|System: PS3, Xbox 360*|
|Release: February 14, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p||Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence|
by Shelby Reiches
I caught my first look at UFC Undisputed 3 last month in San Francisco. A few hours hands-on with the title enticed me to seek out more time on my own terms. So, retail copy firmly in hand, I set out on my own MMA odyssey, digging into the nooks and crannies of the title I had, up until then, left unexplored. What I found was, by and large, satisfying and enjoyable, but there are certainly a few cracks in the game's sharp veneer, ranging from the immaterial to the glaring.
UFC Undisputed 3 is a game with great presentation. It's not just about the fact that it evokes the atmosphere of one of the organization's events in its menus and the pre- and post-fight processions. Those are wonderful touches, but I'm speaking more of the means by which the title eases you into its depths. Though the meta-game is, overall, a simpler one than in UFC 2010, with a streamlined training process and far less in the way of stat degradation, it still has a lot to sift through. Mike Goldberg walks you through it with quick tutorials that don't just show you what to do—they help you do it yourself. A few fights into your career, you'll feel confident in managing your fighter, making your most difficult decisions the ones they should be: who do you want to fight and what do you want to improve?
This tutorial system is part of an overall effort on the part of Undisputed 3 to provide increased transparency, which it generally does pretty well. The previous entry's most glaring mistakes were all related to a lack of such transparency, making it unclear what constituted a good training session or how to manage your career fighter's stats. Undisputed 3 provides a visible progress meter in all training exercises and often specific goals that will net you progress on the bar. It's a shame that there's no real instruction going into most of these drills, forcing players to learn on the fly by following prompts that are occasionally unclear at best, but it's possible to learn most of them through trial and error. Except the focus mitts drill. No clue what to do there.
This transparency extends to the fighting engine, which seems to make impacts clearer, in part through improved animation and more distinct sound effects. There's an optional HUD that can be toggled on and off, and a tutorial system that will throw in pop-ups before new events in each fight, both telling the player what options his fighter has and how to perform them. It also acts as a little warning as to what's about to happen, which is appreciated. Soon enough, though, you'll want to turn these off. The only HUD element that you can't remove at all is the new submission mechanic, which consists of the aggressor attempting to overlap his opponent's bar on an octagonal path with his own, while the defender attempts to keep them separate. It's far more intuitive and offers much more control than the old stick-wiggling of 2010 or the button-mashing of 2009.
The other expansions to the fighting engine, new options in both offense and defense, will undoubtedly find their way into your repertoire. From feinting and catching power attacks to leg-checking and ground swaying, the game's engine feels more complete. These added options are logical additions and intuitive to perform, for the most part, though feinting is kind of frustrating, demanding some finger gymnastics. There's also a new "amateur" control mode, which reduces transitions to vertical flicks of the right stick instead of variable rotations. It comes with limitations to make sure players can't freely abuse it against a skilled "pro" user, though.
So far so good, right? The thing is, while UFC Undisputed 3 is a superb MMA fighting game, and does a great job of letting you concoct your UFC dream matches or test your mettle against another player online, it feels a little barebones.
A player's options boil down to the following: one can fight the computer or a friend in one-off matches. Tournaments just stack these together and the "event" mode, which allows one to construct a pay-per-view all one's own, are just a series of fights preceded by a short opening video and a quick pre-show segment with Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan saying a bit about your scheduled Main Event. Second, a player can make a run for the title with an existing fighter and, once one has earned the title, defend it. Then there is the aforementioned career mode, which is the meat of the game, but it is just a sequence of fights broken up by training minigames and (extremely well done) live videos after significant career moments of fighters talking about similar moments in their careers, until that character is retired. Lastly, there is the Ultimate Fights mode, which is really neat in that it provides a series of actions for your fighter to perform within specific time windows in the fight. It's compelling to try to go back and get more completion points, but the mode is hampered by having about half a dozen fights at launch. Literally, three quarters of this content is visible, but locked behind a DLC wall, which is beyond infuriating.
You'll notice that I didn't mention online fighting as its own thing. I will say that I suffered from lag in player matches when my opponent was hosting. This is avoided in ranked matches and Fight Camp by keeping things on Undisputed 3's dedicated servers. If you explore the online menu, you'll also find that there's a "Content Sharing" option. This is tied to the new highlight reel feature.
If you have sufficient space on your console's hard drive, you can save replay data to it. This is done automatically, keeping a record of the last 50 rounds played. These can be scavenged for clips, which can then be strung together into highlight reel footage, touched up with some visual effects and music, then saved to your hard drive and uploaded for other players' viewing pleasure. Making a highlight reel is fairly intuitive, but feels limited. And, in the end, that describes the game as a whole.