UFC Undisputed 3 marks the franchise’s return after a one year hiatus and its clear what a difference a year makes. UFC 2009 Undisputed was a surprise hit, but UFC Undisputed 2010 failed to live up to expectations. At that point, THQ announced that the title would not have an installment in 2011 to give the development team more time to make major improvements. The time away definitely did the franchise a world of good with truly significant and needed changes being brought to the franchise in this installment.
In terms of overall gameplay, the game has improved on almost every level. The game has introduced new gameplay control options, Pro And Amateur. If you go with Pro, then you get the highly complex and often hard to master controls of the last two titles. If you select Amateur , you get a simplified control scheme that I have to say I prefer over the traditional mechanism. The new control system is easy to understand and master and in turn will allow folks to derive a lot more enjoyment out of the game. The striking system has also been improved allowing you to chain attacks together to create brutal combos that ultimately send your competition reeling. Striking in UFC Undisputed 3 feels a lot more fluid and natural than ever before. Flash Knockouts have also been toned back quite a bit, they are still possible if you catch your opponent slipping, but they are much less prevalent than in the last game. The in-game HUD gives you visual feedback on the amount of damage you are dealing to your opponents body parts, it would be wise to pay attention to it and adjust your strategy accordingly. If you have done significant damage to your opponents head, they will become more susceptible to a KO via attack on that area. On some of the higher difficulty levels and online against good players, paying attention to where your opponent is damaged and adjusting accordingly can be the difference between winning and losing. If you have done a lot of damage to an opponents head for instance, but you are up against someone with a lot of power then its much smarter to take them to the mat and attempt to get a submission via a guillotine or rear naked choke which will neutralize their power and take advantage of your previous work to get an easier submission victory.
Game Tip: If you are late in a fight and have worn down a particular body part, take your opponent down and attempt to get a submission on the target area, they will be weakened and much less able to fend off your submission attempt. Continuing to strike with them only gives them a chance for a surprise knockout.
The single biggest improvement to the game is by far the brand new submission system. In both of the previous games in the franchise, this was a major point of frustration for players. Players complained that the submission system in both previous games was hard to understand and even harder to master. I was in this group myself as I was often baffled at how the system worked and how random the success or failure of a submission seemed. In UFC Undisputed 3, the new submission system is represented by a graphical mini-game that has the player controlling a colored bar with the goal to overlap your bar with your opponents bar for a period of time to complete a submission. Conversely, if your opponent is trying to submit you, your goal is to keep your bar from being overlapped for a period of time which will result in you escaping the submission. The bottom line on this system is that it just works, there is no wondering what is happening, you clearly understand whether you are winning or losing a submission and you must act accordingly. I’m sure some folks will find something not to like about this system, but in my time with the game I can’t say that I could think of a simpler and fairer way to implement the system.
They have made significant improvements to career mode and overall its much more enjoyable. You can either start your career with one of the guys from the existing UFC or PRIDE roster or you can create your own fighter (my recommendation). The character customization is tremendously robust, in fact there are almost too many options. You will be able to customize almost every minute detail about your character, from his hair style to multiple components of his entrance depending on what organization he is fighting in and whether he has a title or not. You can create custom banners that are shown during intros which show off your personality and sponsors, you will have the opportunity to be on magazine covers and much more. The game doesn’t force you to do anything, so you can develop your fighter the way you want, take the matches you want, when you want. You start off in the World Fighting Alliance (WFA) and once you gain notoriety there, the UFC will come knocking. Depending on your rankings, they might want to put you on one of their undercards, but you don’t have to make the jump. You can stay in the WFA and continue to dominate the competition and wait for the UFC or PRIDE to come offering you a better offer to make the jump. The only trade-off here is that you make less money in WFA than PRIDE or UFC, so not making the jump will impede your ability to really make progress eventually but I like that they didn’t try to set up any artificial situations. You want to jump to UFC from WFA, you decide. You want to compete in a PRIDE grand prix, you decide. You want to fill-in against an opponent on short notice for a chance at more CRED (in-game currency), you decide. For the most part, you decide where you fight and who you fight and if you get tired of dominating your weight class you can always change.
In terms of character development, there are two main focus areas, training sessions and camp sessions. You utilize training sessions to improve your core attributes like strength, cardio, and speed and you use camp sessions to learn and master new moves. The mini-games for training sessions are better than the ones seen in either of the previous games but ultimately still leaving something to be desired. There were a few I really liked but I found myself simulating them the majority of time and taking what minor improvements I could get. At first, I was really concerned about large attribute disparities between me and my opponents but after a few matches with some pretty large differences I found that it wasn’t as big of a concern as I thought. As a 70 overall fighter you can consistently take down fighters ranked 85 or above with relative ease (at least on the lower levels).
