The UFC, and the world of MMA in general, is absolutely exploding in popularity. THQ has played a part of that explosion in the past couple of years thanks to their UFC Undisputed series. The freshman outing, UFC Undisputed 2009
, shocked the world when it was released back in May of 2009. Nobody expected the game to be as good, or as popular, as it was. The sophomore title, Undisputed 2010, was more of the same, but fans quickly grew fearful that the series was falling into the “annual cycle” that haunts many sports games. There were improvements, but it appeared as though future iterations of the title would only be enhanced version of the previous game(s).
THQ and Yukes refuse(d) to accept that labeling and took the series on hiatus in order to prepare for UFC Undisputed 3. The resulting game, which hits stores next month, should prove to everyone that this series isn’t going to simply fall into a cycle that serves as a detriment to the quality of the game. I had a chance to spend quite a bit of time with the game this past weekend out in San Francisco, testing nearly every aspect and mode available in the package. The new game is bigger, better, and better than either of the previous offerings and should set the standard for what gamers expect in an MMA title. There are a ton of things that I could tell you about the game, but a lot of it you already know from the previous information revealed about the game. What I would like to tell you about is the stuff that you may not be aware of, especially the new and improved career mode.
Let’s look at some of the individual components of the new game:
The career mode in UFC Undisputed 3 is receiving a MAJOR overhaul from the previous games. That isn’t to say that the offerings in the last 2 games weren’t satisfactory, but this game will set the standard for the genre. Too much time was spent on stat management before but that won’t be the focus this time around. While maintaining and improving your fighters’ stats is a big part of the game, this time around it will be done the way it should be: through fighting.
There are two versions of the career mode in Undisputed 3, one that allows you to create your own unique fighter and another that will let you take one of the character’s from the roster and rewrite the history of their career. Either way you choose, you will start off a a nobody in the World Fighting Alliance. It will be up to you to schedule fights for your character, train appropriately both in the gym and with specialized training camps, and then put up or shut up in the ring / Octagon. With a lot of work and great performances in the ring, you will eventually be able to work your way up to both the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Pride Fighting Championship promotions.
The concept of stat decay has been removed from the game so you will not have to worry about keeping up on specific skills in order to maintain peak performance. Sure, it’s not exactly realistic but we all know that in the long run the maintenance required in the past was more of a pain than anything. You will raise your stats between fights by selecting from a variety of new and improved training drills and sparring games, both of which put you in full control of your fighter. Each one of these focuses on a core skill such as strength, striking, grappling, and various other areas and will test your ability to master the gameplay tactics associated with each within the game.
Some of the examples of drills are the heavy bag, tire flip, and takedown defense. In the heavy bag, you will be challenged to not only target specific areas of the bag, high, mid-level, and low, but also maneuver your position 360 degrees around the outside of the bag. This helps not only raise your strength and striking stats, but also teaches you the importance of staying mobile and moving around behind your opponents in order to keep them off guard.
The tire flip is all about changing position in a grapple. You will be asked to lock up with a large rubber tire and flip it in an assigned direction. This takes both maneuverability and strength; the quicker that you can get the tire into the desired the location, the higher you score and the more effective the training is. The takedown defense on the other hand is all about your responsiveness and ability to read your opponent’s movement. Your coach will continuously roll large balls towards you and depending on your positioning, you will need to either sprawl down on top of them (defending a takedown) or counter them with a kick (counter a takedown). The pacing in this drill becomes frantic towards the end especially.
In addition to the drills which raise your stats, Undisputed 3 also sees the return of training camps. This time around the game includes numerous real-world camps such as Greg Jackson’s Submission Fighting and Wolfslair MMA Academy. Early on in the game you get a chance to sample a variety of camps, learning and mastering maneuvers within each. Eventually though, you will have to sign with one and align yourself with their brand. Camps are the key to expanding and enhancing your arsenal of moves. Each time you enter a training camp, you will be given the option to either learn new move or master an existing one. Each one places you with a sparring partner that you must execute the move on. Over time, your partners, who will also be leveled as you progress through the game, will put up more of a fight and defend against your onslaught. It is up to you to discover and learn means of implementing the various moves into combinations in order to land them and improve your efficiency with them.
