Cry in the dojo. Laugh on the battlefield.
MMA, and thereby UFC Undisputed 3, is nothing short of hardcore. You might think "hardcore" appropriately describes doing four P90X sessions a week, getting twenty nipple piercings, and going through an all-vegetable juice fast for a year, but you would only be kidding yourself. MMA fighters must contend with boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, judo, kickboxing, muay thai, tae kwan do, karate, vale tudo, and hell, why not throw in krav maga too? The amount of training, conditioning, focus, technique, precision, fighting spirit, and blood is meant only for the strongest competitors in the world. It's exactly this hardcore experience that UFC Undisputed 3 brings to the video game octagon.
Veterans of the UFC Undisputed brand know first-hand the depth of the fighting system, which intricately threads three separate types of no-holds-barred brawling—stand-up, clinch, and grappling. Rookies will likely stick with the familiar stand-up fighting, where throwing punches and kicks generally remains on a two-dimensional plane no matter how the camera moves around the arena. Matches on the beginner difficulty setting, true to its name, tend to stay upright while CPU opponents have wider openings, less frequent reversals, and a more predictable moveset. You can even select amateur controls, which replaces the standard circular inputs for transitions on the right analog stick with simple flicks up and down.
Don't expect a cakewalk, though. The overall challenge has been elevated to the point that all of UFC Undisputed 2010's difficulty settings have been moved up one full notch. The AI will learn your habits quickly, deftly blocking and countering your overused methods of attack and exploiting your weaknesses. Most
friends newbies will nail a couple of lucky hooks and body kicks, but then turn into a wailing mess on the controller when they're suddenly the bottom bitch grappler on the floor. As pleasing as that might be for me, it will behoove any beginners to learn the basics through the handy, one-hour guided tutorial.
Even with the amateur controls, though, it's still intimidating for someone new to the series to pick up and play UFC Undisputed 3. Most people just want to fling some angry punches at
Brock Lesnar a meathead without having to slug through a long tutorial. Having a lower “trainee” difficulty level solely for Exhibition mode or an option for complete arcade-like controls would help ease the transition into the full fighting system.
Experienced pugilists will appreciate the well-rounded improvements to the control scheme, particularly the new feint moves for fooling the opponent, the fluid sway system for countering high strikes, and numerous clinch and grapple positions against the cage. Jiu-jitsu practitioners still have a wide arsenal of throws from the clinch as well as position changes that open possibilities for well-timed submissions. Making comebacks more manageable, fighters who find themselves rocked in a terrible bottom position can attempt to sway away from an oncoming blow or catch the punch for a surprising transition. In fact, a separate drill made strictly for recovering from being rocked would have been immensely beneficial.
Overarching these enhancements is an extreme overhaul of the submission system. Instead of the prior scheme of furiously rotating the analog stick, submission attempts turn into a game of cat and mouse on an octagon displayed onscreen. With each fighter represented as a bar that can move along border of the octagon with the analog stick, the objective is to overlap the defending player's bar (if you're on offense) or flee from the offensive player's bar (if you're on defense). Visualizing this might be a head-scratcher, but it's intuitive and, above all, understandable. Though this new system makes submissions much tougher to lock on a human player, it also reduces submission spam significantly.
Flash knockouts don't occur as often either, allowing matches to extend further than the first round. Choose the “Competitive” option in Exhibition mode will essentially emphasize true know-how of the system over button-mashing luck. Choosing “Equalized Stats” makes fights even fairer with all stats for both contenders flatlining at 90.
If that wasn't enough, Pride Fighting Championships from Japan has finally made a triumphant return after becoming defunct when Zuffa, which owns the UFC brand, purchased Pride FC in 2007 but couldn't come to a management agreement. Known for its square roped ring and the exuberance that is Japanese entertainment (the Achievement/Trophy for viewing the entire entrance cut-scene is well worth the time), Pride FC upgrades the regular UFC moveset with permissable ground-and-pound knees to the head, foot stomps to the head, and soccer kicks to—you guessed it—the head.
Whereas Exhibition mode and the arcade-like Title and Title Defense modes are solid for a straightforward run-through, most completionists will test their mettle with the full-on Career mode with their own created fighter. This year's installment has copiously filled lists upon lists of new animations, for touching gloves, ramp walks, taunts, and victory celebrations. Taking a cue from THQ's WWE series, the options for facial structure, tattoos, and clothing have been vastly expanded as well.
Starting as a newcomer to the World Fighting Alliance, you must prove yourself worthy of clinching a coveted UFC contract, then a UFC Championship in your chosen weight division, and finally a place in the UFC Hall of Fame. Each upcoming match gives your fighter time to take a few actions to level up. Performing well in training mini-games will enhance stats specific to stand-up, clinch, or ground offense and defense, while training at a camp will offer new moves or enhanced moves. Every match regardless of whether you win or lose earns CRED, a currency used to purchase upgrades and sponsored gear. A full ten-year career lasts about 50 matches, so there's a limited amount of actions to mold your fighter before he's forced to retire.
True to their word, Yuke's has reduced the “spinning plates” stat management from the prior Career mode, though it's still of utmost importance. Nearly every mini-game both increases and decreases certain stats, so earning a four-star rating to keep the positive boosts high is as important, if not more important, than winning matches. Unfortunately, the instructions for each mini-game aren't explained well, and it can take more about four tries to figure out how to nab the four-star rating.
Even with the noticeable effort to trim the time it takes to get through Career mode, more could have been done to speed things up. An option to bypass all of the pre-fight cut-scenes, as realistic and well-commentated as they are, would have removed about one minute of hitting the skip button per match. Leveling up sponsors, for the time it takes to assign and paste logos, could have been expedited.
Rounding out the offering is a couple of extra modes, the objective-based Ultimate Fights and fuller Online multiplayer. Ultimate Fights highlights only a small helping of the best fights in UFC and Pride FC history, and challenges you to follow those fights to the letter. Doing this successfully, though, depends on how cooperative the AI opponent happens to be at the moment—cue frustration. The online modes fare much better, with online ranked matches with only minor incidents of lag, new online fight camps that serve as clans, and fight camp exhibition matches for sparring. You can even upload your created characters and videos from the Highlight Reel, which records and compiles your last 50 matches for easy editing.
UFC Undisputed 3 takes no prisoners. Even though the franchise remains as imposing as ever, it's nigh-impossible to claim that this installment is not a staggering improvement. Short of bludgeoning and bloodying us over the head, UFC Undisputed 3 will handily convince its hardcore audience of its new conditioning. Of course, you're free to think want you want. Everyone has an opinion until they've been hit.