Review: UFC Undisputed 3 (Sony Playstation 3)
by Aaron Sirois on February 28, 2012

UFC Undisputed 3
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Yuke’s
Genre: Sports/Fighting
Release Date: 02/14/2012

It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of the UFC Undisputed franchise. Both 2009 and 2010 made my personal top ten, and my review for 2010 was pretty glowing. That being said, there was room for improvement, and the extra time in development had my expectations flying sky high. It was going to be tough for Yuke’s to meet them.

The big thing this year seems to be simply adding more to the formula. Two new weight classes have been introduced, and Pride rules and fighters get to shine as well. With over one hundred and fifty fighters, that is an astoundingly large roster. The Pride rule set allows for knees and kicks to downed opponents, as well as ropes instead of a cage. There is a ton of content to digest here. Clearly, they didn’t just do a quick update and call it a day.

So, is this the best MMA game yet, or has the magic finally worn off? Let’s find out!

Modes

We have a lot of stuff to go through, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible.

Career Mode has seen a ton of changes. It has completely eschewed all of the personal touches from last year in favor of more fights at a faster pace. You won’t have to deal with post-fight interviews, weigh ins, or Rachelle Leah sending you e-mail after e-mail. There is also fewer time to train between fights, though this has been balanced out by making training more streamlined.

You train by completing one of several minigames or sparring practices. For example, the tire flip challenge has you flipping a tire to green zones in order to score points. This increases your strength, takedowns, and other attributes. You gain points based on how well you did in these games, but you also have the choice to skip them in favor of fewer points. Instead of skills naturally diminishing over time when they aren’t trained, you’ll find that focusing on one skill over another tends to limit the latter. For example, constantly training in submissions will have an averse effect on your striking. These losses can be balanced out, but if you want to be a great puncher/submission fighter, you’re going to have to work towards it.

There are more fight options than ever. Unless you’re the champion, you usually have around six different opponent to chose from. As such, you can really go up the rankings at your own pace. Tune up fights allow you to take a weaker opponent, fill-in fights give you less training time but more currency, and you can even take a fight in a different weight class if you feel like it. However, you can only make a permanent change to your class after winning a title vs title match. Once champion, you can start taking fights in Pride, which has new fighters and different rules. You start out in the WFA against CAFs, but eventually move on to the UFC. What I liked here is that you could indefinitely remain in the WFA, defending your title and building your reputation and skills. This is so that the UFC offers you better debut fights, and you can shore up holes in your game before stepping up in competition.

Overall, there have been many changes to career mode, but whether or not it is better really depends on what you’re looking for. For those looking for a faster path to the top, this is probably a godsend. For those who liked all of the pomp and circumstance of the last game, this will probably be a disappointment. Either way, career mode still offers a meaty experience that allows you to create a fighter from scratch and take him to the top. Oh yeah, and you can play as a UFC fighter as well, though his skills and move sets will be reset.

The title modes have made a return, and are pretty much the same, with some cosmetic changes. Title Mode has you running through a division in order to capture the title. If you lose three times, you’re out, and have to start again. Once you’ve won the title, you unlock Title Defense. However, it should be noted that now you can only play through TD with a fighter that you have won the title with. This is kind of annoying, but somewhat logical. TD is essentially a survival mode, with you fighting bout after bout with no breaks until you lose the title. You have a task list to complete in order to earn points in the game’s shop, and it allows you to shoot for goals so the fighting doesn’t get too stale. There is no option to save your place though, so beware.

The Ultimate Fights mode returns as well, but this one has definitely been changed for the worse. This mode gives you classic fights and asks you to relive them through the eyes of either fighter. When you pick your fighter, you are then given one task after another to complete. You can only complete one at a time, and it’s timed. This completely takes away the freedom of this mode, and I found it lacking. However, there are fewer tasks to complete overall, so some may get into it. If you didn’t preorder the game somewhere or buy DLC, you’ll only have five fights to work with. The rest are on the disc, and even viewable in the menu, but you can’t select them. This is shameless and stupid.

Beyond that, there are even more modes to contend with. Exhibition has tons of options to mess around with, as well as that impossibly huge roster. Event Mode allows you to create your own card, or use a historical one if you desire. Tournament Mode has you run through several fights to win, and the new Pride option has you fighting all of your fights in one night. This means health carries over, and strategy becomes huge. You can also create highlight reels, fighters, logos, and banners, and all of these can be shared online and rated by other players.