I don’t usually find training camps and drills effective in a lot of sports games; most of them become simple, monotonous tasks that are required in order to raise a given stat. That isn’t the case in this game; you truly have to work at and show proficiency with a given skill in order to improve it. Not only does the practice improve your characters stats, but it also makes you better at playing the actual game. These are easily among the most effective drills I have seen in a sports game.
All of the other career mode aspects that fans have come to know and love are back as well. Sponsorships, earning and spending fight creds, and customizing your fighter’s appearance are all integral parts of the experience. The ability to take one of the game’s roster fighters through a career is a new and interesting addition as well. No longer will your favorite (or least favorite) fighter be confined to the career path that they chose. If you want to take Brock Lesnar and completely alter his training focus and turn him into a strategic submission artist, go for it. On the other hand, perhaps you want to take George St. Pierre and turn him into a strong pummeling machine. The choice is yours.
One of the other great additions to the career mode is the inclusion of some incredible fight videos. The game incorporates a ton of video footage and montages into the experience which help to create the atmosphere around your career. These include quick video packages of fighters discussing their first professional fight when you make your debut in the game. Other videos are revealed to highlight benchmarks in your rising career as well such as clips dedicated to first title fights, first losses, the importance of training, and the devastation of defeat. These really help put the player in the mind set of a fighter and reinforce the emotional attachment that you may already be getting from the game’s engulfing atmosphere.
Pride Fighting Championships
As I mentioned earlier, moving up in the ranks of the MMA world will take you to both the UFC organization and the famed Pride Fighting Championships. Pride is making its debut in this year’s game and brings with it a slew of rule changes and opponents. The now defunct MMA organization (which was bought out by UFC in 2007) does things a little bit differently and as a result, participating in Pride events offers a varied gameplay experience.
The Pride organization utilizes a standard square-boxing ring as opposed to the UFC’s caged octagon. This gives the fighters a lot more surface area to utilize and move around, especially when fighters remain upright. Once things head down to the mat(s), just about everything is fair in Pride. Kicks to the head, which are normally a no-no in the UFC are fair game here, as is stomping and kicking a downed opponent. This creates some seriously intense action when a player is dropped or rocked with a particularly devastating shot in the game.
The inclusion of Pride also brings a slew of new faces to the game. There are a ton of Pride fighters featured in the game, including Dan Severn, Bob Sapp, and Mark Coleman. Fighters represented on the Pride roster of the game are presented in their peak forms during their time with the promotion. Some of them may look a little different than fans are familiar with which is a nice touch for those who pay attention to detail.
Improved Submission System
If there is one thing that I have always hated in any sort of wrestling for fighting game such as UFC is the horrible submission systems used over the years. Nearly every game that I have every played ends up turning into a competition of which player can press a button faster in order to either perform or escape a submission. That won’t be the case here.
Undisputed 3 has one of the, if not the best submission system that I have experienced in video games. When a submission maneuver is locked on a player, an octagonal image appears on the screen with two bars, one red and one blue. These bars represent the two players and their sizes are different depending on a players position or state when entering into the submission maneuver. Once the image appears on screen, a game of cat and mouse begins. The red bar, which represents the player performing the submission maneuver outlines the octagon while the blue one fills in the space in between. The red player is then challenged with keeping his colored area, which depletes over the course of time, over top of the other players bar. The longer that you manage to keep it enclosed, the more your submission bar fills up and once it it is full, the opponent will tap out. On the other hand, if you are on the receiving end of a submission, you will need to out maneuver the red bar by rotating your blue bar around the octagon, until you can fill the submission bar in your favor and escape.
This may sound odd as it is a little hard to explain in words, but trust me when I tell you that it may be the fairest submission system that I have ever seen. The trick to it is knowing when to trigger a submission maneuver and using the state of your opponent to your advantage. Locking one on while an opponent is dazed or in a “rocked” state will give the red player a much bigger bar, making it easier for them to envelop the blue bar and force a tap out. On the other hand, attempting one on an opponent who is in good health will result in a much smaller window of opportunity to capture the blue bar and win the match. This little mini-game is about as fair as it can get and becomes more about strategy and timing than anything else.
