UFC Undisputed tried to come back too soon. Following a breakout season in 2009, it returned with a good-but-not-great sequel in 2010. Publisher THQ recognized the franchise didn't deliver enough and shifted it to two-year production cycle. So is UFC Undisputed 3 the game mixed martial arts fans should have gotten last May? Or is it a title that can last them another two years?
As writers here now are free to create their own review formats, I want to try something different, beginning with UFC Undisputed 3. Sports video games, especially, are engineered to appeal to and sustain many different tastes. That makes appraising one's overall quality tough, because what didn't resonate with me may be someone else's primary reason for picking it up, and vice versa.
So, here is a list of this game's 10 most striking features or qualities, ranked in descending numerical order (or ascending order of preference) of what they contributed to my enjoyment. Hopefully, in these descriptions, you may form your own picture of UFC Undisputed 3 and how much it would appeal to you.
WHY: For mixed martial arts fans, it's an astoundingly deep offering that could be the only game you play for long stretches. For fighting game fans, there are enough symmetries in its gameplay to make the introduction into a simulation sports title.
Developer: Yuke's Co. Ltd.
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
Released: Feb. 14, 2012 (North America); Feb. 17, 2012 (Europe)
Type of game: Sports simulation with fighting genre undertones.
What I played: Sampled all modes of play, including winning the welterweight title with Thiago Alves and defending it five times in the game's Title and Defense modes. Went 19-4 in career after a restart. Spent about an hour on the game's fighting tutorials.
My Two Favorite Things
- An eminently deep sports fantasy backed by the pure action appeal of a fighting game.
- Viscerally appealing gameplay, especially in the comeback victories.
My Two Least-Favorite Things
- Difficult career mode training exercises require as much patience and trial-and-error (or familiarity) as the main game.
- Larded with slow loading times and interstitial cinematics that get in the way.
- "Pound-for-pound the best fighter on the planet." —Owen Good, Kotaku.com
- "Become the fighter you really are—both good and bad." —Owen Good, Kotaku.com
- "It will dissipate aggression you never knew you had." —Owen Good, Kotaku.com
10. Loading times: A long load time means, yes, the game is also loading a ton of content for you to enjoy. But UFC Undisputed 3 also segments its introductory sequences in such a way that you're button-pressing for about 30 seconds just to cut to the action of a singleplayer quickmatch. In constant-action modes like Title and Title Defense, it's especially cumbersome.
9. Training Minigames: These almost need a tutorial mode for themselves. Some are so complex as to retard your advancement if you're a newcomer. The trial-and-error laboratory of this game, if you're a bad fighter, is to try its other singleplayer modes. The trial-and-error of career, if you want to do something other than auto-sim your training, is to run two different careers where you learn how to flip a tire in one. Granted, this does have a conditioning effect and teaches you a deeper implementation of the game (especially defensive moves). But it makes the overall learning curve steeper when you're just getting started. A much better option is the Game Plan, a sparring session which gives you a training bonus for successfully implementing tactics you intend to use in the live fight.
8. Title Defense: This is a singleplayer mode designed for those who want an extremely long-lasting experience. It's too much for me. As I understand it, after winning out in Title (usually six to eight consecutive fights) you can then go into Title Defense and and take on all comers, with the ultimate goal being a 100-defense winning streak. In a single session. If you have to leave the game, your only option is to forfeit. You can't even back out of the mode (although I guess you can dashboard-quit.) At this, the crowd will chant "BULLSHIT," and you're forced to watch a humiliating declaration of a new champion. I like good, long-playing modes. I like ice cream, too. I also don't like to eat five gallons of it at a single sitting.
7. Ultimate Fights Mode: UFC Undisputed 2010 served up classic pairings from the past, but it sort of stopped there. In UFC 3, the great fights of the past are now recreated according to a script. To complete the mode you're given a set of timed objectives and ultimate goals that, more or less, recreate how the fight played out in real life. I didn't really enjoy this sort of thing in Fight Night Champion's narrated "Champion" mode, where I was forced to fight with one hand or knock a guy out with my left. I don't like it here, either, but I do compliment the development studio, Yuke's Co. Ltd. for thinking of a way to add value beyond a quick pairing of fighters already on the roster.
6. Online support: This is the worst aspect of reviewing a sports video game, as no one other than EA Sports seems to be able to support multiplayer on launch day. THQ had problems with this in WWE 12 and as of this writing is still battling against server unavailability, matchmaking problems, mid-match disconnections and other issues. Take this into account if you are buying this primarily for multiplayer reasons.
