Following the release of THQ's wildly successful UFC Undisputed 2010, they immediately announced they would be taking a full year off to return with a better overall gameplay experience. The game's mechanics were starting to round into form, however, there was a bit too much that would have to be re-done for a successful re-release in a year's time. The game was weighed too heavily in strikers' favor and there were major flaws with submissions, the controls were still too bulky and complicated for novice gamers, and there were lag problems online.
With these challenges, along with having to create a better game, preparation for a strong 2012 return began. Complicating matters for THQ was the fact that in the near 24 months since the release of the 2010 edition, the UFC decided to absorb World Extreme Cagefighting's roster, and bought Strikeforce, it's (then) biggest competitor. The shift from 5 weight classes to 7, and the sheer size of the new roster meant that it would have return larger, more intensive, and much more boisterous, whether it was intended or not.
UFC Undisputed 3 is now ready to hit shelves on Valentines Day 2012, but on a day dedicated to love, does it deserve any from gamers?
This game is, in one word: HUGE. Some of the modes are familiar carryovers, and many are similar in nature to old WWE Smackdown vs. Raw games (such as title defense mode.) Exhibition style fights are back, as are the ability to create your own cards, fighters and tournaments. A retooled career mode is back, and you can choose whether you want to create your own fighter, or guide an existing fighter through UFC ranks.
What's exciting about this game, however, is what's new. The game boasts a roster of around 150 fighters in 7 weight classes with new venues, referees and championship opportunities. Presentation has been stepped up by far. Fighters now have ring entrances, along with their signature cage-in motions (for example, Ben Henderson prays before entering the ring.) You aren't able to edit their motions or music just yet, but the term "Rome wasn't built in a day" comes to mind. For now, you can still bump to the sounds of cleverly guised songs like "S Love" when Urijah Faber comes out, and "Eminence Back" when Stephan Bonnar enters.
Perhaps the most exciting inclusion, however, is gameplay dedicated to PRIDE Fighting Championships. For nearly a decade, PRIDE was the dominant mixed martial arts brand in Japan, and at one point was arguably the biggest brand in the world, until the untimely death of one of its co-founders and supposed ties to the Yakuza resulted in the loss of their broadcasting rights, and ultimately, sale of the promotion's rights to the UFC's parent company. The promotion, which springboarded the careers of many familiar faces in the cage and in the broadcasting booth, has been reminisced upon fondly in the years since its demise. Topps have issued trading cards, the UFC have had a "Best of Pride" TV show, and DVDs have been reissued. It has yet, however, to be in video game form for this generation until now. I'll discuss PRIDE more further down the review.
The interesting thing about sports games are the fact that you can trace lineage of how long it's taken for the game to go from the development floor to your Xbox by looking at the roster. Perhaps the most telling inclusion is at Featherweight. Social media funnyman Fredson Paixao is included on the roster, however, has not fought since December 2010, and has not been with the UFC since shortly after. If it wasn't believable that this was a long-term endeavor, Paixao's face should remind you of the amount of time this has taken.
Calling the action in UFC mode are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan, along with Bruce Buffer's fight announcements.
Hopefully you got the opportunity to read Adam's previews from before, especially around career mode, which breaks down in depth what has changed. Career mode is much more fight oriented now, rather than deterioration of skills and stat caching. In fact, your skills don't deteriorate, so you don't have to worry about having to sacrifice drills only to sacrifice skills. You also don't necessarily have to have rest periods between fights, so if you wish to go out and make your fighter the next Travis Fulton (MMA's alltime leader in fights and wins,) then by all means, go ahead. The mini-games in career mode are fantastic, and what's best is if you are the type of gamer that wants to dig right in without having to fuss about creating fighters, you can guide an existing UFC fighter on the road to glory. Career Mode to the offline gamer should likely be the majority of what you do, though it is realistically just the tip of the iceberg overall.
The new controls are a welcome change too. Those used to the old controls will still have the luxury, however, those who had trouble with performing transitions on the old game (which was a huge proponent of the striking-friendly nature) can switch to "Amateur" controls which allow you to perform transitions with the flick of a stick rather than half circles. The downfall is that experienced players have the ability to intercept your transitions a bit easier, however, it makes the game much more playable to a novice crowd. All gaming companies have ever had to do from the dawn of time is appease those who appreciated their control scheme while creating a new one for those who didn't. Too much tinkering with controls were the reason Undisputed's cohorts down the hall at WWE '12 lost me to the 2011 game after release, and are the reason why Undisputed 2010 will sit on my shelf, never to be opened again. Undisputed 3 took what it needed to do, and did it right. Undisputed veterans can enjoy the comfort of their wheelhouse, and new gamers can pick it up and go for a spin much easier than before.
