This is UFC Undisputed 3's career mode. Whether you're using a created fighter or an established pro, your goal is to beat BJ Penn or, rather, anyone to get to the top, and eventually enter the hall of fame in MMA fighting. It's one of many overhauled features that show off the game's impressive depth. Video clips of interviews with real-life fighters accent your character's rise to fame at different landmark points in his career. Training mini-games are incredibly helpful in learning the different facets of the game's controls while forcing players to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of tackling certain workouts. Those workouts help players understand the numerical ratings of fighters and how they fit into the strategy of fighting in the octagon.
Don't let the numbers scare you, though. Without a doubt, this is the most accessible game in the series. UFC 3 defaults to helpful in-game hints, which is particularly useful if you choose to skip the thorough tutorial system. Additionally, the control scheme can be modified so that simply pushing the right stick up or down will initiate transitions when grappling. There are tons of striking moves to perform in the game, each of which feels adequately brutal. The combat itself is at its best, save for a few flaws, most notably in the new submission system.
While UFC 3's submission system will work for players from a pure gameplay perspective, it's possibly the worst addition this year. Upon entering a submission, an enormous translucent octagon blankets the screen and acts as a "track" on which players chase one another's icons to determine who gets the upper hand. Should the player on offense overlap the other player's line long enough, the defender will tap out to end the match.
Meanwhile, behind the octagonal track are two tangled fighters stuck in awkward heaving animations. While this immersion-shattering gauge is an interesting, and arguably necessary change for the series, few things could feel less impactful or exciting for an MMA game. Twisting your opponent's arm in a kimura should feel more painful. While the submission mini-game denotes the cat-and-mouse aspects of the sport, there's not much that feels satisfying about a submission win or loss.
Thankfully, nearly every other aspect of the game's presentation is excellent. I never once encountered fighters randomly clipping through one another. Every character looks great, and details down to beads of sweat and cuts bursting with blood are beautifully gross. THQ has already established the UFC series as a top contender in the fighting genre, but UFC 3 turns a corner in bringing the sport to life. Longtime fans will get chills from the videos, and newcomers will be in awe of the elaborate entrances and ring-ins.
That's not to say it's perfect. Commentary lines sometimes get repetitive, and often overlap. In some ways that sounds natural for people that incessantly interrupt one another, but it gets a bit distracting. Blood seems to spatter on the mat at random, and never quite feels like the result of your vicious blows. Additionally, I could do without hearing the exact same songs over and over again in the menus, and the aforementioned entrances and victory sequences could use an added layer of customization.
The game boasts around 150 fighters and hundreds of unlockables to toy with in modes like tournament, custom events, title mode, and title defense. The Ultimate Fight mode returns, bringing with it fast, goal-based challenges that recreate some of the best matches in fighting history. The biggest addition for MMA fans is the inclusion of Pride, a brand now owned by UFC and steeped in MMA history. Fights under the Pride brand come complete with its unique rule set, announcers, entrances, and the like. Stepping into the ring in a Pride fight feels perfectly familiar, until your opponent stomps on your head, which is allowed under Pride's rules.
UFC 3 also automatically saves replay data for the last 50 rounds you fight in any match, allowing you to pull together and edit clips using the highlight reel feature. While splicing clips from fights together is easy and efficient, adding new clips often gets confusing, and it's easy to forget what you've already added to your reel. It's an excellent addition to the game though, and one that other sports games would be wise to mimic.
Highlight reels are just one of the many customizable elements in the game. Creating a fighter using "morphable" presets is easy, and creating logos and banners is addictive. Garnering sponsors in career mode, and turning your trunks into wearable ads is fun, and provides hours of extra things to do between fights.
Online modes, including fight camps and content sharing, work fairly well. However, each exhibition bout I played online was riddled with lag and mid-fight "buffering," something I hope will clear up in due time. Players also accrue points in their battles and can be ranked on a variety of leaderboards, which is always a welcome addition.
UFC Undisputed 3 has its share of scars, but it offers players an exciting peek into the MMA world. THQ and Yuke's bring the sport to life, and it says something about their efforts when the worst aspects of their product are minuscule in comparison to its overall value. UFC 3 makes it easy to get wrapped up in the tactical strategy of MMA fighting while maintaining the pace and difficulty at a challenging level. Even if BJ Penn will always get the best of me, I'll gladly continue to step into the octagon.
This review is based on retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of UFC Undisputed 3, provided by THQ.
Mike Suszek is a freelance writer and producer of the Modern Game Player podcast (which you should check out!), contributor to 4thString.com, avid sports fan, and games, tech and pop culture junkie. He can be found ranting on Twitter: @mikesuszek
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