Tutorials / Tutorial Hint System
Seriously, who really plays through the tutorials in games now days; that is unless you have to. THQ recognizes this and while the new game includes a deep tutorial system for those who need it, allows for season players to either step around or streamline the process. In terms of avoiding it all together, you are given the opportunity to take “tests” in the various areas of the gameplay such as striking, grappling, and groundwork. The game rates your performance in these areas and allows you to learn more about them if you need the tutelage.
If you are just looking for a refresher course, the game offers that as well through the new Tutorial Hint System. Triggered whenever the player enters a new “phase” of a fight, such as their first time entering into a clinch or being thrown to the ground, this new system gives players a quick overview of the options in the various positions. These can be turned off or on at any time by accessing the options menu of the game (from either the main menu or the pause menu).
Pro and Amateur Control Schemes
Undisputed 3 will offer both standard and streamlined control schemes for player. This schemes apply mainly to positioning when in the midst of a grapple or clinch. The standard system of maneuvering the analog stick in various patterns has returned, but players can also opt to utilize a simplified (amateur) control system which requires simply a flick up or down on the stick.
The options available to you when using the amateur controls are more limited than the pro option(s). You simply don’t have the freedom that your normally do when utilizing this system. These triggers will cause your fighter to move in the easiest direction (transition) while the traditional controls allow you to choose when and where you will maneuver. It still serves as a nice addition for beginners who are just starting to understand the finer elements of the MMA world.
This year players will be able to create and share a wide variety of content with other players through the game’s online modes. Just like the previous couple of WWE games, Undisputed 3 will allow players to create and share custom fighters online. When you combine this mode with the included logo creator which can be used for tattoos and images for clothing, you have practically endless possibilities. Something tells me that the create-a-fighter scene in this game is about to become as popular as it is with the WWE games.
Perhaps the coolest shared content feature being included in the game is the ability to create and share your own highlight videos. The game keeps record of your previous 50 rounds, regardless of the game mode in which they were played. At any time, you can access these rounds and pull clips from them which can be edited into a highlight film. These films can be shared online where the community can rate and / or download for their own viewing please.
If you don’t want to put the time into making one yourself, the game has a “smart highlight film” option which will analyze your fights and put together a film on your behalf. This takes a little bit of fun (and freedom) out of the process but it is a nice alternative for those who just want to get their performances out there.
Focus on education
More than anything, UFC Undisputed 3 is a game about educating players on the actual process of a MMA fight. The various tutorials and gameplay systems, as well as the training sessions and drills, all focus on not only teaching players “how” to perform various actions, but “why” they should be doing them and when. This teaching process occurs in nearly every single gameplay mode of the game.
After spending a couple of hours with the game, I have found myself looking at fights differently, both within the game and when I watch them on television. Everything from the clinch positions to the timing of grapples and takedowns makes sense to me now; I now see that there is a true science to the fight and it is also to see that some fighters understand it more than others. In the end you will become not only a better fighter, but a smarter fighter and your performance will show.
UFC Undisputed 3 has absolutely blown me away. I played the previous iterations of the game and was thoroughly entertained but never really “sucked in” for the long run. The exact opposite is the case with this one; I am finding myself going through a bit of a withdrawal from the game as I await its release next month. THQ and Yukes may have created the best package possible for this genre of game as they have fine-tuned nearly every aspect of the game. The gameplay is tighter, the content offering is robust, and it all looks amazing. Seriously, these are easily some of the best character models ever used in a game; the likeness to the real-life counterparts is eerily accurate. Fight fans are surely in for a treat when the game launches on Valentines Day and non-fans just may be sucked into a whole new genre once they give it a try.
UFC Undisputed 3 will be available for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on February 14, 2012. Thanks to THQ who flew us out for the event and provided a hotel.