After a near-two year absence, the Undisputed series is back with the best overall MMA game yet. After the second Undisputed game, EA’s entry on the genre came out and raised the bar when it came to created fighter sharing, delivering a fun career mode, and a unique, but effective submission system that blended ease of use with skill to prevent cheap victories. The series has more to prove now and succeeds by improving some gameplay elements in major ways and delivering things, like a PRIDE mode, that many fans including myself have wanted since the series’ debut.
The addition of swaying to avoid attacks added a lot in the second Undisputed, but looked a bit too robotic - something that I only noticed after seeing EA MMA pull it off in a more realistic manner, which is now more realistic in Undisputed 3. There’s also a new camera angle that brings you closer to the fighters and makes it a bit easier to tell how far you are from your opponent and also drives home the impact of blows, along with screen-shaking camera effects.
Some fans felt the Undisputed series was a little too arcade-like and didn’t reward skillful play enough, so the addition of a pure simulation mode is a welcome one. It replicates fatigue more accurately, and really does require you to plan out your strategies more because you’ll become gassed far more quickly. You can also choose to keep things the way they are by default in the series, or give each fighter equalized stats. The latter option allows a lower-end fighter to enter a fair fight with a main eventer, and is perfect for 2 players since no one can complain about the other person picking a vastly-superior fighter.
Aside from the new simulation mode, another huge change to the gameplay is in the form of optional “amateur” controls that map minor transitions to a downward tap on the left stick and major ones with an upward tap, instead of requiring quarter circle and half-circle motions respectively. This makes a monumental difference in the actual gameplay because it keeps the pace of ground fights quite fast while preventing you from being stuck in a position due to a rushed quarter or half-circle motion that doesn’t go right and leaves you open to take damage. EA MMA tried a similar approach to things and it worked out great, although that game didn’t quite give you as many positions to switch to easily as this one, which now makes even a rear clinch a breeze to execute as opposed to basically being luck in the prior two installments.
MMA games have never had a universally-loved submission system. The earlier UFC/PRIDE entries just allowed you to win via hitting a couple of buttons and winning instantly with a sub unless you countered with the same button combo, which made you fight carefully, but sucked if you didn’t know which button presses initiated a particular submission. The first Undisputed’s “spin the right stick to win” and/or button mash setup was easy to exploit for turbo pad-owners, so they nixed the button mashing and made subs harder to get, but just rotating the stick made them seem too easy to execute, even if the AI was better at defending them. EA MMA kept the stick movement, but changed it around a bit to require you to pay attention to the controller rumble to know which direction to press. This system really was the best of both worlds because you had some stick movement that couldn’t really be exploited, and did require patience since you couldn’t just spin the stick or press in random directions to succeed.
Undisputed 3 keeps right stick movement, but uses it for a game of cat and mouse where the red cornered-fighter and blue cornered-fighter are represented in that color’s line as it either spins around a mini-Octagon or PRIDE ring. If the cat catches the mouse for a long enough time, the cat wins, and if the mouse avoids the cat for a long enough time, the submission is avoided. This system does require some skill, but takes quite a while to get used to and really seems quite abstract. It can’t really be exploited, but is a huge disconnect from the rest of the action given the massive graphic that fills the screen - given the new close-up camera view that brings you closer to the action, this really sticks out like a sore thumb. After using it for quite a while between the online alpha test, the demo, and now the full game, I can safely say that the submission system works in the sense that you can in fact get subs and avoid them if you’re careful, but the on-screen meter is gaudy, distracting, and it can be hard to keep track of how well you’re doing at times because of how fast the icon moves. Unfortunately, there’s no option to go back to an older method yet - perhaps that’s something they can add in with a patch, and I honestly hope it can be because this setup just isn’t doing much for me and seems like a step back - which is a real shame given how much the gameplay has moved forward in every other way.
