misplaced sync, or quality loss. The result is amazing!
Following that, the game goes into the real-time engine, and we are treated to a full fighter introduction from Bruce Buffer. While playing with the sound test, I noticed everything he says is in small fragments, but during the intros, that is not noticed at all. It is sharp and detailed, with the exception that Bruce’s mouth isn’t synched to what he is saying. This is only a minor gripe in my opinion.
Finally, the action begins, as the official Octagon referee "Big" John McCarthy does his famous "Let’s Get It On" segment. Let me just state that the fighting engine is beautiful. Every fighter is highly detailed, has full muscle definition (despite some minor blocky edges), has full movement so one move doesn’t jump into another, and runs at the godlike frame rate of 60 (no slowdown, mind you). The only complaints (very minor) are there is some minor polygon clipping (I’ve noticed body joints phasing into each other) and the crowd looks just OK, compared to the amazing intro crowd.
Lastly, the sound is as impressive as the visuals. There’s not much music, with the exception of the UFC fight and end themes, plus Megadeth’s "Crush ‘Em" during the intro. (It is a surprise to have Crush ‘Em on here considering that it used to be Goldberg’s theme music in WCW for a short time). Fighters don’t have much voice work, save for a few grunts and groans, but the voices of Bruce Buffer and "Big" John McCarthy are dead-on. Also, what could be said about the sound of someone getting caved in with a load of punches? It just sounds too real.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Dreamcast deserves a lot of credit for actually releasing original titles, and I’m glad to see that third-party developers are learning this as well. With all the same mindless FMV-induced, RPG-loaded, cookie cutter crap coming out for the PS2, I’m glad to see I can always go back to my Dreamcast for what I truly want, great gameplay, just like UFC demonstrates.
We might be looking at Fighting Game of the Year here. A couple minor glitches aside, UFC has the markings of a true winner. Right off of E3, I swore I’d give UFC a perfect 5 GiN Gem rating because of how I was blown away with it. I’m still keeping my word, because UFC did what many other games failed to do, deliver through all the hype. In fact, once again this is one of those select few titles that should get a 6 GiN Gem rating, but our reviews limit it to just 5. Oh well. Crave, consider the 6th GiN Gem on me!