Also available on: PlayStation 3
UFC Undisputed 3 is the latest game in Yuke's mixed martial arts fighting series. And with a couple of critically-acclaimed titles already released under the UFC banner, the latest offering isn't about starting over and reinventing the wheel; rather, UFC Undisputed 3 adds a new mode here and there, throws in a few extra fighters and unlockables, all the while tweaking and fine-tuning the in-ring action. And while this might not be enough to convince veteran players to once again part with the cash, there's no denying that this is the best UFC Undisputed game to date.
One of the bigger additions is the PRIDE Fighting Championships, which is a Japanese variation of UFC, taking place in four sided rings and featuring an alternative rule set. PRIDE fights allow soccer kicks to the head, knees to grounded opponents, while first rounds are twice the length. We'd be lying if we said that PRIDE mode revolutionises the game, but the change in everything from rules, arenas and commentary team, at least injects a little variety into the title. PRIDE mode, therefore, is a gladly received extra, albeit a non-essential one.
As for the in-ring action, UFC Undisputed 3 contains lots of new moves and gameplay tweaks, but long-term fans of the series should find their rhythm fairly quickly. What is particularly impressive about the game is just how deep the combat system can be. There is so much scope for strategy, whether you want to play a strike-based game or utilise wrestling moves, takedowns and submissions. If you're having trouble against a much larger and powerful opponent, for example, simply attempt a takedown or clinch and play the ground game. Likewise, if your opponent has a wrestling background, keep him at bay with long-range kicks to the head and body.
Of course, even when you're on the receiving end of a barrage of blows, there's always the opportunity to apply a submission hold and make your opponent tap. The submission system is one of the areas that has been reinvented, with Yuke's introducing a cat and mouse system whereby players attempt to trap the opponent's energy bar in an octagon-shaped minigame. It can be quite difficult to catch the opponent, though fighters with better submission skills will have larger bars and can sap opponents' energy far faster. It's certainly not the best system we've ever seen, but at least it's fair.
While learning the ins and outs of the combat system can take time, players can have just as much fun button-bashing and going for a quick knockout, especially on easier difficulties or against friends. It's not often that a fighting game is able to cater for both hardcore enthusiasts and casual players, but Yuke's has managed to do just that. The game is much more satisfying on harder difficulties when timing and strategy plays a much bigger role, but (and we almost feel guilty for saying this), knocking an opponent out and seeing the blood splatter is strangely gratifying, regardless of how you do it.
The excellent animations and visuals certainly play their part in creating a satisfying gameplay experience, the lack of unrealistic on-screen clutter - such as energy bars - really aiding player immersion. It's perhaps not quite as visually impressive as the likes of Fight Night, but nice touches such as eye rolls upon a knockout and pained expressions during submissions are duly noted and appreciated. The crunching sound effects and excellent commentary, meanwhile, further thrusts players into the action. One thing that the game is lacking, however, is the same level of speed that you see in televised fights among featherweights, but this doesn't detract too much from what is largely an excellent fighting game.
UFC Undisputed 3 is also packed full of game modes, activities and unlockables. The bulk of the single-player experience will be spent in the game's career mode, which can be played either with a created fighter or an established UFC star. Like many sports-based career modes, UFC Undisputed 3's single-player offering lacks a little charm and charisma, but still manages to entertain.
Players start in the World Fighting Alliance with low stats and a lack of sponsorship and must work their way up to the UFC by booking fights and spending action points on training regimes or gameplans. While the training mini-games aren't incredibly exciting, they do offer genuine benefits to a player's understanding of the game, while the temporary stat boosts associated with gameplans can be the difference between a win and a loss, giving players lots to think about.
While this may sound fairly conventional, there's something about booking a fight, scouting an opponent and using the subsequent action points that's really compulsive, and makes the career mode a genuinely addictive experience. Unlockable videos after landmark fights and events (such as your first fight or first loss) are also entertaining and informative, with real UFC fighters sharing their past experiences. We do, however, feel that the developers could have injected a little extra personality into the mode by somehow incorporating reality show The Ultimate Fighter, which might have made early moments as an up-and-comer a little more unique and exciting.
In fact, unlockable videos aside, UFC Undisputed 3's biggest problem is that the presentation is a little drab. Title mode is a perfect example of this. The arcade-style mode sees players choose a fighter, climb the ladder and challenge for the title. Three defeats and your out, win the title and you unlock Title Defence mode. With the exception of the final match - which features the weigh-in and a photo op - you go from one menu screen to the next, before finally beginning a fight. The pre-match entrances and post-match celebrations, in particular, feel completely disjointed from the action, and for all of the flashing lights, lasers and loud noises, really fail to deliver the big fight atmosphere.
Far more successful, however, is Ultimate Fights Mode, which recreates famous battles from UFC and PRIDE. Feuds such as Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson and Wanderlei Silva are introduced with a background video explaining their history, spliced with genuine fight footage. What this does is create a genuine pre-match buzz, something that's sorely lacking from regular ring introductions in other game modes. Each match in Ultimate Fights Mode also contains a wealth of challenges, such as scoring ten punches within a time limit. Fulfilling all of these challenges unlocks even more content, so there is a definite incentive to revisit.
UFC Undisputed 3 is a thoroughly enjoyable fighting game, striking a wonderful balance between shallow action and simulation. Personality issues aside, once the bell rings, the action is superb, offering incredible levels of strategy, not to mention some of the most impressive knockouts we've ever seen. The career mode is oddly addictive, despite its conventionality, while Ultimate Fights Mode offers countless interesting scenarios with the promise of unlockables. While it may not add a great deal extra for long-term fans of the series, UFC Undisputed 3 is the finest entry to date, delivering a knockout blow to its rivals.
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