Unless you have been living under a rock, then you are at least aware of the growing popularity of MMA in general, and the UFC specifically. Even if you have been living under a rock, there is still a good chance you know a little about the sport. If it is a particularly nice rock with a decent Internet signal and at least basic broadcast cable, then you can’t have avoided the emergence of one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
The UFC has come a long way since its origins as a sideshow attraction on pay-per-view, back when everyone assumed that mixing various types of fighting styles with limited rules would lead to a bloody spectacle akin to Enter The Dragon, or Street Fighter II. Then the world met submission expert Royce Gracie, and that notion was quickly abandoned.
From that rose the leading company in a new sport that is as nuanced as it is brutal. But the biggest hurtle to the growth of the sport has always been that while hardcore fans are willing to accept the more technical aspects of the bouts — many even love it — it can be difficult for a more widespread audience to appreciate the complexities of what can appear to be a slow-moving submission struggle.
That same dilemma has also plagued THQ and Yuke’s UFC Undisputed games. The series has always tried to walk a fine line between what will appeal to the realism-minded, hardcore fans, and to people that may not know all that much about the sport, but are interested in the fight mechanics the game has. After taking a bit more time than usual with what most assumed would be an annual sports release, UFC Undisputed 3 has arrived, and it manages to offer a game that will keep fans playing it for months, possibly years, while featuring controls and gameplay that will appeal to anyone interested in MMA. It isn’t without its flaws, but like the sport it is simulating, this franchise is definitely on the rise.
Controlling your destiny
UFC 3 is the best in the series, and the best MMA game on the market for a few reasons. The most obvious is the inclusion of a huge roster of fighters — 150 in all — as well as the addition of the now defunct Pride FC league. If you have even a passing interest in the sport of MMA, this inclusion is fairly huge, and the number of fighters — each with their own strengths, weaknesses, and special moves — is impressive. The other major reason this particular title is the best of the best is that the controls have been overhauled. Specifically, the grappling and submission systems have been drastically simplified.
The submission game has always been the toughest thing to translate from real life into an MMA video game–either the options are too hard, or too easy. UFC 3 manages to find a good balance between intricate controls that mimic a specific attack, and a mini game.
Rather than issuing a complicated series of commands, once you are in position, you simply hit the right thumbstick to initiate a mini game of sorts, where an octagon appears on the screen with two icons: yours and your opponent’s. If you are attacking, you need to position your icon above your opponent’s and keep it there as he tries to move in any direction to escape. If you are being attacked, you need to stay out of reach of their icon.
It’s a bit squirrely , but when you play it, it actually makes sense. In a submission fight, it really is a frantic battle to avoid making one tiny mistake that will end the match. That makes for decent real-life fights for fans, but it is hard to translate. The mini-game submission is a great compromise. It still needs a bit of work, but THQ and Yuke’s are definitely moving in the right direction.
The grappling has also been simplified, and it is much easier than before to perform certain takedowns, as well as reposition yourself following a takedown. While the changes may rankle the hardcore fans who want the challenge of a digital submission, the shift will make the game more appealing and accessible to a wider audience.
Besides, UFC 3 is only somewhat realistic to begin with, which is for the best. While submissions always play a part, the majority of the fighters are more geared towards a stand-up style of fighting. This is where reality strays into gamesmanship. If someone in reality took ten undefended punches to the head followed by a kick to the face, they may actually die. The UFC would then be shut down, fans would weep, the dead fighter would be remembered as a hero, and the attacker would likely be traumatized for the rest of their persecuted lives. In short, no bueno.
Maybe it would take more than 10 hits to pulverize someone in real life, but this game allows you to simply punish opponents in ways that would be horrific in reality. But it makes for an awesome game. The realism is there to a degree, and UFC 3 is not an arcade-style fighter by any means, but it is a game, and as such it is designed for fun. In that it succeeds, both with the simplified controls and the attacks you can pull off.
The UFC Camp
UFC Undisputed 3 is loaded with enough content to make fans happy, as well as showing potential new fans what the sport is really all about. Even in the exhibition bouts there is something new to see, as you can fight with the Pride rules, instead of the UFC rules. That means a longer first round and a few more brutal moves. It is a good addition, but one that will be appreciated more by fans than anyone else. If nothing else it adds a lot of variety.
You can also create your own UFC Event, which is about what you would expect. You select the entire card, then watch, skip, or fight in each bout. Each fighter is profiled, and the matches are analyzed before and after. It really is about presentation as much as anything, and will appeal to the fans that love the whole pomp and circumstance of a UFC Event.
A new Title Mode makes the game into a bit of an arcade-style fighter, in the sense that you have a simple objective that ends with you winning the belt. After choosing your character, you then begin a series of fights to make your way up a ladder in order to take on the champ. You can lose three times on your rise to the top, and although it is a fun addition, there is no save and the level of challenge is off. You may murder your opponents on the way up, TKO-ing each one of them and making them consider quitting the sport forever as they are hauled out of the blood-soaked octagon… then you yourself may get destroyed by the champ. And it doesn’t matter who the champ is — they could all crush you. Boss battles should always be hard, but there is a weird degree of inconsistency. Once you do win the belt, you unlock the title defense mode, which is fun, but not all that compelling.
