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  • Writer's pictureRoberto Nieves

PAX East 2023: Hands-On with Undisputed, the First Boxing Game in Over a Decade

We all love a good, respectable fight. We all grew up the Rocky movies. There is something to the art of athleticism that can teach people many important lessons, such as discipline and perseverance. The art of boxing is a complex one. One of strength and grit, both mentally and physically. It's a tale of training and overcoming obstacles. A story of David & Goliath. A moment where humans become Gods and fight in arenas to the masses of the entire world.

In the realm of video games, boxing has a storied history. Players can fondly remember classics such as Punch-Out and Ready 2 Rumble. To the surprise of many, including myself, there has not been a boxing video game in over a decade. However, Ash Habib, CEO of Steel City Interactive, wants to change that. At the Plaion booth at Pax East, I had the special opportunity to go one to one with Ash and play Undisputed.

"Boxing is an art form. It's history. There is a lot of respect within the sport, and we wanted to bring that back into the video game spotlight," Ash says as he sets the game up for me.

"We saw a disappointing lack of a boxing game, and we sought to go in and bring it back in new ways. Something reachable and accessible, but also a core experience for the boxing enthusiast."

It's a big risk to partake in such an endeavor. Shooters and online games with micro transactions dominate today's gaming scene. Even smaller games like Vampire Survivors take over the scene with their auto-battler mechanic. It seems almost like there isn't any room for a game like Undisputed, but the demo proved the time is ripe for a new game in this sport.

Booting up the game, Ash took me straight to a versus screen for a quick 1v1 bout. Going through the roster of fighters, he chose the greatest himself, Muhammad Ali. As for me, having virtually no knowledge of boxing, I decided on Joseph Louis Barrow, famously known as The Brown Bomber. I was surprised as Undisputed would have not only modern-day fighters but also historical fighters. Choosing a modern neon-lit arena, we set out to fight.

The first impression I had was the sheer detail on-screen. For a Steam early access game, seeing such fluid details is indescribable. There is a visually stunning photo-realistic look to the game that I couldn't help but find myself in awe over. Even the sweat dripping from their torsos was impressive. Ash even informed me that the boxers would have visual effects on the battle as the battle went on. Faces will swell, and visible cuts will be seen. This is a substantial technical feat, especially given that recapturing the look and likeness of legendary boxers from decades past isn't easy. After pleasantries, the two of us got to work.

Undisputed wants to be a core experience for the boxing fan and a casual fan for those unfamiliar with boxing. The controls are straightforward. There is a stamina bar that fluctuates depending on what moves are used. There are jabs, hooks, clinch, and blocks. Jabs are quick and have little stamina but aren't as powerful as hooks. Hooks use more stamina but can deal a solid blow. Clinching can disrupt the momentum and flow of your opponent. Blocking is self-explanatory.

As we began fighting, I couldn't help but be amazed at the game's technical prowess. Undisputed didn't take an NPC and slap a likeness to it but did everything to create the ebb and flow of each fighter. In the case of Muhammad Ali, he had a range of motion with his legs especially. His particular fighting stance and leg work made him a challenging target to hit in the ring, and Undisputed created that look and feel here.

In the context of our bout, Muhammad Ali is taller and has more reach. Joseph Barrow is shorter and has a shorter distance. It might seem like the fight was slanted, especially looking at the towering Ali over Joseph. The catch in boxing is how you work your strength against your opponent's weaknesses. Ali is firm but not invincible.

Playing Undisputed feels like a labor of love and passion for the sport. It didn't feel loose and unrefined but shoe-shined to a tee. Every swing had weight. Every blow had power. Every moment felt like it could be a win or a loss. The two of us jabbed and swung at each other. Clouds of sweat blow off of our characters. At one point, Ali made a lower hook to the torso of Joseph, and the body rippled at the thunderous blow. It's another testament to the graphical capabilities of the game.

Suddenly, I went down. The referee counted to ten. I thought the jig was up. Fortunately, after some button presses, I returned to my feet. At this point, I decided to let Ash have the kitchen sink. I shifted to focus on the lower torso to inflict more body blows to incapacitate Ali. It was tricky as Ali was swift.

After a few blows, I hit Ali on the right side of the abdomen. Instantly, he was incapacitated and couldn't go on with the fight. Just like that, I won the match on a Technical Knockout. Had that not happened, I would have won for having more successful blows and knocking me down the one time. As that blow was hard enough, Ali couldn't fight anymore, which yielded the technical win.

The demo concluded with a quick tease of what was to come. As Undisputed is in Early Access, many more features are heading to the game. This includes historical fights, career modes, multiplayer, and many more features. New fighters like Mike Tyson will be added, so long as the royalties and paperwork go through. The game will sport single-player and multiplayer modes as well. Finally, there will be male and female fighters featured in the game as well.

There are many avenues that the game can go in. If I had a request to make, it would be to tell the story of Chuck Wepner, a game fighter in the sport. On March 24th, 1975, the boxer from Bayonne, New Jersey, had his shot at the top in a bout with Mohammad Ali. While he wound up losing the fight, it was tight, with Chuck nearly defeating him. Chuck's determination to fight the very best is a story of great inspiration, winning the hearts of many. His story also became the basis for the first Rocky movie.

For the short time we played, it was an incredible and authentic bout that excited me for Undisputed's future. There is a deep respect for the sport of Boxing. It's an Olympian feat that tells many stories. Seeing it down with such enthusiasm and admiration isn't something seen in video games these days. Undisputed is already shaping up to be a contender for one of the best fighters.

"I hope more people come away with an appreciation and respect for the sport. We are making Undisputed for boxing fans and sports enthusiasts but also for casual players. Boxing means a lot to us, and I hope the player sees that."

Undisputed is now on Steam Early Access and is slated for release on PC and console in 2024.


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