A highlight reel cut with the game's video editor. The first clip is my created fighter's first UFC loss. The second is Thiago Alves winning in the game's Title mode. The soundtrack is 'Techno Soundtrack No. 9.'
5. The Heart of a Fighter: A sub-option in UFC 3 equalizes both combatants' ratings, making victory dependent on knowledge of the moveset and your skill at executing it. This is to ingratiate the UFC franchise with both fighting game fans—and sanctioned fighting game tournaments. As such, the fighting influence—a genre at which I am totally out of my depth—is evident throughout in the number of flick-move commands on the left stick and the need to act after taking a step. Once I made that timing connection, and my fist started connecting with skulls, UFC Undisputed opened up to me. Some of this is helped by an "amateur" control set which reduces transitions to a simple up or down on the right analog stick. But that's really only as far as the controls go in improving accessibility. I'm still not a fan of the swaying defense commands, and I guess it's just a matter of taste. You're dealing with a button press and a fast flick, and my stick-and-move method is more hit and back the hell up several steps. Fighting game devotees won't find this to be much of an issue. Those coming to UFC from the sports side of the ledger will need some training.
4. Submissions: Replacing the inscrutable "shine" system of two years ago is a more comprehensible submission minigame. Once a submission is triggered, a minigame with an octagon race course pops up. If submitting, your job is to chase your opponent's marker and cover it with yours for a certain stretch of time to make him tap out. If you're being submitted, your job is to avoid it. The time and marker size depends on your submission and defense ratings. The control is mapped to the right thumbstick; putting this on the off-hand is a respectable design decision. My only problem is the stick-press to initiate. Sometimes I accidentally clicked my stick and didn't even know I was the one starting the hold.
The Pride Fighting Championships mode delivers all of the series' outlandish presentation in addition to its brutal, anything-goes rules.
3. Pride Fighting: Well, just look at that video. I'm not intimately familiar with Pride Fighting Championships, beyond the fact the series let fighters do everything but gouge eyes and stomp on testicles. But the presentation shows that not only does UFC 3 deliver the visceral thrills of a brutal rule set, it frames it all in virtuouso presentation that the gang at Yuke's must have had a hell of a lot of fun recreating. I mean, listen to that ring announcer.
2. Extremely satisfying outcomes: As a martial arts innovator, I classify my fighting style as "jam and spam." Yet even I had my moments. Though AIs at lower difficulty levels usually let bouts devolve to boxing matches, one of the more satisfying contests was one between Georges St. Pierre and Matt Serra on Ultimate difficulty that ended up on the ground. I was legitimately proud of how I countered Serra's escapes, observed his openings, and pummeled him into a TKO. UFC Undisputed 3 is one of the most viscerally satisfying sports games I've played, when I'm able to connect what I have learned to a strategy inside the Octagon. For true MMA fans familiar with the sport and its cast, UFC Undisputed 3 can only be more gratifying.
Eight fights into my career, I had changed from a scared, hyperactive rookie motivated by avoiding failure, into a contender who understood his strengths.
1. A New Career: UFC 3's best mode is its Career, as it should be. While the focus is less on tedious decisions like training schedules, it does leave enough background role-playing in features like which opponent to book, how much a victory will do for your career, what fighting camp to align with, and which sponsors to put on your apparel. Seasons progress much more quickly as will your rise from lower-level promotions to the UFC. A system of "CRED"—a virtual currency—is used to train your fighter in new moves and to improve his existing skills for the next fight. The CRED cost of training is always deducted from your next fight purse, and you'll never run a deficit. While Yuke's recognized that they couldn't leave you bankrupt to train for the next fight (it would put your career in a death spiral), the alternative is that I built up such huge reserves of CRED that even by the 10th fight my balance was largely meaningless. On the flip side, my problems with the training minigames meant I was a contending star rated 20 points behind, overall, those of my peers. The mode's shortcomings are manageable, even worth a career restart once you figure them out. The true payoff is in building a well-rounded fighter whose tendencies align with your own instincts, and in creating a unique character you can win with in any other game mode.
It struck me that, about eight fights into my career, I had changed from a scared, hyperactive rookie motivated by avoiding failure, into a contender who understood his strengths, knew how to implement them, and also recognized and even regretted my own shortcomings. All of this came together in a competition where I owned my choices, ones that I made in that fight and leading up to it. These are concepts reinforced by the self-discipline that distinguishes the mixed martial arts culture, whether among competitors or those who simply train in it.
A sports video game capable of making that connection has a quality that far outshines the ordinary measurements made of the genre. Yuke's Co. can be justifiably proud that UFC Undisputed 3 is one of the few titles to do so.