If you’re already a mixed martial arts fan and would just like to know whether UFC Undisputed 3 is worth your time, I’ll keep it simple – there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t be playing it already. For newcomers though, it’s best to approach it as a realistic fighting game (like Fight Night: Champion); one that’s arguably more fun in a contemporary sense and doesn’t require the rote memorisation that traditional arcade fighters insist on.
As good as the game is, however, the question remains as to whether the latest entry in the series can do enough to revive flagging sales, especially after taking the whole of last year off. Unfortunately, UFC Undisputed 3 doesn’t take many tangible steps to widen its user base, and MMA just isn’t as popular with the junta as it should be (or as popular as aficionados may like to think it is, at any rate), so it’s a shame to not see more being done to bring more non-MMA fans into the love-in.
The worst thing for a game that needs to introduce new gameplay mechanics to users to have is a deficient tutorial. UFC Undisputed 3 proves that some things just aren’t learnt despite hindsight, with another tutorial mode that’s an absolute chore to get through. Not only are there dozens upon dozen of moves to try out, but they’re all hidden behind copious lists, long loads and unnecessary CPU demonstrations before you can even perform them. Franchise veterans would already be familiar enough with a lot of these moves, but newcomers may find themselves in the deep end fairly quickly if they aren’t careful. There are also control tips that you can switch on during actual fights, but they obtrusively interrupt proceedings often enough for you to immediately turn them off.
But don’t panic just yet. You’d do well to persist, especially as the game well and truly rewards you when you do. There’s also the obvious hook of the fighting being incredibly intuitive, visceral, bloody and fun all at the same time; enough so that a lot of the basics can be picked up instinctively without the tutorial. For those getting started, punches and kicks are mapped to your face buttons, blocks and height modifiers to the triggers, and there’s also a technique button to add some flash to your basic moves.
These aside, you can also perform clinches and takedowns with the right analog stick, as well as transition to more advantageous position once you’re in a clinch or on the ground. There are also a multitude of other moves such as feints, sways, counters and such; with each move changing depending on where the fighters are positioned inside or against the octagon.
The kink in this year’s edition is the addition of an amateur control scheme that lets you perform the moves and transitions on the right stick with simple up and down motions rather than the quarter circle twirls that are characteristic of the more traditional control scheme. While this is fine for beginners, advanced users may want to stick to the old scheme as there seems to be more of a connect between your input and the on-screen action. It also helps that the difficulty levels are pitch perfect. I found the AI on the advanced setting extremely crafty and capable of churning out one great bout after another.
Game modes are largely carried over from the last game, although there have been changes made to a few of them. There are title and title-defence modes that take you through tiered tournaments and then make you defend your hard-earned belt against a staggering number of progressively harder opponents. The Ultimate Fights mode has also been changed up a bit. While you’re still recreating famous fights, the conditions you’re tasked with accomplishing in each scenario are a lot more fluid and true to life. There’s also an event mode that lets you simulate entire PPVs. The exemplary AI and presentation chops make this more enjoyable than you’d think.
There are changes in the career mode as well. It’s a lot less stat-focussed, and the team seems to have taken a few lessons from EA Sports MMA to boot. You can create a fighter or use one of the roster fighters, train them in all new (and better) mini-games, train at and align them to fight camps, learn new moves, edit their entrance, gear and banners. There are fewer hoops to jump through before fights now, although the aforementioned load times are still an issue. You earn varying amounts of ‘cred’ depending of the opponents you pick, their position on the fight card, the number of sponsors backing you, etc. There’s also the pre-requisite store to spend your cred in.
What the game does best though is replicate the UFC experience. You have 150 fighters to pick from across a wide swathe of weight classes (including new classes as a result of the WEC acquisition). This also includes a whole new set of fighters for the game’s new Pride mode, which eerily replicates the hallowed Japanese MMA organisation right from its boxing style ring to having Lenee Hardt on arena announcing and Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros on commentary duties. Choosing to fight in Pride also means you’ll be fighting with the Pride rule set, knees and soccer kicks to the head and all.
And speaking of, pain skins on the fighters are as well done as ever. You’re guaranteed to wince looking at your fighter between rounds. Also new this year are fighter entrances and attract videos as well as a more involved audio presentation that has your corner men shouting surprisingly relevant instructions from the sidelines during fights. I also really like their tips between rounds, complete with control instructions on how to actually perform the suggested moves. Brilliant! Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan are still on UFC commentary and are as good as ever, rattling off fighter trivia and calling fights with surprising accuracy.
There’s also a better ragdoll system for knockouts, a new submission mini-game that has you chasing your opponent’s cursor in a tug-of-war battle (no more horrid analog stick twirling), sways to avoid punches when you’re on your back, and leg TKOs. You also now have the option to simulate stamina or have a more arcade-like experience and nullify stamina altogether in addition to equalising fighter stats and removing random events like flash KOs and doctor stoppages, turning it into a true blue fighting game.
While EA’s shelving of its EA Sports MMA series may be unfortunate, the lack of credible opposition doesn’t seem to have made THQ complacent in any way. Add a robust set of online features, including fight camps and sharing highlight reels to the mix, and there’s little doubt that UFC Undisputed 3 is as comprehensive an MMA package as anyone could possibly ask for. Pound for pound.