UFC Undisputed 3 Review (Xbox 360)
The question with UFC Undisputed 3 is: has the extended development time been worth the wait? In the areas where it really counts, I can safely say that it has. It's still a shame that the series continues to have some clunky menus, long load times and spotty online servers, but the gameplay has been refined, PRIDE mode is a ton of fun, the presentation is notably improved, and the roster of fighters — and weight classes — continues to grow.
UFC Undisputed 3 is without a doubt proof that a two year cycle can work for game quality.
The UFC games have always delivered a solid fighting engine, and this year continues and improves on that trend. With a bigger emphasis on cage and clinch work, sways on the ground to avoid a potential knockout, and some additional submission and transitions, veterans of the series will feel right at home. Don't be fooled: this game is still a hardcore fighting game. THQ may have added amateur controls and more tutorials, which do help, but the barrier to entry for this game is still high. You have to put in the time to learn the transitions and the timing, and you'll eventually struggle if you just button mash through fights.
Clinch work along the cage now feels more vital, as knee strikes to the head deliver critical damage, and you can really control a fight if you back someone up. The new submission system, which is a graphical minigame, ends up being an acceptable alternative to the “shine” of the past, but admittedly it does look a bit silly. Submissions will definitely happen less frequently this year, as ground and pound or standing strikes seem to be the easier ways of getting a stoppage.
While the gameplay in the UFC games does continue to improve, I'd say it really only succeeds in compartments. What I mean is that each gameplay system — ground transitions, striking, clinch, submissions — works relatively well on its own, but as a whole the fights do still look a bit robotic. There's a flow to the action that still eludes the developers at THQ. EA MMA slightly addressed this issue, with smoother animations and transitions at certain points, but its individual systems were often lacking. Still, UFC Undisputed 3 adds more fight-ending positions and grappling situations to help alleviate this a bit, and the action, while maybe not entirely realistic, remains very entertaining.
Almost all aspects of the presentation have gotten a needed improvement.
Almost all aspects of the game have received a boost this year, with the fighter models looking noticeably improved, especially in the faces, and the crowd looking much more raucous and alive. The walk-outs and entrances for both UFC and PRIDE look pretty good, and combatants get checked out by cut men and referees before the fight. The menus and load times are about the only downside in this year's presentation, but they are a pretty big downside. Waiting a couple of minutes for the game to load up is unacceptable, as is 20 seconds for various menus to load.
There are many new gameplay situations and submissions this year, so a bunch of new animations have been added. Some of them look quite good, with the action along the cage actually feeling like a struggle (fighters heads tilting up against the cage when on the ground, etc.), but admittedly the new moves for PRIDE — soccer kicks, face stomps — have some fairly poor animations. There still are some collision detection issues in the game, but there does seem to be less “phantom” knockouts than occurred before.
The extra commentary duo of Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten are a great addition for the PRIDE mode, but even they fall into the perilous repetition trap that Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan do. To be fair, more commentary has been added, including fighter intro videos narrated by Mike Goldberg, but you will end up hearing the same stories and comments fairly quickly. If nothing else, the teams do a good job of creating enthusiasm and excitement when big stuff happens in a fight. The sound design during the fights carries good impact, with a nice disparity between the heavier fighters and the lighter ones. There are still the great audio cues for when you are put into a “rocked” state and some decent team chatter during fights.
The career mode is a solid improvement over the last UFC title.
The career mode is definitely an improvement over UFC Undisputed 2010's offering, as the removal of stat decay means you don't have to micromanage your fighter and keep training to add points over and over again. The addition of real fight camps, like Greg Jackson's MMA and Black House, allow you to leverage real fighters and coaches to help tweak and add moves in your arsenal, and it makes the whole career feel more authentic.
Setting up fights is an easy process, and you can even take on harder fights before you're ready, which is nice if you want to get in the mix faster. The training minigames are fun in concept, but the gameplay involving them remains poor. These really should be taken in a new direction going forward, as they are so brief and unsatisfying and only seem to be there out of obligation to creating some form of realism.
