UFC Undisputed 3 finds itself in a very interesting position. In 2007, when Crave and other smaller companies were still handling the license, Zuffa bought out the Pride organization from its Japanese owners. In 2010, Zuffa bought WEC before acquiring Strikeforce in late 2011. While it helped make UFC a bigger entity in the world of MMA, it also ensured that competing MMA games would cease to exist. The only foreseeable competition this year is a port of the unlicensed Supremacy MMA for the PS Vita, so it's understandable if the latest UFC game merely updated the roster, threw in a few tweaks, and called it a day. Instead, UFC Undisputed 3 throws in plenty of additions and changes, and only a few blemishes keep it from being the best MMA game yet.
The big new feature for UFC Undisputed 3 is the inclusion of one of Zuffa's acquisitions. Featured in the game is Pride Fighting Championships, the popular Japanese organization that hasn't been in a video game since THQ published one for the PS2 in 2003. For those unfamiliar with Pride FC, most of the rules in UFC fights apply, but there are a few things that make a big difference. Fights take place in a square ring instead of an octagon, and the fighting area is much smaller for more intimate contact. Elbows aren't allowed, but it's perfectly legal to land kicks, knees and stomps on a fallen opponent's head; consequently, matches are more about strikes instead of grappling. Judges look at the entire fight instead of on a round-by-round basis if no knockout or submission occurs; they also look at aggression and damage to sway their decision. Finally, the first round of any fight is always 10 minutes long, with subsequent rounds lasting for five minutes.
In the two-year span between games, the composition of the UFC has changed, and the roster reflects that. There are over 110 fighters on the UFC side alone, not counting announced DLC and fighters who have different versions, depending on the weight class. That growth came about from the new bantamweight and featherweight classes, which were formed after the WEC acquisition. There are also 33 fighters from Pride, though that number also includes fighters who later moved on or originally came from the UFC. The large roster is impressive, and while it is restricted to weight division, it isn't restricted to organization, so fights between Pride fighters and UFC fighters are entirely plausible. Although there's no shortage of available fighters, players also have the option of adding up to 40 more characters through character creation or by downloading other people's creations online, though the latter requires an Online Pass.
Speaking of creation systems, this is probably one of the best in a sports game yet. Event Creation lets you create you’re a pay-per-view event by using the available venues and rosters. Everything from the undercard to the main events can be added, but the appeal comes from being able to download other user-created events in addition to uploading your own fantasy cards or replicas of upcoming UFC events. Character creation is deep enough that you can alter and customize almost everything in great detail, from the head to the body proportions; you and even add blemishes and scars to your fighter for more authenticity. Banner creation is back, as is the paint tool so you can create logos and tattoos. It really feels like Yuke's took its experience from the WWE series and applied it here, giving the creation system some welcome depth.
As far as game modes are concerned, most of them return from the previous game, but all have a few changes. Quick Matches are still here, and you can take on matches in any weight class in either UFC arenas or the Pride one, with each league's respective rules. One new thing added in is the presence of fighter entrances. For Pride, this means the complete laser and smoke show with specific music playing for fighters, and the video wall opens up to show a fighter portrait. For UFC, entrances include music as well as the pre-fight preparation with last-minute talks with trainers, referee inspections, and fight prep from the cutman. They're small details that bring the presentation of fights closer to their real-life counterparts.
Tournament creation is also back as you set up four-, eight- or 16-man tournaments in each weight class to win a vacated UFC championship. There's also the Pride style Grand Prix, where the goal is the same but instead of the tournament taking place in several different arenas, all of your fights take place in one night. Grand Prix changes the strategy a bit since your stamina and injuries from an earlier fight carry over to the next one. Later fights are more dangerous if you just barely won a brutal one.
Title mode is akin to an arcade mode in a fighting game, where you have to make it through a gauntlet of eight fighters in your weight class to claim the championship. Three losses will end your run and force you to start over, but should you win, you open up the game's Title Defense mode. Here, the game changes from arcade to survival mode as you try to make it through as many matches as possible before you either lose or choose to forfeit the title. The nature of the matches means longer sessions, and with there being a maximum of 100 matches, expect to put in some long hours.
Ultimate Fights mode is also back with more matches that cover the best in the past two years from the UFC as well as some of the best from Pride FC's 10-year history. You're still given video backgrounds on each of the fights as well as a list of things to accomplish. Both fighters can be selectable and come with their own objectives. The objectives are time- and round-specific in the way they mirror the moves made during that fight. The adhesion to reality makes for an exciting and taxing experience since you can't play the fight your way and hope to accomplish the objectives. What kills the momentum for this mode, however, are the limits placed on match availability. With the exception of most of the Pride matches, every UFC fight is locked behind downloadable content. There are two free DLC packs available, and they open up more of the matches, but for those who keep their consoles offline, it feels frustrating to see a mode that needs an online component even though it's meant for offline use.