The online mode is back and really hasn’t seen much change. You can still select from a random ranked match or a player match. The goal is to win fights to increase your ranking. Online camps return, but I was unable to play them with the seven day trial included with the game. However, they still work the same, with you joining friends under one banner, earning prestige, and sparring with each other in good fun. There are connection issues as usual, and while they aren’t as bad as in 2010, they are still there. Online still offers you the stiffest competition and is definitely worth checking out.

There is a lot to see and do in UFC Undisputed 3, and apart from Ultimate Fights, it’s all good. It’s kind of sad they couldn’t come up with any new modes, but the sheer amount of content to run through and the number of ways to play is astonishing. The additions of two new weight classes and Pride really helped out. As such, the game gets high marks in this department.

Graphics

Visually, speaking, the UFC series has always made an impact with its high quality character models and animations. The same can be said here, though the impact is lessened because, let’s face it, it hasn’t done all that much to improve upon the previous game.

The fighter models still look fantastic. With over one-hundred and fifty fighters in the game, it’s pretty great how realistic each of them look. I did notice fewer instances of the uncanny valley, but then again, I didn’t play as Anthony Johnson, so I might have just missed the most blatant example. The eyes do seem to look a bit better though. There has been some greater focus put on damage during fights. Cuts, welts, and even some gashes look better than ever. It can be a bit much though, as I’d expect dozens of stitches would be needed for some wounds I’ve received. There is still a bit of a disconnect between created fighters and licensed fighters, but this is to be expected.

The animations are tighter than ever. Compared to last year, the number of goofs and glitches is almost nothing. On top of that, a number of new animations, positions, and poses were added. When I compare this to the first Undisputed game, it’s like night and day. I’m not exaggerating at all there. With new positions and scrambles against the cage, new strikes, and entrances, this is just getting better and better.

The big focus, presentation-wise, has been on making it more and more like what you see on TV. This gives us entrances for main card fights, more of trainers talking to fighters between rounds, and generic shadow boxing during pre-fight introductions. The menus could still use some jazzing up, but the game looks pretty great as a whole. I don’t imagine we’re going to see any visual leaps until a new console generation is unleashed, but this is still pretty high end.

Audio

With the personal touch cut out of career, you no longer have a voiced character that does post fight interviews or pre-fight hype. Instead, the only voices you’re going to hear are the announcers and some fighters during highlight reels. Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan return and do a fantastic job as usual. Goldy is pulling double duty, as he’s also the voice that explains the game in various tutorials. Bas Rutten and Steve Quadros have been added to commentate on Pride matches. They’re spirited, no doubt about that, but Bas is insanely annoying. I don’t know if it’s just his voice or the ridiculous amount of energy he puts in, but I really didn’t like him. Still, he doesn’t do a bad job at all.

The music is there for background purposes once again, and I really miss the licensed tracks from the first game. A number of BGMs make returns, and there are some licensed UFC BGMs as well. This means the music playing during Fight Nights is right on the money. A couple of songs are ones that Yuke’s seems to have lying around. The song that plays during the WFA introduction was the same generic tune I used for a CAW in WWE ’12. That’s understandable, but kind of sloppy.

In fights, the sound is great as usual. You can hear and feel the power of each strike, as well as the grunt of a pained fighter. The audience will chant fighter’s names this year, and are pretty good about responding to the action. If you strike an opponent when they are trying to touch gloves, for example, they will boo the ever loving crap out of you. Make a dramatic escape or finish, however, and they’ll chant your name. It’s a small, but nice, touch that adds to the game in a tangible way.

Basically, Undisputed 3 maintains the high level presentation of its forebears, while continuing to add little flourishes to improve upon the formula. I will still always hate Lenne Hardt, the ring announcer for Pride, but that’s the price you pay for a new mode I guess.

Gameplay

The basics remain the same, so I’ll get them out of the way quickly. The face buttons each control a limb each, the right shoulder buttons are for blocking, and the left shoulder buttons are attack modifiers. The analog sticks control movement and grappling. The control scheme can be pretty complicated, as a move may have you flicking the left stick while pressing a shoulder button and tapping a face button. However, there are plenty of tutorials to get you used to how things work.

