The world of mixed martial arts is something that can leave the uninitiated cold, the feelings usually go one of two ways; either it's met with condemnation for being too brutal or because of the tactical ground game aspect it can be labelled as boring. As one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the world MMA has emerged as a fascinating beast of talent, violence and fitness with the Ultimate Fighting Championship being the vehicle that has seen the sport propelled into the mainstream over the last two decades. The story of the UFC franchise on home consoles has been one to be applauded, over the last two games the series has went from strength to strength and with this iteration THQ and Yuke have been even more ambitious.
The impressive thing about Undisputed 3 is the sheer level and depth of improvements, what could have been a simple re-skin and repackage has instead become the finest example of how to properly make a UFC game. Straight out of the stalls you notice that that presentation has improved, from pre-fight build-ups to fighters entrances there is a very noticeable intention to give the game all the glitz and showmanship of the action outside of the ring. All the visual cues and music from the live events are to be found in Undisputed 3 and from the weigh-ins to the octagon girls any fan will be hard pressed to find something that fans will know that hasn’t been included. As you would expect the game is presented by the two UFC stalwarts Mike Goldberg and Joe (no neck) Rogan and their presence instantly lends to the atmosphere of the UFC world. The commentary however is purely functional, there’s a short turnaround before the commentary starts to repeat and it lacks the depth or even the interest of something like the Fifa series.
The downside to this however is that the presentation can, quite literally, get in the way of the fight as all the preliminary pomp can take what feels like an age to get though. You can have loading screens, interactive weigh-ins, loading screens, pre-fight build-up, loading screen, introductions and then the fight. It can be quite tedious at times especially in career mode but inevitably you just put up with it and it becomes normative, but you will get irritated by not being able to skip the ‘tale of the tape’ (which is a fighter side by side comparison) until the commentator has read out the sponsor for this segment. As is the story with Undisputed 3 it does a lot more right than it does wrong and it is packed to the brim with videos for the player to unlock and watch, it’s a great addition for the title and there is a genuine incentive to achieve certain goals to unlock these short videos and they only serve to remind you how close this game has got to the real deal.
Visually the game has taken the series forward, fighters are instantly recognisable and with the added motion capture for various fighters the sheer resemblance to the actual product is of a very high standard. The fighters are replicated down to very last detail, whether it be Matt Hardy’s ridiculous hair or Scott Jorgensen’s skin condition it’s all here, and all of this modelling is backed up with a great damage and cut aesthetic development. From the looks to the movement Undisputed 3 just nails the UFC. However the character creation tool, which you will use in career mode, seems to be lacking that certain something. Where games like Saints Row The Third have given us insane levels of customisation providing players with unique characters Undisputed 3 seems to have a problem of having customised fighters who either don't look different or are devoid of any sort of character. It’s hard to put your finger on why it just doesn’t gel and you’ll find yourself just wanting to use the fighters you know and love.
Undisputed 3 delivers the player with a great array of ways to play the game, both online and offline. There is the standard exhibition mode where you can leap in and batter seven shades out of each other with minimal fuss, and now with ‘stat levelling’ you can make every fight with your friends equal. This really does put to bed the typical argument that you only beat your friend because you are lame and choose Anderson Silva all the time, despite the fact you know your friend is just rubbish. For those of you who like getting you teeth stuck into a game then the ‘Career Mode’ is definitely for you, starting with a known fighter or creating your own you will begin your fighting career in the lowest rungs of the WEC. You will be offered a selection of fights, some with higher ranked fighters, and careful selection is a must as nothing but good record will see you being promoted into the dizzying heights of the UFC. Before you fight you will be offered various ways to train to increase your stats, there are some training mini-games which will offer you improvement in you chosen area relative to how you perform in the min-game.
You can also improve your fighter by joining a training camp, these are the actual training camps such as Black House, and here you can learn new moves to add to your repertoire or even level up moves that you have learned. The great thing about Undisputed 3’s career mode is that while it should be stat heavy it has been streamlined so you aren't bombarded by numbers and confusing decisions. You invest in training by spending ‘cred’, this is earned through winning fights, sponsorship or achieving accolades like ‘Fight of the Night’. I am still completely unsure why this isn’t worked out in actual currency especially with the utter commercialisation of the UFC but as it stands the system is simple and flows smoothly.
There is also the option of replaying famous fights such as Rampage Jackson versus Wanderlei Silva, and you will be given a series of tasks to achieve in the fight which when completed will give you short films of the fights. It’s a nice addition and as a fan it is genuinely great to be reminded of some of the great moments in UFC/Pride history. These is also a mountain of additional famous fight packs coming in the weeks ahead and it seems that there will be much support coming Undisputed 3’s way over the foreseeable future. Hopefully these will become worthy additions to an already great game and not become cheap cash-ins, only time will tell.
As with any fighting game the most noticeable changes should come with the combat but not so much so that it becomes unrecognisable to the rest of the series that has preceded it and it is here that Undisputed 3 lands the knockout punch. With so many intricacies and facets to an MMA fight it would’ve been very easy to tinker too much and in too many areas, but luckily here we can see subtle improvements that compliment, rather than replace, the core mechanics.
