There was definitely no shortage of reasons as to why last year’s UFC Undisputed 2009 was such a genuine surprise, but primarily it caught people off-guard because so few of them were expecting it to be a work of such exorbitant quality. It wasn’t a cash-in, or a simplistic and lunk-headed beat ’em up, but a deadly serious and reverential representation of the fastest growing sport on the planet. It is extremely rare for an annual sporting franchise to flourish in its first iteration, but UFC Undisputed 2009 pulled it off. Indisputably.

There were a couple of very minor issues that held it back from perfection – most of which were the result of some online sketchiness that was basically tantamount to the odd minor teething problem – but it remains one of the most thoroughly deserving sleeper smash hits in recent memory, and represented the birth of an extremely promising new franchise. Eyebrows were raised then, when UFC President Dana White announced at the new sequel’s launch event in New York recently, that UFC 2010 was, “absolutely going to kill” the 2009 iteration.

It was a comment of cocky and belligerent showboating (and really, who was expecting anything less from the President of the UFC?) but it drew attention to the most tantalising thing about the new game – that nobody involved in its creation appears to be content with resting on laurels. This isn’t going to be an update of minor tweaks and roster changes, but an evolution of an already excellent formula. In terms of sheer quality, it’s currently looking like being readily comparable to EA’s constantly evolving (and constantly improving) FIFA series.

Improvements and refinements have been made to just about everything. The first thing you’ll notice about the new game is how much faster it is, which serves to really balance out the different fighting styles. Avoiding the ground game in UFC 2009 was often painstakingly difficult, inspiring many players (perhaps unintentionally) to gravitate towards wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu specialists like legendary Canadian mixed martial artist Georges St-Pierre. This time out, the scales don’t appear to be tipped (however slightly) in the direction of any particular fighting style.

The career mode is also (already) looking like the final word on the subject. The create-a-fighter mode has been beefed up to allow for far more customisable elements than before, and your moveset is no longer determined by your fighting style; you are free to choose your own moves from a gallery of over 200. Customisation is clearly king here, and the game’s creators are obviously hoping that this will enhance the experience and intensify each player’s involvement in it. One strange oversight from last year’s game – the lack of a selectable southpaw stance – has been fully rectified here too.

UFC Undisputed 2010 is working to flesh out and expand upon everything that made the original title so special, and the list of improvements is frankly mind-boggling. If you thought that UFC 2009 couldn’t be topped – and judging by the number of people who still play it online today, there appears to be quite a few of them – then this sequel is looking extremely likely to blow you clean away. THQ and developer Yukes aren’t messing around here; UFC 2009 wasn’t a success by accident, and if this year’s sequel turns out to be superior in every department, that won’t have happened by accident either.

That is (appropriately enough) the same level of dedication and single-mindedness that you’d need to actually make it into the Octagon, and fan excitement for the game remains sky-high. Playstation 3 owners get some superb extra content in their version (including 5 exclusive UFC fights, 5 ultimate fights, and 3 UFC legends – one of whom is the incomparable Royce Gracie) but regardless of which version you choose, everyone’s looking like a runaway winner.

Watch the UFC Undisputed 2010 trailer here…

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