One of the toughest, yet most helpful parts of the game are the returning, and revamped Fight Challenges mode. In this mode, you relive a famous fight whilst attempting to recreate it as best you can by completing a series of objectives based on fight events. PRIDE mode starts you off, and you unlock all of the UFC fights as you go along. This mode is extremely difficult, however, in having to complete the objectives, it teaches a one dimensional player how to become better well-rounded. It also showcases the fight engines diversity, and the amount of detail and positions you can fight from.
I would be remiss not to mention that the game is extremely smooth online. I had the opportunity to test against varying levels of connection strength (some as low as one bar strength,) and not once did I lose connection or time out as I had in previous years. There was no lag, the graphics were not choppy and there was no hang time at all. Granted, there is a possibility it was because there were limited people on the server (reviewers and devs mostly,) but it's very promising for those looking to play online on a regular basis.
Then theres PRIDE mode. THQ went for a full spectrum of authenticity here, attempting to rebuild sets and setups, and even recreating the atmosphere of Japans Saitama Super Arena , down to head referee Yuji Shimada (who isnt referenced by name, but its obvious to longtime fans who it is supposed to be.) Details are so precise and painstaking that the Bad Boy logo on the mat is last decades. PRIDEs contribution to Mixed Martial Arts (especially during the North American Dark Ages) were so influential to so many fans that this mode alone will move copies of this game to many gamers previously on the fence. Calling the action are noted gamer Stephen Quadros, who manned PRIDE FCs English play by play booth for 7 years, and El Guapo Bas Rutten, who mixes his signature cocktail of wit and wisdom. Lenne Hardt, the injection of ringside enthusiasm was originally left out of the game (with an imitator in her place,) however, THQ thankfully decided to incorporate her after all. With all due respect to Bas Rutten, and Stephen Quadros, this mode wouldnt be complete without her.
PRIDE rules apply to matches contested in that mode, meaning knees and kicks to the head of a downed opponent are allowed, and knees from a four point stance are allowed as well.Quadros and Bas do a bang-up job with their commentary. Quadros remains professional and knowledgeable as always, and I dont know whether Bas was scripted, but it wouldnt surprise me that they sat him down in the booth, pressed record and asked him to be himself for a day. For those unfamiliar, Quadros commentary was far more diverse than Mike Goldbergs in those early days. Goldberg was brought into the UFC as a voice who evolved his knowledge as he went by. Quadros usually carried a bank of facts into his fights, and gave birth to numerous terms used today, including Lay and Pray. He also serves as introductory point to the fight challenges.
Theres a large accompanying roster of PRIDE veterans as well, including PRIDE versions of many current UFC fighters, including Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva and Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera. Longtime fans will be happy to see names like Gary Goodridge, Don Frye and Murilo Bustamante representing PRIDE. The mode is split into their familiar 4 weight classes, and all of the UFC fighters can be accessed as well (all of the UFC Bantamweights and Featherweights appear as PRIDE Lightweight, and all of the Welterweights show up as Middleweights.) Much of the PRIDE roster is fighters that have appeared in previous games already (so they have been smartly re-coded for this game,) and only 3 fighters (Paulo Filho, Bob Sapp, Murilo Rua) have never set foot in the Octagon.
The amount of work put into this mode, and the amount of development manpower this must have taken pretty much show that this mode could have been successfully released as its own game with the ability to import UFCs superstars into the roster by cross-referencing both games (THQ did something similar with Legends of Wrestlemania and WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2009,) but the choice to give up those revenue dollars by providing a single boisterous experience is admirable.
The only development point for an upcoming patch or Undisputed 4 PRIDE mode The inclusion of openweight GPs. Openweight GPs, and the mystique of expecting the unexpected were a big part of what made PRIDE such an endearing watch all those years. The inclusion of openweight categories is consistently one of the biggest fan requests, and I can understand why it isnt something you may see in UFC mode. However, it was a big part of PRIDE Fighting (and continues to be in Japan,) and it would be fantastic to see it in the future.
Strangely, the biggest falter in the entire game might be the list of fighters. Its strange to say this with 150 fighters already; however, there are glaring omissions in the roster. Many current favorites that probably should be in the game are not included (such as Rory MacDonald, Jake Ellenberger and Chan Sung Jung) and some of UFCs bright stars like Brian Stann and Phil Davis are only currently available through pre-order. It appears that THQ has already committed themselves to steady DLC, however, with 2 packs already announced, and apparently more to come. The aforementioned Jung and MacDonald are two of the fighters that will appear on these packs.