The ground game has seen a few changes. For starters, you can no longer just hold back on the right stick to block grapple attempts. You need to time your defenses, which definitely takes some getting used to. More importantly, you can do major ground and pound damage from any position. You can also finish the fight from any top position, which is a blessing. Finally, there have been several new positions added. The most important of these is the mounted crucifix, which is just awesome.

Submissions have also been greatly altered. Now when you apply a submission, you open up a minigame. Each player has a bar, and the initiator chases the defender along an octagon. As the move goes on, the attacker’s bar gets smaller. Anytime the attacker’s bar overlaps the defender’s bar, a meter fills up, whereas it empties when they’re not overlapping. The game ends when the meter fills up either way, or if the attacker runs out of time. If the attacker wins, then he wins the fight via submission. If the defender wins, they break out of the hold and end up in an advantageous position. The game is similar to what we saw for chokes in EA Sports MMA. The only difference is that it controls differently and the bar shrinks over time. The controls are a bit awkward at first, but you get used to them over time. Either way, this is a much better system than what we’ve seen previously from the series.

There are a couple of other random changes and quirks I’ll mention here. While it is still easy to rock someone after a series of hits, fighters also recover more quickly, meaning finishes are harder to come by early on. At this point, my fastest fights are all submissions against guys with poor ground defense. Another odd thing is that body shots seem to do significantly less damage. I’ve used powerful kickboxers and landed shot after shot, only to see little progress made. The body also seems to recover the most health between rounds. Flying punches to a downed opponent are now something that everyone has and uses frequently. They are quite powerful, as long as the opponent doesn’t catch your arm and take you out with a triangle choke. These minor changes are something that only veterans will catch, but they do make a noticeable impact on the game

If you play the Pride rule set, you’re in for a different kind of game, but it’s mostly similar. The big changes are that you can’t use elbows, and kicks are perfectly legal on the ground. This means you’ll finally get to soccer kick someone in the face for a win. It seems to be an instant knockout, but it’s not easy to pull off. Beyond that, you should have no issues making the transition.

Undisputed 3 maintains the series pedigree of fast paced fights that are as fun to play as they are technical. Knockouts and submissions can happen at any time, and fights rarely go to decision. With tons of moves and styles available, there is a lot of depth. You can’t really play someone like Royce Gracie the same way you play Chuck Liddell. On the same hand, you can’t fight those two fighters the same way either. It makes for an exciting game with plenty to offer.

Replayability

For a dedicated player, this game offers near limitless content.

Firstly, if you want to get the full experience from the career mode, you’ll probably want to play through each weight class. That will take you dozens of hours at least. That’s without playing the other modes at all.

Secondly, if you get into the online, you can probably get hundreds of fights before you start to get bored. Joining an online camp helps as well, as you’re fighting for team glory. There are a ton of fighters to use, or you can try out your CAFs against stiffer competition.

Since there are five difficulty settings, a big part of the fun is working your way up the hardest one and still coming out on top. Playing through a career on Advanced difficulty was much more difficult than on a lower setting. I can’t imagine what it would be like on Ultimate.

There are also so many styles that you can implement which change the way you play the game. My first foray into career mode, I created a kickboxer who used his reach to land kicks without fear of counters. My next playthrough, I created a submission specialist who got dominated on his feet, but could submit anyone on the ground. I plan to go through it again with at least one more guy, perhaps making a clinch fighter to take advantage of that cage.

If you get into this game, you’re looking at hundreds of hours worth of meaningful content. With the extra classes and Pride mode, it found a way to surpass its forebears in a substantial way. Color me impressed.

Balance

The best thing about mixed martial arts is that on any night, any fighter can beat any other fighter. After watching Tim Boetsch make an improbable comeback against Yushin Okami at 144, it got me really thinking. This is a game about using your strengths and exploiting your opponent’s weaknesses. If you’re going against a submission specialist, keep the fight on your feet, even if you’re a ground and pound expert. If they’re a better striker, don’t be afraid to use the clinch to press the action. Study your stats, and those of your opponent. If you give ground all accounts, skillful play is what will win the day. Use sways, counters, and strategic striking pull off the upset.