The Ultimate Fights return, and now includes the Pride Fights. With each historic fight, you are shown an intro explaining why the fight was important, and the match ends with a few real post-fight interviews. When the game begins you have a list of objectives–things like scoring four kicks in a row, or landing a certain type of punch — to attempt. This mode is a hug from the developers to the hardcore fans of the game, although the presentation and objectives make the fights accessible to everyone.
Of course, a game like this wouldn’t be complete without a career mode, and UFC 3 obliges.
There are always a few changes in any new iteration of a game with a career mode, and that is also true of UFC 3. From the moment you begin your career, you have a good idea of what to expect. The career mode is an impressive offering that takes your character through a 15-year career. The game moves fast enough that you have time to bond with our character, but not so long that you won’t finish and move on to a new character that may have a totally different fighting style.
I personally still have a soft spot in my heart for my first character, Benginus “The Predator” Maximus, but when his time came I was ready to move on to a different style. In that case, I switched from a dedicated muy thai fighter who was mainly a striker to a jiu-jitsu submission expert.
A new inclusion is the ability to use real life fighters in a career, and take them up the ranks through the World Fighting Alliance to the UFC, just as you would your created character. But along with the new is a lot of the same old.
Training is a big issue, and it is the way you level up your fighter. Between each fight you have a limited amount of time to build up certain stats by either competing in mini-games for the max bonus (which can be hard to attain), or choosing auto, which gives you half of the maximum possible points. During the time between fights, you can also attend camps to learn new moves, or level up your existing moves. There are also the requisite endorsement deals and offers. The mode is a bit streamlined from the past, and you get to fights quickly and easily, but there is really nothing here you haven’t seen before. The training gets old fast, and the camps are the same. Compared to many other sports games where you can create a player, UFC 3 is fun, but feels like it is behind the times.
No sports game would be complete without an online mode, and UFC 3 is no exception. The online mode features the expected ranked and unranked matches, content sharing of your personal video highlights, as well as camps, where you can join with up to 16 others.
Once you create or join a camp, the individual online achievements of the members all add up towards the camp score through “milestones.” Once in a camp, you can spar with live people or fight in exhibition matches, and can create voice chat rooms. It is nothing you haven’t seen before, but it all works.
So real you could punch it
The graphics in UFC 3 are solid, but the animations are the more important feature in a game like this, and they are top notch. The fighters all look and move naturally. With 150 fighters though, you will quickly begin to see that one fighter’s “signature moves” are identical to five other fighters’. There is still plenty of variety and realism, but many of the fighters are similar to others, just with slightly augmented stats and a different face.
There is a new nod to the realistic, and there are some consistency issues, but it is better than in the previous titles.
When you continuously hit a certain location on the opponent, like a leg, that area will show damage. The cuts on the face, which can lead to TKOs are nothing new, but the damage to individual limbs that happens over time is an important factor. It also, oddly, doesn’t make a huge difference.
You can work a fighter’s leg like Jean Claude Van Damme kicking the bamboo tree in Kickboxer until the thing exploded, but it will still take longer than it is worth to have any real effect. It makes for a decent long-term strategy in a fight, but if you focus on one area, your opponent will destroy you as you try. The pinpoint damage is better than in previous versions, but still could go further.
Speaking of realism, the presentation is both a major boon and an annoyance. The actual commentary from either the Pride or the UFC crew is as good as any sports game made. If you play enough you will hear some repetition, but when you are in career mode, you will hear some specific insights into your style or record that borders on the creepy. Unfortunately, there is just too much presentation, and several times, in numerous situations, you will find yourself trying to escape scene after scene after scene. A single option to skip all preamble and head right to the fight is notably missing.
No matter how realistic MMA games get, they will always include elements of a more traditional video game fighter, and that is how it should be. A real MMA fight can be five minutes of struggling for a submission — which would make for one of the most boring games ever — but punching someone in their unguarded face 20 or 30 times in a row in a real match might liquefy their brain. There needs to be a balance between the two in order to satiate the video game fighting fans, as well as the true MMA fans.
THQ and Yuke’s have found a good balance, with controls that have been simplified to be more accessible, while still keeping in the variety of MMA moves that fans will appreciate. They should also love the massive roster, as well as the inclusion of Pride. In that sense, this is game is a fan’s dream.
There are some flaws though. The presentation can go on for too long, and while the career is fun and nicely streamlined, it is very familiar and doesn’t really add anything new.
For fans of the series, UFC Undisputed 3 is the best of the bunch. It also has enough going for it to win over people that may be interested, but not all that familiar with MMA. There are a few minor annoyances, but it is the best MMA fighter on the market, and one of the best sports games on the market.
Score 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by THQ)