by Neema Amini
Here in Toronto, hours before UFC 140: Jones vs. Machida began, I had the opportunity to get hands on with UFC Undisputed 3, THQ's newest installment in that franchise. Since THQ released the original Undisputed in 2009, the franchise has been among the best options in MMA gaming, but the latest installment is head-and-shoulders above both the franchise's and the genre's predecessors. THQ took a hammer and a fine tooth comb to the game and it shows. After a few hours playing it, a few things became obvious...
If you're an MMA fan, this is a must-have game. The biggest and best-known addition to Undisputed 3 is the inclusion of the Pride Fighting Championship. For those who might not know, Pride was a Japanese fighting organization that was recently absorbed into the UFC. Prior to its absorption, Pride existed as a VERY unique fight outfit, distinct from the UFC with its own character, culture, aesthetics, and set of MMA rules, showcasing some of the now-household names in MMA like Rampage Jackson, Wanderlai Silva, Mirko Cro Cop and countless others.
Undisputed 3 gives you access to Pride, and not just to the fighters, but to an entire mode that functions like a second video game for the price of one. Pride mode perfectly captures the golden age of the Pride Fighting Championships, from the outlandish and awesome intros (fireworks and Japanese techno, anyone?), to the governing Pride rules (behold as you stomp upon the faces of your opponents -- which would be wholly illegal in the UFC), the five-roped square ring in lieu of an Octagon, commentary with Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros, and even the unique production feel that will inspire nostalgia in Pride fans. You can play with UFC and Pride fighters in both modes and, with the noticeable exception of Fedor Emelianenko, all UFC and Pride favorites are there for you to fight as.
Beyond Pride mode, MMA fans will be happy to find more nuanced fighting styles and attention to the intricacies of mixed martial arts. Fight as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and you can pull flying submissions and can pull guard while standing. Fight as a striker and you have spinning backhands in your arsenal.
Gameplay now includes feinting strikes, leg kick knock outs, and an advance bruising system. Your corner gives you actual, dynamic and helpful evaluations in between rounds, and if you turn off the commentating from Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg, you can hear them screaming advice as you fight. Fans can also finally play as Featherweight and Bantamweight fighters like Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber. And one of my favorite options is a simulation mode that penalizes button mashers by imposing stricter stamina limits which more accurately reflect the strenuous demands of MMA.
Despite the potential complexity of the fight engine in Undisputed 3, THQ has gone to great lengths to rework the game to make it accessible for gamers who may have found the control scheme difficult in the previous iterations. The amateur control scheme goes a long way to simplifying the control dynamics.
Transitions can be engaged by flicking on the right thumbstick and submissions can be attempted by pushing the thumbstick in. Submissions have also been entirely revamped, so instead of rabidly rotating the thumbstick, Undisputed 3 has introduced an easy-to-get visual system.
A lot of more experienced gamers had some complaints, and THQ did a good job responding to a lot of them. Players now have the option to turn off doctor stoppages and flash knockouts, so Undusputed 3 is now better geared to competitions and tournaments. Fighting is more nuanced now as well and fighters can check kicks, feint their attacks or fake transitions only to go the other way.
This already looks like the best MMA video game to date.
My experience with the game was limited, so I didn't get to try Undisputed 3's new career mode, which I'm really looking forward to. But from what I did play, Undisputed 3 has clearly exponentially evolved the franchise. The game is crisp and comprehensive and just plain ol' fun to play. Even without access to the rest of the game, it's not too early for MMA fans and novices alike to start looking forward to the game's February release.