One such addition is the ability now to sway while on your back, previously if you were on the bottom all you could do was cover up and hope for either the bell to save you or grabbing your opponents arm mid-punch for a submission. Now you can manoeuvre left and right trying to both avoid damage and waste some of your opponents energy before attempting a transition out of the position. Kicks to the leg have also been improved this time around, where they previously had no real impact in a fight now they impact an opponents stamina and will effect their mobility around the octagon. This helps to round out the overall feel of the game, taking away your opponents ability to move or throw hard punches from their leading leg is a great tactic and one well used in the real sport. This is where Undisputed 3 gets fantastic, the tactics.
It’s all too rare to find a fighting game where you must assess each opponent and develop your strategy accordingly but Undisputed 3 seems to evoke this from the player very naturally. I found myself comparing stats and styles against every person I fought along my way in career mode and developing my game plan accordingly. Do I have a longer reach? Then I’ll use straights jabs to keep them at distance and pick them off with combinations. Are they known for their boxing? I’ll take him to the ground and work towards submission. Do they have great take-down ability? Then I’ll keep them on the outside and work on my take-down defence. It’s these conscious decisions and needing to understand both the fight you are walking into and the game-plan you want to execute that sets Undisputed 3 ahead of most fighters.
Overall the striking game seems vastly improved, there seems to have been a concerted effort to layer the stand up game. Simply pressing a punch button, for example, will see a quick punch being thrown and while it may not be powerful it will break up and combination your opponent is throwing. If you then push your direction towards your opponent and press the same button you will see a heavier punch being landed, this will land more damage but will reduce your stamina and if you miss it will leave you open. Then you have the option of presing L1 and your punch button, this will throw a signature move which again will be a heavier attack but energy consuming and open to counter attacks. Pressing R2 and your punch will land it lower on the body of your opponent letting you wind them, concentrate on the body and you’ll see their energy draining and you can indeed get a T.K.O from body damage. It’s simple but effective, at first it may seem a bit messy but after a few rounds you’ll be breaking an opponents combination only to land a diverse and dynamic combination. The ground game has stayed largely the same with gestures on the right stick for progressing through transitions to a dominant position, defensively it’s simply a flick on the right stick when you see someone attempting a transition to block it. Once again it is simple enough for beginners to the sport to pick up quickly but has enough depth and skill to warrant praise from the die-hard fans. The octagon itself is also now better utilised which is a very welcome addition, in defense you can now pull yourself towards the cage and eventually use it to wall-walk to regain a standing position, it’s a simple and obvious addition but it lends so much to the feel and authenticity of UFC.
The biggest overhaul to the combat and perhaps the biggest, definitely most noticeable, change in the whole game is that of the submissions. Previously in the series whenever you wanted to execute a submission it involved basically rotating the right-stick with no clear indication of what was taking place. In Undisputed 3 there has been the introduction of something that almost resembles a mini-game to help visualise the process of submitting an opponent. When a submission is a attempted an octagon will appear on the screen with a red and blue line representing both players. The goal is for the attacker to chase the opponents line around this octagon track and overlap his colour, the longer he does this the more a gauge fills up to finish the submission. It’s a very simple mechanic that can initially seem overly simplified and the overlaid graphic can remove you from the action but once you become used to it you realise that it’s probably the best way to implement submissions. The system can feel a bit strange when playing against the computer as it is basically a game of ‘chase’, but play it against another human and this ’chase’ suddenly makes more sense with success or failure delivered by panic and simple mistake or lapse in concentration.
One of the surprises and very welcome additions that have arrived in Undisputed 3 is that of the inclusion of the Pride tournament into the martial arts mix. The Pride Fighting Championship, now owned by Zuffa who also own the UFC, is a Japanese mixed martial arts tournament that saw the genesis of a lot of the fighters we know today in the UFC. The difference with Pride is that it is somewhat more no-holds-barred, with head stomps and soccer kicks to the face both allowed and also order of the day. This feature could easily have been a paid for piece of downloadable content but here you have access to the Pride roster of fighters, insanely infectious commentary from Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros and proper presentation of the event. Its addition also sees reward in career mode as you are able to schedule fights across both tournaments (and the WEC) this helps to vary your experience as well as helping you develop as a fighter as if you aren’t quick enough in Pride you will find yourself on your back with a foot in your face.
UFC Undisputed 3 will be overooked I fear, but that makes it no less important in being the triumph it is. The world of MMA is a complex machine but here THQ and Yuke have brought it to life and made it even more accessible than ever before without sacrificing any of the depth for fans of the sport or admirers of the game franchise. Filled with depth, developed with accessibility in mind and delivering brutality by the bucketload Undisputed 3 is the definitive MMA game and not only that but it is also more than fit enough to stand alongside the ranks of the best fighters of our time. In the words of the veteran voice of the octagon, Bruce Buffer, “It’s time!”