The second Undisputed greatly improved the first game’s career mode, but also had some features that were hit or miss, like decreasing your skill stats unless you trained them at just the right time and bogging things down a bit with activities that, while optional, were more annoying than fun to take part in. Still, the mode as a whole was a lot of fun because it did have a strong focus on fighting, and that was definitely a strong point of the overall game. It also allowed you to learn new moves at dozens of real-world camps, adding to the reality of things a bit. However, a year or so ago, EA MMA hit and completely raised the bar for MMA game career modes by really making it feel like you were rising through the rankings of MMA from the bottom-up and allowed you to increase your fighter‘s skills, and your own, at your own pace. It was so fun that I went through it four times (twice on each system), and it wasn’t all due to Bas Rutten’s voice over work. I loved being able to ace a fitness test and then just have the game automatically use that A rating for the rest of the workout - it saved time and allowed you to progress while still needing to use skill and had an even stronger focus on fighting while also making each fight camp you could learn moves from stand out with voice over work from each trainer.
Undisputed 3’s career mode isn’t quite as good as EA MMA’s, but is a marked improvement over its predecessor’s. The mode as a whole has been greatly streamlined, with only a handful of camps available instead of dozens. That might sound bad, but it’s really more a case of addition by subtraction since there was a ton of overlap in moves between the camps, leading to you only using a few during the mode anyway. Leveling up your moves is also a lot easier now since you can choose to just train the moves you’ve learned, instead of having to go back through every camp menu, hope to find the camp you originally tried to learn the move from, and then find the move and try to improve it. Stat decreasing is also gone, as are the needless side activities. Also, you don’t fight with a super-weak fighter at the beginning, and can have a pretty well rounded fighter stat-wise right at the start, which makes the mode a lot more fun to play. You’re also able to use a regular roster fighter, although one with customized stats and offense, so while you can’t quite run roughshod with the default Brock Lesnar, you can tailor him to be the same kind of monster, or turn him into a completely different kind of fighter if you’d so desire. The career mode winds up being better largely through addition but subtraction, which I’m fine with. I wouldn’t say it’s as good as EA MMA’s, but it’s close to it - I plowed through it in one 10-hour sitting because it was so enjoyable and was structured well enough to keep something new or exciting, like a title shot or chance to be in a PRIDE tourney, just a fight or two away.
New to the series is the highlight reel mode from THQ’s WWE offerings and the created character sharing feature that helps to make up for some guys not being in the game, like Randy Couture and Fedor, who stick out as notable guys not in the UFC and PRIDE rosters respectively. Thankfully, the core roster is still pretty remarkable overall, with over 150 fighters included between PRIDE and the UFC, as well as a slew of ex-WEC fighters brought over into the UFC since the prior game‘s release in the bantam and featherweight divisions.
The implementation of the highlight reel mode is outstanding - if you’ve got a hard drive on the 360, you’ll be able to have up to the last 50 rounds of acting saved to the hard drive and then cut and paste whatever you want from it frame-by-frame if you so desire into highlight packages you can put on the game’s server. The interface is very easy to use - much more user-friendly than the clunky one in WWE ‘12, and makes it easy to craft clips to show off to friends both off and online. EA MMA had the same feature, but didn’t allow for frame-by-frame editing, and wasn’t as versatile as this one, but was also easy to use.
Online as of right now, is great. Beyond just created fighter, logo, and highlight reel sharing, play is smoother than it was before, and even the new submission system works fine in a somewhat laggy game. You can also participate in both UFC and PRIDE fights online. So far, things are great with the online portion of things - and hopefully there are no issues post-release like the ones that plagued every aspect of WWE ‘12’s. As a big PRIDE fan and player of both PRIDE games, I came into the PRIDE mode with high expectations, and for the most part, they were at least met, and in some cases, even exceeded. They got Lenne Hardt to do the walkout intros, which are now included for both PRIDE and UFC fights and really add a lot to the overall presentation. They nailed the elaborate lighting setups, but didn’t do much in the way of moving set pieces and screens, which is a slight disappointment. While you can partake in PRIDE fight recreations in the Ultimate Fights mode now, it seems strange that you can’t also create PRIDE events in the event creation mode, which means there’s no elaborate show-opening sequence with Hardt doing intros for all the fighters on the card while the PRIDE theme blares and pyro goes off.
