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UFC Throwdown
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Opus
Publisher:  Crave Entertainment
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Fighting
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  10-15-02

For years the Ultimate Fighting Champion has remained the most brutal display of rare physical talent on the planet. This mixed-martial arts competition pits the world’s toughest (and craziest) head-to-head in a no-holds-barred bloodbath to see who leaves victorious, and who leaves in a coma. Now this real-life "King of the Iron Fists" tournament has landed on the PS2, bringing with it some of the most intense and realistic fighting action ever seen in gaming. Prepare yourself, because UFC: Throwdown is here to kick ass and take names.

When UFC: Ultimate Fighting Championship appeared on the Dreamcast it set a new standard for fighting games. Its unmatched realism captured the imaginations of wrestling, boxing, and traditional fighting fans the world over, introducing a brand new audience to Ultimate Fighting. Being released on a near-defunct system, however, limited the game’s commercial potential. Crave has since set out to put a UFC title on every platform, and has so far succeed, but while the Playstation 2’s version may fall slightly behind the Xbox’s UFC: Tapout in terms of visual detail, Throwdown’s expanded career mode, along with the series’ trademark depth and multiplayer mayhem, makes this version well worth the purchase.

In Throwdown, players can pick from one of over 25 real-life UFC greats, including Chuck Liddell, Macro Ruas, Dan Severn, Frank Shamrock, Vitor Belfort, Gary Goodridge, and of course Tito Ortiz. After choosing your "weapon", you can compete in a number of modes, including a single match Exhibition, a customizable Tournament, a grooling10 match Arcade mode, and "UFC Mode", where you fight to earn a title shot. A Training mode lets players get comfortable with the game’s staggering number of combos, submissions, reversals, and mounting positions, and a Career mode allows players the opportunity to create their own combatants, complete with player created fighting styles, then pit them against the toughest of the tough in the UFC, or against another player’s creation. Just be prepared to have almost no choice over how your character will look, as Throwdown offers only a handful of basic options in this department. However, I would consider it a fair trade for being able to create your own fighting style and completely customize your players move set.

What will keep players coming back to this game time and time again is the gameplay. Throwdown is a frantic, fast, and brutal game in which combat can be as complex, or as straightforward, as you like. Think the best way to win is to tackle someone to the ground and pound the crap out of them? You can do it. Rather win the match by unleashing a barrage of standing combos on a foe? You can do that too. Are you a wrestling fan and would rather put someone away with a quick Tapout? It’s all up to you! Each character has their own technique and each player will develop their own strategies for victory along the way. In this respect UFC: Throwdown perfectly captures the essence of what the Ultimate Fighting Championship is all about.

Throwdown doesn’t leave the defensive player out in the cold though. Counters and reversals play as big of a role in Throwdown as offensive attacks. Any move can be countered, reversed, or broken out of by rotating the right analog stick and tapping the face buttons rapidly, and a reversal can even lead to instant submission hold. This adds some extra spice to the two-player game. That is because bouts are more of a physical endurance match than a test of player skill superiority. The person whose thumbs give out first, from all the none-stop rotating and button mashing, is the one to fall to the submission hold. This means that you have to wear down your in game opponent just as much as his real-life counterpart, giving UFC: Throwdown the same sort of physical edge as a rhythm game or a Dance Dance Revolution machine. As you can imagine, this adds up to some truly legendary multiplayer showdowns.

Although the gameplay in Throwdown is tight, the engine could use some polishing. The game is loaded with bugs, glitches, lock-ups, and other errors that will force you to reset your system. This can be really painful if, say, you were in the middle of the Career mode and unable to save your progress before the game froze. The number and frequency of errors seen in this game is really unacceptable and should be corrected in later shipments of the game. The visuals could use a kick in the pants, like livening up the emotionless character models or revamping the drab presentation. Although it doesn’t take much away from the game, the colorless look of Throwdown could stand to be improved. I’m not saying Crave should go overboard and turn the next UFC game into Super Mario Sunshine, but the palette could really use some richer colors. One good thing can be said about the engine though: it has short load times. It has really short load times. They are some of the shortest I’ve seen in a PS2 game. Matches can load in under five seconds, which is a real nice feat to accomplish, especially since load times keep getting longer and longer with each wave of new releases.

So far my only real complaint about the game, aside from all the glitches, is that it should play a whole lot faster, a whole lot messier, and a whole lot bloodier than it does. As a fan of the real Ultimate Fighting Championship I know that most matches have a sloppy beauty and an ugly sort of grace to them. The fighters move lightening fast and no attack or position or submission is executed flawlessly. It all has this Fight Club style messiness to it, and is one of the things you grow to love about the UFC. All the UFC games, on the other hand, have had this neat perfection to them. The players move with a slow calculation that isn’t really seen in the UFC, mounting positions are picture perfect, and matches looks choreographed. Not to mention there is a real lack of blood in the game.

It’s nearly impossible to sit through a UFC bout without wincing at least once. These matches get as brutal as a prison fight, sans the shanks. They get bloody within seconds of the starting bell, and fighter’s faces begin to bruise and swell shortly after that. This doesn’t seem to translate into the game though. What little blood there is in the game is only seen at the very end of the match, and the player animations don’t do as good of a job selling the pain they are suppose to be in as they could. I’m not asking for Mortal Kombat levels of gore, but realistic model damage that accrues over time (or even carries over from match to match) and ramped up bleeding would be nice. It would also be great to see more emotion on the player’s faces when they are really taking a beating.

HIGHS:

  • Captures the feel of the UFC.
  • Gameplay is just as deep as it is chaotic.
  • Ability to create your own fighting style in the Career mode is incredible.
  • One of the best multiplayer experiences since Tony Hawk.
  • Very fast load times.

LOWS:

  • Graphics are a bit bland.
  • Full of bugs and system freezing errors that force you to restart the game.
  • Presentation could use a makeover.
  • Not enough choices over the look of your character in the Career mode.
  • Still not as fast or as brutal as the real UFC.

FINAL VERDICT:

It is worth overlooking Throwdown’s shortcomings to experience a game as exciting and rewarding as this. It is one of the best multiplayer experiences you will have on a console this year and highly recommended for anyone looking for a fighting game with some realism and depth. This game feels just like how a UFC title should, and is only held back by its many bugs.

Overall Score: 8.6

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