Load times and clunky menus do show themselves a lot in career mode, much like in both previous games, and this is honestly something THQ should've improved on at this point. It's nice to be able to move through a career in a quicker and more believable fashion, but when you're held back by the interface (say, waiting 20 seconds to load up your walk-out shirts), it's kind of a drag.
The PRIDE mode is a lot of fun.
As said in my initial impressions, the addition of PRIDE mode was an excellent choice by THQ. The presentation of all of the action and periphery is very well done, and the gameplay has enough wrinkles to feel unique from the action in the Octagon. It would be really cool to see them expand on this even more in the future, with bigger PRIDE rosters and even a specific career mode, but it is nice that there are some “Ultimate Fights” events that you can replay in PRIDE to try and recreate historical matches.
The suite of additional modes beyond the career and PRIDE is extensive, with an arcade-style title mode (as well as title defense once you beat it), tournaments (for all the PRIDE GP fans), event mode (where you can create your own pay-per-view fight card) and Ultimate Fights mode.
The Ultimate Fights are an interesting concept, as you can relive historic matches in the UFC and PRIDE by going for goals and benchmarks throughout the fight. It can be a lot to remember all of the tasks required once you are in a fight, and the game only shows you one at a time, but it does focus your play style in kind of an interesting way. What's not cool is that some of these “Ultimate Fights” are held back as DLC, and I'm not really sure how many players would pay for something like that.
Online has been a mess for THQ thus far.
The online, much like the previous two games, generally works, but it still has some big issues. THQ is still ironing out some server problems that are preventing users from accessing fight camps, which function like clans, as well as leaderboards and content sharing. The servers have been up quite a bit, but there are definitely various times when they have gone offline, which also strips away the ability to play in ranked matches. It really is too bad that yet another THQ fighting game is having issues in this regard, and many users in online communities have reported problems even more severe than I've experienced.
I have generally been able to play when I've gone online at various occasions, and the latency has been fair. I'd say it's a marginal improvement over last year, with most matches working relatively well and others having a slight but acceptable delay. I've only experienced a couple of mid-match disconnects, and those were likely because I was taking a fight to the ground, something that many online players can't seem to handle.
While the server issues and lack of penalty for a disconnect need to be hashed out immediately, I'm glad that the online is capable of providing some good matches, when the servers are working, as human competition is what a game like this needs if it wants to be a “serious” fighting game. Hopefully THQ gets on these server issues in a timely manner so that the community doesn't leave for good.
UFC Undisputed 3 shows what a two year cycle can do for a game's quality.
The extra development time has allowed THQ to push the cart forward a good deal in UFC Undisputed 3, making the career mode easier to digest, adding a really fun PRIDE mode and blowing out the roster and presentation even more. It's a shame that load times, sluggish menus and spotty online servers remain a thorn in the side for this franchise, but the amount of modes and gameplay tweaks undoubtedly make UFC Undisputed 3 an improvement over previous games and a must own for any MMA fan, casual or otherwise.
Learning Curve: There have been some good additions to mitigate the difficulty, like easier controls, better tutorials and tweaked difficulties and settings, but this game still aims to be a hardcore fighting simulation for dedicated MMA fans.
Control Scheme: The addition of the amateur control scheme was a smart choice, and there are more tutorial options in general. Still, this game requires that users know the inputs almost without thinking.
Visuals: Everything has been noticeably upgraded from the last game, including the fighters' faces, crowd detail and entrances. Bruce Buffer and the ring girls still look like crazy people, though. There are a lot of animations for different situations, which is nice, but not all of them are the smoothest.
Audio: The audio commentary still can only keep up with the action so much, but the addition of Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten in PRIDE mode is terrific fan service, and the strikes in the game still carry a wallop.
Value: There are a lot of modes in UFC Undisputed 3, to be sure, and the online, server issues aside, should carry the game forward.
Score: 8.0 (Great) These games are really quite good. There are a few notable flaws with the game holding it back from being a classic, but these games are worth the money, and for even casual fans of the sport they are definite purchases.
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