With so many elements going into each fight, there is balance made almost by default. Every fight style is valid if implemented properly. Multiple difficulty settings make use of advanced techniques and reversals to keep you on your toes. If you feel like just slugging it out for a crazy finish, stick to the lower difficulty settings.

In career mode, there’s nothing quite like losing a fight, working on what went wrong, and winning. I took note of how my poor submission defense was costing me shots, so I started training it more. I lost a little bit of flair in my striking, but was able to pull of a rear naked choke against a top notch submission guy. It felt great. Winning a rematch in this game is more satisfying than any other game I’ve ever played.

Originality

This being the third game in the series, there isn’t really any originality to be found. All of the modes were present in previous games, except the Pride mode. However, EA Sports MMA had the same rule set available for play, even if it couldn’t use the license. As such, this game doesn’t win points for that. Likewise, the submission system is eerily similar to what EA put out.

It is easy to forgive the game for its lack of originality. The prior games have been so good that fundamentally altering the experience for the sake of something new could have greatly backfired. Instead, the gameplay has been refined to a greater extent, making the experience better as a whole. However, there is a strong sense of deja vu. It’s a good thing there was some extra time between titles, as the series would otherwise run the risk of becoming stale.

Addictiveness

Like the other games in the franchise, I had a hard time putting this game down. Knocking opponents out is addicting, as is building a character into a monster. My first time through career mode was probably finished in three or four sittings. That’s hours of play at a time. On top of that, I was trying out other modes and using various fighters in exhibition. It wasn’t uncommon for me to simply hit rematch and try to put in a better performance.

Losing a match is demoralizing, but it also opens your eyes to a mistake you’ve been making. After getting knocked out by Junior Dos Santos whilst going for a takedown, I really started to work on my timing. Instead of diving for takedowns from far away, I tried to time my attempts with his strikes, and moved in closer. The next time I fought him, I was much more successful. It was a satisfying experience. There are few games out there that offer this level of excitement.

Appeal Factor

The UFC keeps getting bigger and bigger. With even more people owning gaming systems in their houses, this game has a fairly big target audience. It also crosses over into fighting game territory, giving the game more appeal than most sports games. I’m a great example. Undisputed 2009 was the reason I got into MMA, not the other way around.

For people who played the previous games to death, this might provide a tough sell, as it is very similar. I can only tell you that the changes, few as there have been, have all been for the better. The combat is deeper, more balanced, and still as exciting as ever. The career mode has seen enough changes that you might get back into it. Also, the addition of two new weight classes helps to mix things up. Bantamweights might not be very strong, but they are fast little dudes.

The long wait between sequels is also sure to give this game a boost. Given time to miss the series, hopefully this game will do gangbusters.

Miscellaneous

I’m still really bummed that so many fights and fighters were locked away as DLC and pre-order bonuses. Especially when it comes to Brian Stann and Phil Davis. These are not new fighters, and have been major players in the UFC for a while now. They should have been included as regular members of the roster. I can understand someone like Overeem ending up as DLC, but not these guys. The Ultimate Fights mode looks downright depressing, with only about a quarter of it unlocked.

It also really bums me that THQ still can’t get their act together in terms of online connectivity. Every game they put out has issues on day one, and updates are too slow to come out. It took months for 2010 to become playable. While this game is better about it, it should still function properly.

These negatives aside, this is a great game that offers even more content and depth to those willing to look for it. If Yuke’s gave this same kind of attention to their WWE games, I’d be one happy camper.

The Scores
Modes: Great
Graphics: Great
Audio: Incredible
Gameplay: Classic
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Great
Originality: Very Poor
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Very Good
Miscellaneous: Very Good
Final Score: Great Game!

Short Attention Span Summary

The Undisputed franchise continues to get better and better. Undisputed 3 is the best yet, featuring plenty of gameplay tweaks and tons of extra fighters to play around with. For fight fans or MMA fans, this is one game you shouldn’t pass up. While there are negatives, they are outweighed by everything the game does right. The fighting is tight, deep, and a blast to play. There are enough modes that everyone will find one they like, and there’s nothing like reworking stats and strategies to prepare for the next fight. One wonders what the next game in the series will be able to do to improve upon this. I suppose it will offer a new division, but will that be enough? I can’t wait to find out.



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