There isn't much left to do now but discuss the final ratings, and how they stack up.
Graphics: 9.7/10 Graphically speaking, much of the game looks similar to Undisputed 2010 in theory. They didnt do a lot to drastically change the graphics, however, the addition of motion capturing fighters mean that much of the animation has been cleaned up. Things continue to come into form, however, some of the character sprites still look a bit suspect, which is my main complaint, and a tad distracting. Dan Miragliotta, for example, looks like the 2002 edition of Dana White (the one with hair) from afar, and he looks like hes about 90 years old up close. Outside of some of the odd character builds and graphics around them, there isnt much else you can criticize. For a good indication of how precise they wanted to delve into the smallest of details, look at the tattoo on Scott Jorgensens left arm, and compare it to how it really looks, and how intricate it is, down to the outlines.
Sound: 9/10 Its hard to pick holes in the existing sound scheme. If you spend a few moments listening in, you can hear the amount of care and detail put into making sure the sound was as precise as possible. For example, Bruce Buffer will announce weight in Stones if held at the UK venue. All appropriate nicknames have been carried over as well. My gripes come around the UFC portion of commentary, and the fact that it repeats itself over and over far too quickly. While playing through the Title Road on Bantamweight, every fight started with Mike Goldberg saying Joe, tell me about Demetrious Johnson before Rogan proceeded to say nothing about him. There were numerous times in a single match where I would be told the same facts as well. This wasnt as prevalent in PRIDE mode. It would also be nice to hear a bit more around the cage as well. Since the game is conducted close up with the feeling of silence, it would be nice to hear the combatants hitting and pressing up against the cage a bit more, along with some more noise coming from the fighters themselves.
Control: 9.5/10 This is the first sports game in recent memory that I can think of that added easier to follow controls while leaving the old ones untouched. Thats really all any sports game ever needs. If the controls are going to be changed so drastically from one year to the next, at least leave the old ones there for a year or two to wean familiarity out of gamers. There are a lot of controls to remember in this game, but there are so many things you can do, that quite honestly, there doesnt seem to be any other way to make controls any easier.
Gameplay: 9.5/10 This, like any other sports outing is a niche game. This game hits all the demographics and niches. Casual gamers, hardcore gamers, online gamers and fight fans will all be pleased with this game once they get into it. You know youve made a good game when the people featured in the game themselves stand behind the project. In the past few weeks, fighters like Scott Jorgensen and Mike Swick have shown their support, with Jorgensen holding contests to give out Alpha Online Server Test passes. From top to bottom, this is a very complete experience. Gameplay mechanics no longer allow you to spam strikes or favor one style of fighting over another. Fighters can now interact with smarter fighting tactics. You can now submit a striker from more positions than before, for example, and can transition submissions a bit better than before. The new submission mini-game is a far better answer to spamming the right stick, and give you a better feel of what your fighter is capable of hitting (or escaping.) Collision detection is the only point of concern I have, as Ive fallen privy to some phantom striking, and have lost dominant positions on the ground because the game couldnt recognize where my opponent was located when at the edge of the Octagon. Outside of that, no citation.
Gameplay: 10/10 Theres no doubt. This is like comparing night and day over Undisputed 2010. The addition of fighter entrances (with their own music,) the continued addition of sponsors and little details, the extra things they did with the announce teams -- everything. The menus are very clear, and easy to navigate. The arenas are colorful, and well detailed. Events attempt to recreate the ambience of excitement by displaying pre-fight preview videos of the combatants involved. Perhaps the only thing that could make it all the better is the addition of a fake video with fight clips based around the Bring the Pain song and intro, but its still perfect for what it does. PRIDE mode lacks the ability to create events, however, I can imagine how difficult that would be, given that the events used to introduce all the fighters at once on set, and work its way from there. Hopefully it's on the roadmap of ideas in the future. Said future is a bright one for the Undisputed franchise.
When the dust settles, and you head to your local game store, or big box to buy Undisputed, you wont be disappointed. Waiting for you on February 14th is the most complete UFC experience ever, and the first contender for sports game of the year.
A perfect Valentine from THQ to you. Forget Diamonds. This Valentines Day, ask your significant other for UFC Undisputed 3! Happy Valentines Day Xbox Addicts!
Follow me on Twitter @paliontology -- and come discuss UFC Undisputed, mixed martial arts or gaming in general. If you're an MMA fan, look for interviews I hope to have in the future with fighters about games, and their love of gaming right here at Xbox Addict. Happy gaming!