Camp sessions on the other hand I really enjoyed, this allowed you to learn new moves quickly and easily which allowed you to expand your arsenal any way you wanted for maximum devastation. While there are still some moves tied to certain “prerequisites”, the majority of moves are open for you to choose from off the bat. Even if a specific move isn’t available right away, such as a particular version of a move like GSP’s High Kick, you can easily select the generic right or left high kick which once “mastered” delivers the same deadly results. I think this was another one of those decisions that makes the game more enjoyable while still challenging. Once you acquire a move, to really be affective you will want to level it up to make it even more devastating.
Game Tip: Select 2 or 3 “goto moves” and fully master those and let them be your primary offensive weapons, even when you are outmatched one of these moves might just save your butt.
The other big star in career mode is the new and improved presentation system. The game has improved in nearly aspect, whether it’s in relation to the more realistic looking created characters (they aren’t so plastic looking) or the way they introduce you. At about 7 years into my career I had pretty much accomplished everything you could accomplish, I had held belts every place that I fought and was already a Hall Of Fame inductee. Whenever I fought in a UFC match, Bruce Buffer would give me one hell of an introduction, I won’t lie it’s a video game but it makes you feel good to hear an intro like that. I also really enjoyed the commentary, it tended to be spot on and interesting. There are two sets of commentary teams depending on whether you are fighting in UFC or PRIDE and are both fun to listen too. Before you matches, you get a nice breakdown of your opponent which often gives you key information about what to watch out for about them and sometimes what you don’t hear about them reveals key weaknesses. You also unlock these great videos at key points in your career such as your first victory, your first loss and your first title. They are these great videos of real UFC fighters talking about there experience achieving that milestone and gives you an insight and perspective about these guys that you might not have known. There are a ton of great small touches in this mode that I won’t spoil for you.
UFC Rules vs PRIDE Rules
Over the course of your career, you will have the opportunity to fight in both the UFC and PRIDE organizations and they are two uniquely different experiences. The biggest difference to me was that there are lots of things that are legal in PRIDE that just aren’t legal in the UFC. As you can imagine, I actually tended to enjoy fighting in Pride whenever I got the chance, it’s just a lot more brutal with moves like soccer kicks and knees to the head being legal. You can absolutely destroy your opponents in a manner that you just can’t do in UFC. I loved fighting in both organizations but the rule differences give each organization its own unique feel.
The game doesn’t feature a ton of different game modes but that’s not a huge deal, at least to me it wasn’t. The game features modes like Title mode (unlocks Title Defense mode), Ultimate Fights mode (replay some of the greatest fights from the past) and Tournament mode, though I think that most gamers will spend most of their time on Career mode and playing online. That’s not to say the other modes aren’t enjoyable because I thought that Event mode, where you create your own matchups, was interesting but it ultimately comes down to how you want to spend your time. Honestly, I don’t feel like you can go wrong with any of the choices.
For all the things that I loved about UFC Undisputed 3, I did have a few beefs with the game. My single biggest issue with the game is the lag when moving from menu to menu. Eventually you get used to it but with as long as the initial install is, there is no reason for the lag in menu loads to be this long. I really hope it’s something they can fix with an update. The only other issue I had with the game was the in-game tips, most games only show you tips at the beginning and then once you indicate you don’t want to see them anymore they go away. In UFC Undisputed 3 though, you need to remember to go the main options of career mode and turn them off, they get really annoying really fast (this annoyed me in the demo too). The computer A.I. could be slightly more aggressive, especially when it comes to trying to take you to the ground or clinch. I found that even when it became clear that they could not strike with you, most of the time the CPU doesn’t attempt to change strategies and take you to the mat to try and turn the tide.
As an alibi, the game’s online performance was solid in the few matches we were able to play. Online performance has been an issue for THQ in the past and we won’t know until the game drops on Tuesday whether the improvements they have made can deliver a consistent and stable experience post release under real world load.
UFC Undisputed 3 is the game that we all hoped that UFC Undisputed 2010 would be, the year off was just what this game needed. With the extra development time they were able to make both big and small changes that ultimately come together to deliver a very satisfying experience. I was a huge fan of the first game, was disappointed with the second game, and am now a huge fan again. While I would hate to wait, I hope THQ learns something here and either keeps the game on a every bi-yearly development cycle or has two teams work on the game similar to the way Call Of Duty is handled. As I have said before and will say again, yearly sports games need two year development cycles to introduce any kind of real innovation. To not give the kind of care and attention they have given to UFC Undisputed 3 to any games in the franchise to follow would be a damn injustice. For pulling off an almost flawless game, we give UFC Undisputed 3 9 out of 10, this is a must buy for an MMA fan.