domstercool's UFC Undisputed 3 (Xbox 360) review

UFC took some time off, but now it's back and better than ever.

Before I start this review, I have to say I’m not the biggest follower of the UFC sport. I watch a few matches here and there, but I am certainly no hardcore fan who sits down with a bucket of popcorn every three weeks to watch the largest mixed martial arts (MMA) company in the world. That said, I have enjoyed the past two UFC games, just for the fact that they seemed to represent the sport wonderfully. THQ took a break after UFC Undisputed 2010, mainly because the franchise didn’t seem to be successful at being a yearly sports series. Nearly two years since the last release, THQ returns with a 130+ roster game that is jam-packed with content.

When you initially start the game, you’ll instantly notice developer Yuke’s dedication to ensure that even newcomers understand the sport, and how to fight in The Octagon. UFC 3 takes players through an optional tutorial of over 60 exercises that totals close to an hour to complete. It teaches you everything from the basics, grapples, combos, and ground and pounding your opponent into submission. Beginners can also select the amateur controls for grappling. It allows them to execute all types of transitions (a transition is when you are holding onto the opponent and you want to move around him to get into a better situation, mostly done on the ground) by simply pressing up or down on the right stick. Experts can stick with the same controls as previous releases, labelled “pro,” which assigns different motions of the right stick to do either a major or minor transition.

Even after the brilliantly thought-out tutorial, the game will still keep throwing tips at you when you are playing one of the many available modes. The tips do help for inexperienced UFCplayers, but others will get annoyed because these same tips appear as you move from fight to fight. Thankfully, the developer allows you to turn them off whenever you want; however, the initial automatic inclusion of tips does indicate that this game seriously goes the extra mile to make sure you learn how to play correctly. Yuke’s has to be praised for ensuring that people understand the mechanics of a genre where nearly anything goes.

Massive is a word that would describe all the different content available to you in UFC 3. You can participate in Exhibition matches (basically, a quick match), Title mode (ladder style event where you have to make your way to the top; lose three times though and you are out), Title Defense, Tournament, and an Event mode where you can make your own tournaments.

Before you start looking at anything else, you’ll likely want to start with the campaign. In this, you can take on the role of a superstar, or create your own fighter using the deep customization engine that allows you to modify your fighter with ridiculous hair styles and colours, scars, tattoos, varying weight class, fighting style, and other things that ultimately make the character creator a great modifier to mess around with. It has everything you’d expect to feature in a sports creation tool-set.

Once you’ve built your MMA monster, it’s time to get him through the ranks. Starting as an amateur in the World Fighting Alliance (WFA), you’ll have to fight your way up to the big boys in the UFC. The whole career mode is revamped, including brand new training mini-games such as hitting the punch bag, flipping tyres over, practicing combos on hand mittens, and pounding some poor dude in the gym. Doing these increases your stats, more so if you manually take part in the mini game rather than setting it to “auto,” where doing that only gives you half the gain in stats. It’s much better than how the game’s developers employed the number crunching stat system in 2010′s version of the game, and justifies spending time manually grinding your your fighter into the next champion.

Other options out of the ring include taking part in sponsored gym activities. Joining a gym allows you to learn new moves in your designated martial arts talent, level up your existing moves to make them stronger, gain sponsors for clothing, and employ a game plan that will give you a large boost in certain stats allowing you to fight better in a match. Something that doesn’t appear in UFC 3 career mode is press implementation; for example, in 2010, you’d get interviewed about certain aspects of your career or make rivalries. What you get instead are unlockable videos with real UFC fighters explaining their first win, lose, training regime and other things. It’s a good insight into the world of being a MMA combatant. I do feel that next time the developer needs to implement the press feature with these videos to give players the best of both worlds.

During your fighter’s career, you will get to experience the new Pride Fighting League (Japanese MMA organization that was absorbed into UFC) rule set. Pride and UFC have some differences in their matches. Little changes like pride fights taking place in a large square ring instead of a steel cage, fighters being allowed to stomp grounded opponents in their face and knee them in the head, and first rounds lasting ten minutes instead of five add incredible variation to the normal UFC experience. It’s always a plus to add more content into the career, and the different rule sets in Pride make it feel more than simply a re-skinned UFC match.

Once you finally get into the ring, you’ll notice the combat feels more fluid and tighter, with punches retuned so that quick jabs are used for flinching your opponent. They can no longer cause knockouts as that’s now reserved for stronger punches and the newly implemented leg KOs. Players can also dodge threatening attacks by swaying, and then follow up with a devastating counter punch. Grappling doesn’t appear to be as easy, since players can intercept incoming clinches by flicking the right stick to get them off, or simply kick them in the face.

On the ground, struggles are just as an important part as brawling on your feet. I scarcely got those random knockouts that used to happen before. Instead of getting sent to the land of the fairies, they would mostly fall to the canvas, then try and stop you from getting on top of them to brutally bash their skull in. The game lets you rush in when your opposition is near the end of his stamina and is in a dazed state. If not, you’ll be able get on top and deliver blows to the body and head, or go for a submission with the new submission mechanics.

Getting a character in to a submission brings up a health bar and an octagon indicator. Two circles, each representing the fighters, are placed apart at the opposite ends. The player under submission has to move his coloured circle away from the player trying to submit him. If they cross over each other, the fighter will begin to lose health, losing all of this will cause a submission. The new mechanism makes it feel like you are playing a party mini-game while the combatants on screen struggle with each other. I found it fun to participate in these battles, but it does stand out as a sore thumb since everything else is represented visually on the characters to signify aspects of the fight.

Online mode allows you to continue playing with your career finished fighter. Playing against others was mostly a good experience. It was lag free, but sometimes I would get disconnected from the player. The latter will be fixed quite soon, as it seems I wasn’t the only person with this problem. I should add that there was a scrolling message on the news reel (another neat feature that reminds one of recent EA sport offerings) at the bottom of the screen alerting players that a fix will be on the way very shortly. Sadly, people can still cheat the system by disconnecting when losing, and they won’t get punished for it. I hate that, and I really wish a developer would come up with a way to sort this cheapness out.

While the game itself got plenty of improvements, one thing that hasn’t changed much is how the game looks. Models always looked great before, and they still do now, with truthfully modeled fighters looking like their real life counterparts. Injuries happen during the fight, so laying into your opponent will start to create cuts and bruises on his face and body; hit him hard enough and blood will spill onto the canvas. It certainly displays the viciousness of the sport, and never goes over the top.

Sound is impactful, making each strong hit feel like it would bust your cranium. Commentary is solid, with the double team of Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan. Mr. Goldberg has quite the presence in UFC 3, as he speaks to you during the tutorials or whenever a hints dialogue pops up, and since there’s so much of those, expect to feel like he’s stalking you for the first few hours of playing.

Gamers that are interested in the sport owe it to themselves to get UFC Undisputed 3. Fans will enjoy the improvements, and, simply put, it is the best MMA game out there today. It seems the spare time helped Yuke’s concentrate on the feedback and critique that people had complained about. Playing UFC is ruthless, a ton of fun, and you can do it all in the safety of your own home. The undisputed king is still undisputed in the mix martial arts fighting genre.

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