UFC Undisputed 3 Review

By Jordan Douglas on February 12, 2012

When the UFC, THQ and Yuke's rebooted virtual mixed martial arts in 2009, they were able to successfully translate the strategic depth, complexity and sheer brutality that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the realm of gaming. After the somewhat underwhelming follow-up, UFC Undisputed 2010, the group smartly decided to take a year off, reflect and ensure the series didn't overstay its welcome right away. This two-year development cycle has ultimately resulted in UFC Undisputed 3.

The good news? Yuke's has taken the extra time to further polish the series' already stellar presentation, provide additional options to make the controls more accessible and tutorials more effective, and toss in a handful of new modes for good measure. That being said, while UFC 3 takes some incremental steps forward, there are missteps along the way - such as an awkward submission mini-game. Perhaps more importantly, Undisputed's return doesn't add anything too significant or revolutionary to the formula for those who were already satisfied with the core fighting mechanics.

As mentioned above, UFC 3 doesn't reinvent the wheel, and that's perfectly fine - the brutal, satisfying and deep MMA experience fans have come to expect is fully intact. The difference this time around is the game's concerted effort to bring down some of the barriers that may have kept UFC fans, who aren't necessarily seasoned gamers, from enjoying the series. Evidently, Yuke's determined the complex control scheme and hands-off tutorial were the biggest of these hurdles.

To address this perceived issue, UFC 3 offers players a choice between Amateur and Pro control schemes from the outset. The distinction between the two being Amateur's simplified flicking up and down of the right analog stick to initiate grappling transitions, whereas Pro stands by the traditional rotation-based maneuvers. It's a simple and effective solution that makes Undisputed more approachable for the UFC's coveted audience, without sacrificing any depth.

Beyond controls, UFC 3 also takes steps to improve the way it coaches players through mid-fight feedback and a less-daunting, more immediate tutorial. The traditional tutorial that placed players in a training octagon with the goal of executing specific moves remains, but its now complimented with tips that pause the action during regular fights. For example, initiating a clinch - whether voluntary or not - prompts players with a quick summary of clinching controls. While series veterans can easily turn this feature off, it's a great way to gradually teach Undisputed's various mechanics during an actual match. Additionally, UFC 3 provides players with feedback on their performance in between rounds. This new coaching element is a minor change, but one that fits right at home in the octagon.Unfortunately, while coaching serves to further immerse players in the UFC experience, the submission game has been altered to jarringly disrupt this cohesion. A new mini-game is used to perform and escape submissions, tasking both players with navigating an octagon course with the right stick. Simply put: the aggressor tries to track down and stay on top of the other player's icon until time expires, in order to execute the submission. It's seemingly meant to simplify submissions and give more clear feedback on the struggle, but feels out of place and slightly awkward in practice. Every other aspect of the fighting experience is meant to simulate the real thing - the use of an arcade mini-game undermines that. This is one time the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mentally really should have applied.

Moving past control and design tweaks, UFC 3 presents players with a handful of new modes to adapt to the changing reality of the league. Since Undisputed 2010, feather and bantam weight classes have been introduced, so naturally, they both make virtual debuts. However, the most enjoyable addition is the inclusion of Pride. Long-time MMA followers will no doubt fondly recall the Japanese league's loose rule-set, and all-around quirky personality. No surprise: it makes for great fun. There's something strangely satisfying about stomping your opponent's head on the ground to the tune of J-Metal... Perhaps I should speak to somebody about that.

To further extend the experience, Undisputed still offers plenty of career and online functionality. While neither tread much new ground, they are welcome nonetheless. Much like the controls, career has been streamlined in hopes of being more approachable. The focus is on fighting, as opposed to the grind of preparation. That means less time conducting activities and developing your fighter, which is probably a smart move, but having traditional options would've been a nice touch. Finally, online play makes a return with Fight Camps to encourage team play. When all is said and done, there's a substantial amount of content to explore in UFC 3.

All of this functionality is wrapped up in a package that, submissions notwithstanding, does an excellent job of recreating an authentic UFC experience. Everything from the fighter models, seamless animations, commentary, realistic damage and so on sells the game brilliantly. Improved lighting, additional animations and enhanced damage modelling are icing on the cake. Undisputed already nailed its audio/visual presentation, and the third iteration continues that proud tradition.

Final Thoughts

UFC Undisputed 3 is another solid entry in gaming's leading mixed martial arts franchise. Incremental improvements in presentation sell the octagon experience like no other better, an emphasis on accessible controls and approachable tutorials doesn't come at the expense of depth, and enjoyable new modes all round out a game that's sure to please the MMA community. However, there are certainly missteps along the way, such as the submission mini-game which pulls players out of UFC 3's carefully-crafted fighting environment. Beyond all of that, while Undisputed makes several gradual improvements to the tried and tested formula, there isn't anything standing out as a justification for the extra year of development. Simply put: UFC 3 is a well-executed package, but one that's by no means a revelation.

Authentic UFC presentation.
Accessible controls and effective tutorials.
The inclusion of Pride FC.
Awkward submission mini-game.
Career mode still isn't compelling.
Plays things a little safe.
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