The final offline mode is Career mode, which has gone through a great number of changes in the name of streamlining. Gone are things like stamina maintenance during training, publicity stunts, and stat management. The mode has been simplified to where you select your fight, participate in training minigames for your stats, go to fight camps to learn new moves, and plan fight strategies. Every action is governed by action points that determine what you can do, and you can bank those points for later if you don't feel like using them. Matches also feed into a cred system, which can be used to buy things like clothes and stat cap increases. While the story remains the same, where you take a rookie through his MMA career, you'll have part of your career take place in Pride between the WFC and UFC runs. The game also tries to add some interviews and video montages from real UFC fighters at every step instead of going with cut scenes and static text messages from your trainers.
The controls took time to master in the prior game, and some players were frustrated by them while others jumped back into the tutorial. For those who still have the 2010 version fresh in their minds, they can immediately jump into this game because the default controls are the same. For those who are new to the game or were frustrated with the old control scheme, UFC Undisputed 3 has a new alternative in place. Grapples are still initiated with the right analog stick, and it can be modified with the left trigger, but the specific circular motions have been replaced with simple directional flicks of the stick. It closely resembles the more traditional methods, but the simplicity doesn't mean that one could easily counter moves because timing and predicting your opponent's moves are still paramount.
Despite the option for a simpler control scheme, the fighting remains deep. Even on the easiest difficulty level, mindless punches and kicks will barely ensure you victory because stamina must be kept in check and your blows are less effective if you go without rest. Even with stamina conservation in mind, learning to clinch, grapple and execute submission moves is the only way to be effective, and with the myriad of counters, dodges and feints in the game, both offensive and defensive strategies are on equal footing, so each fight feels deep and rewarding.
With that being said, the fighting system still isn't perfect, and that's because of the presentation and the submission system. Some of the hits don't seem as brutal as expected. You see mouthpieces flying on really big hits, but you don't see things like blood flying from cuts or skin-rippling impacts in the slow-motion replays. The hits still look brutal, but they don't match the brutality in any of the Fight Night games from Round 3 onward. The submission system has undergone a mechanical change, so you're now using the right stick under a timer to either place your icon over the opponent to drain a meter for a successful submission or move away from it to escape. It works similar to the submission system in last year's EA Sports MMA, but it still doesn't feel ideal since it ignores controller feedback for a more immersive feel. It works well enough, but it wouldn't be bad if the scheme changed again the next time around.
Online multiplayer was a major draw for the previous game, so it is no surprise that everything from last year's mode makes a return. In Fight Clubs, you form an online group that trains and helps the group move up in the MMA world. Ranked and Player matches are still here, now with the new weight classes and Pride rules in tow, and a new point-based ranking system accompanies your standard win-loss record. The mode remains engaging, but it is dragged down heavily by its performance. As of this writing, nearly a week after the game's release, the servers are experiencing instability, and match performances are fluctuating wildly. You'd be lucky to connect to a person for a match, and once you do, there's no telling when lag will occur and how bad it'll be. Until the issue gets fixed, there's no reason to try to get online, redeem the Online Pass, or even start the seven-day trial.
Graphically, the game hasn't changed much. The character models sport some amazing detail, and just about everyone, from the refs to the fighters to the ring girls, looks amazing. Animations are excellent, and details, like the trunks moving when you rush forward or retreat, add a sense of realism. It's the same story as the last game, but extra work seems to be placed on other elements. The ring canvas has more texture, for example, and the foam posts of the octagon don't have as much shine as last time. Moving over to the Pride side of things, the four-roped ring carries with it the same qualities, and the light and smoke show is done well with no hitches to the game engine. Also, while the fighters have always had good-looking cuts and bruises that appear as the fight goes on, skin reddening has been added to areas that are hit often, especially on the body and legs. Overall, the game looks great, though you really need a keen eye to see any differences between this game and the 2010 version.
The sound is one of the strongest areas of the game. It's received some major improvements this year, but just about everything from the 2010 version has returned intact. The music still goes for the epic feel of a UFC pay-per-view presentation, but it throws in some guitar-backed tracks every now and then in the menus. The entrance music for each fighter isn't licensed, but the facsimiles are good enough that it makes the ring entrances a welcome addition. The voice work for the UFC matches has always been spot-on, with everyone from ring announcer Bruce Buffer to commentators Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan delivering authentic-sounding performances. A few nice details have been thrown in, with some background commentary added during the fighters' entrances. There's also the presence of trainer commentary during the fight and specific cheers from the crowd. Ring announcements are done in both Japanese and English, and those unfamiliar with Pride will be familiar with Lenne Hardt's work from Rumble Roses XX. Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten do some excellent commentary during Pride matches, and like Goldberg and Rogan, their commentary sounds natural.
UFC Undisputed 3 stands at the cusp of being the best MMA game currently on the market. The simpler alternate control scheme is a great way to make the game more accessible to casual fans of the sport. The trimmed-down campaign mode is more user-friendly and faster, and the level of customization is excellent. The inclusion of Pride FC gives the title some depth. Some aspects of the fighting, especially the submission system, needs some work, and the current online issues immensely hurt the game. Despite these issues, fans of the sport won't be disappointed with UFC Undisputed 3.
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