Despite that, the presentation is remarkably authentic - the PRIDE mode plays differently than the UFC with the inclusion of soccer kicks and knees to the head of a grounded opponent, and the exclusion of elbows to the head and use of a ring instead of a cage. They definitely went above and beyond compared to other games with these kinds of modes included as bonuses, but wind up feeling like a new coat of paint. They even got Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten to do commentary - adding to the authenticity of things. The mode is essentially a dream come true for MMA fans because it not only gives you a pretty extensive PRIDE roster, but also allows you to have UFC fighters (including UFC-era incarnations of PRIDE fighters) in there, so if you want to have a PRIDE version of Rampage with his red, white, and blue shorts against a modern-day one with camo, you can, or have dream matches that simply couldn’t have happened in PRIDE, like Jon Jones vs. Wanderlei Silva.
Visually, this is the best-looking MMA game yet. The character models are a noticeable upgrade from both prior entries in the series. It looks wolrds better than EA MMA, whose character models alternated between looking awesome in menus and in replays and then kind of dreadful during the actual game. Animations are also a bit smoother than prior series entries, and fighters have more personalized fighting styles and moves. Big steps were taken in the second installment to help this issue, but they’ve gone further to give more fighters moves they do in the exact way they do it - like Clay Guida now no longer fighting with standard punches from the top mount position, but instead trying to slam both fists down like a double axe handle. The closer camera angle makes those shots, or Jon Jones’ vicious ground elbows hitting seem that much more devastating.
The incredible sound effect work helps that out as well since all of the blows sound like they should. The series has always been very good about that, but it’s gotten a bit better now. Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg’s UFC commentary is also just as stellar as before, and even seems a bit better with the inclusion of commentary over the entrances adding to the presentation as a whole. Quadros and Bas are tremendously entertaining during the PRIDE fights, and have a completely different, yet still great style of commentary that comes through in the game. As someone used to years of the Yuke’s/THQ WWE offerings having worse commentary as time goes on, it’s refreshing to hear great commentary from two teams whose chemistry together on-screen comes through in the game.
The only issue I have with the audio is the lackluster choice of theme music - granted, they had hundreds of songs to put in, but the music is largely pretty boring aside from some songs, like Wanderlei Silva’s PRIDE music being wonderfully wacky. Having Frank Mir come out to a generic song and not “Amazing” by Kanye West hurts things a bit, and while it is completely understandable due to licensing costs, a custom soundtrack feature that replaced the in-game themes with the real deal from a player’s hard drive would’ve nice to have to easily replace the generic music with the authentic tunes. As it stands, the only solution involves muting the music from the options menu either from the main menu or during a fight, and then cueing up the music you want during the loading screen after selecting your arena for the first fighter, and then quickly doing the same during the second fighter’s intro. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough.
Aside from the new submission system, I was blown away at just how much better Undisputed 3 is than the 2010 offering - and that’s after playing a ton of that game to get back into a groove for it. The controls are vastly-improved thanks to the inclusion of the “amateur” stick movements, the career mode is more fun with the fat trimmed off of it, and the PRIDE mode helps make this as close to a definitive MMA game as there has been yet. EA MMA tried to do that, succeeded in some ways, but didn’t succeed in as many ways, or as well, as this game does. The PRIDE mode is so well-done that they could’ve released it as a full $20 DLC add-on and I’d say it’s worth it. Despite its flaws, I’d say that the game as a whole is a must-buy for fans of the series.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of UFC Undisputed 3 provided by THQ.