Newcomers and veterans rejoice; Undisputed is back
After taking a break from the franchise to avoid the dreaded annual fatigue, UFC Undisputed is back and ready to step into the Octagon for its hard-hitting third instalment. With the superb EA MMA comfortably filling the gap in its absence,Undisputed has returned to reclaim its crown, adding meaningful improvements to multiple areas that elevate its already solid rendition of the brutal sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
It’s evolution over revolution, but it hits harder than ever.
Newcomers will certainly find it more accessible to ease themselves into Undisputed 3’s various fighting systems. In previous games the ground game and its oftentimes complicated controls took a while to get to grips with. Not only were you performing a plethora of circular motions on the analogue stick to perform transitions and gain more dominant positions, but you also had to guard against your opponents counters, looking for telltale signs of their next move and adjusting on the fly.
There are now two control schemes available: the one used in previous instalments and a brand new, simplified version that uses one direction for minor transitions and another direction for major transitions. This is akin to the system used in EA MMA(which used two buttons) and it works just as well here, easing new players into the ever-important ground game. The old system (now called Pro-Control) is just as impressive as before and is slightly more intuitive. Fights taking place completely on the ground are certainly possible, with both players keeping active and jostling for more advantageous positions as the fight wears on. And if you’re playing online it becomes easier for players using Pro Control to block the transitions of those using the amateur method – a useful counterbalance for the two, varied control schemes.
Elsewhere, the submission system has transformed into an abstract mini-game, each fighter taking control of a zone in a virtual Octagon, moving their piece around the edges to either avoid or catch the other fighter resulting in a tap-out or vital escape. It’s a jarring presence considering the rest of the game’s minimalistic presentation (the HUD is barely even a factor), but it’s surprisingly enjoyable; the size of each fighter’s zone changing depending on their submission skill and current fatigue.
There have also been refinements to Undisputed 3’s stand-up game. There’s a much bigger emphasis on quick strikes and jabs to set up hard-hitting knockout blows and vicious combinations. Flash KOs are thankfully much less frequent than they were before – quick strikes are unable to knock fighters out – so there’s a much improved balance to stand-up bouts, resulting in longer fights and more gratifying knockouts when they do occur. You really have to earn each win, using the excellent and effective swaying system to avoid flaying arms and mixing in a few feints to throw off your opponent’s timing and takedown attempts – a well-timed knee to the face of a lunging fighter proving particularly useful. It might not feel as tactile or diverse as EA MMA’s analogue method but it’s still wholly satisfying, offering some brutal shots and a vast array of flying headkicks, superman punches and spinning backfists.
Even leg kick TKOs are a viable option – however rare - offering pro kickboxers another winning strategy. It’s all about diversifying each unique fighting discipline, making each fighter feel different. Height and reach now plays a more impactful role: a taller fighter holding an advantage over smaller opponents. Much like the real sport, Undisputed 3 encourages you to play to your fighters strengths, dictating the pace of the fight and eventually imposing your will. Whether it’s pinning your foe up against the Octagon cage and unleashing some ferocious knees, or executing an excruciatingly painful Brazilian Jiu-jitsu submission, there’s a transcendent amount of variety in all of its systems.
You’ll certainly need to master each skill once it comes to fighting in the Pride Fighting Championships arena; Undisputed 3’s biggest new addition. For those not too familiar with the sport, PRIDE is a now-defunct Japanese MMA organisation that was once the largest and most popular in the world, often attracting an audience of more than 70,000 fans. Many of the UFC’s mainstays were stars of PRIDE, and its differences provide an anomalous experience for Undisputed 3.
The most obvious disparity is the use of a traditional ring, its sleek white aesthetic containing the bloodshed therein. Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros provide the commentary; “El Guapo” indulging in a suitably kinetic and excitable energy – as you might expect – with even Lenne Hardt on-hand to deliver her superbly entertaining fighter announcements. It perfectly captures the tone and look of PRIDE, featuring all the requisite overlays and set of fighters you would expect.
But it’s once you step into the ring that you see its true worth. PRIDE is a different beast to the UFC: their leniency with certain rules being the catalyst for some particularly ruthless bouts. Dangerous knees, foot stomps and soccer kicks are the name of the game, the latter displaying some notable knockout blows. They change the dynamic of a fight as being on the ground becomes much more hazardous; a 10 minute first round leaving you with no recovery time to process any big shots. This becomes all the most apparent when you take part in PRIDE’s Grand Prix Tournaments, pitting you against two opponents in one night – providing you even survive the first. Damage carries over, forcing you to play cautiously while also going for the win. It encapsulates everything that Pride was – its legacy proudly displayed.
It even features in the career mode, which has also seen some improvements. The frustrating stat deterioration from Undisputed 2010 has been scrapped in favour of more enjoyable training mini-games that will level up some attributes while slightly decreasing others – striking a unique balance. It lets you build your fighter the way you want without having to worry about focusing on particular areas, and the mini-games are implemented competently as well, providing quick sessions before you move onto the next fight. There’s less time fiddling around in menus, staring at stat screens. It loses some of its personality, ditching the cutscenes and post-fight interviews from 2010, but it’s a much more intuitive experience than before, quickly getting you from fight to fight as you make your way up the UFC ladder.
If you want to use some of the many, many fighters on that ladder, there’s a staple of other game modes on offer with exhibition, title defence and event creation filling the quota. Whether you want to spend hours on end fending off opponents or create your own all-star show, the choices are there. You can even relive classic bouts – including those from PRIDE – with the returning Ultimate Fights mode; the breadth of video content available giving each fight the requisite grandiose sheen.
Though most of your time will probably be spent honing your skills against other human players via Xbox Live. It’s here where Undisputed 3 runs into the same distressing issues as its predecessors. During the game’s first week on sale the servers were often unavailable. When they were up it worked fine, providing lag free matches if both players’ connections were of a sufficient quality. But even then there were still unfortunate disconnects as the servers struggled to maintain any semblance of a smooth experience. Most of its features, like the community-driven fight camps and content sharing, were unavailable until further fixes, and considering the track record for the series it’s safe to assume some trepidation for the future.
If the online does improve then UFC Undisputed 3 is the most complete game in the franchise. As a rendition of Mixed Martial Arts it successfully captures the intricacies of the sport, building and refining upon its existing systems and introducing new mechanics to entice newcomers. With more fluid and natural, mo-capped animations, better presentation and the introduction of PRIDE, Undisputed 3 showcases progression in all the right areas, giving fans the ultimate MMA experience.