After taking a year off from their venerable Undisputed series for the 2011 season, THQ's realistic brawling franchise is back for another round in the Octagon. We were fortunate enough to check out the latest build of the game at a THQ hosted event in Toronto, mere hours before UFC fighters stepped into the octagon for the first ever time on Ontario soil. The good news? Based on our playtime, we can safely say that THQ has taken the good from the game's predecessors, while adding even more good stuff, to produce UFC Undisputed 3. It's more gamer-friendly while keeping UFC fans in mind, allowing anyone who wants to give it a go to have a decent chance in the octagon.
From the get-go you get to choose which control scheme you wish to use, whether it be amateur or expert. Expert brings back the familiar controls from UFCs previous titles, so those who're already comfortable with them can continue to play in that way. For those who are new, or simply want to play without having to remember certain ways to perform moves, the amateur controls simplify playability so a simple up or down on the analog stick will do the same thing the half-circles do in expert mode. This means friends who were once hesitant to play will now have a decent shot even if they've never played before, or parents whose kids play this game can hold their own rather than be helplessly pummelled by their own blood. I witnessed a fellow gamer who was hesitant to play at first, yet after they tried the amateur controls, they kept wanting to play and became very involved with the game as a whole.
It's hard not to become immersed in the world of UFC in this game, whether as a spectator or an actual player. Cameras are adjusting their angles as needed, giving you the optimum visual as you do your thing. The graphics are crisp and every detail, from the octagon itself, the size of a fighter's calves or even the tattoo's the fighters don, and they are true to what you would expect to see in real life. When you fight the A.I., their difficulty is based on the actual stats of the fighter himself rather than your choosing a difficulty for him, keeping the feel of the game true to form. As you fight, injuries appear, right down to bruises that increase in intensity as that area gets hit more and more.
The transitions between fighter introductions and matches feels like a proper UFC televised event. Between rounds, each player is coached by their trainer with what they should focus on, whether it be avoid the edge of the octagon or feint more often, giving players an idea of the best way to approach the gameplay as a whole.
Rather than train players in a standard "training mode," the game throws you in the action and pop-ups of how to perform different moves show themselves as you go. New moves will always have a pop-up appear, but once you've achieved that move you won't see it again during that fight. If you'd rather play without the pop-ups, you can disable them in the options menu. This is a great way to teach players what they can do and how as they learn which scenarios to apply specific moves to.
Another great visual aid is the new method of submission. When in this situation, an outline of an octagon appears on-screen, with each player represented on the outline with a dot in the centre of a coloured line. The player who's trying to overtake the other has to "cover" their opponent's line on the octagon to raise their submission metre within several seconds, or they fail. This makes it a lot easier for players to visually see how well they're doing when they try to overtake someone, and it beats rotating the analog control as fast as you can. This should also help when fighting against the A.I. of the game.
More moves have been added, including feinting while standing or even when you're on the ground. When fighting A.I., in some cases you have to include feints as you fight in order to win, just like in a real bout. When you pin a fighter on the ground against the cage, their injuries increase from the added hits against the wall or floor. Pride-style fighting is now available as well, where you can kick and knee and stomp on your opponent's head while they're down on the ground. You can even pin them to the ground and knee their face repeatedly. "Kicking people in the face is fun," said producer Neven Dravinski jokingly, "and we wanna make sure you have a good time doing it." I have to agree, it's a fun alternative way to play the game.
You can choose between Pride or UFC fights along with their respective fighters (some of which are available in both). Because Pride hasn't been allowed in years, THQ ensured any fighter picked for that method is represented in the game based on the years Pride was allowed. The selection screen for the fighters has you toggle left or right, with one column showcasing UFC fighters and the other with Pride. Even the look is different between the two styles. Pride has harsh white lighting, Japanese referees, crazy techno, and lightshows to boot, which were all part of the Pride experience. UFC-style has more realistic colouring and everything else you'd expect, right down to the UFC girls jiggling around with their "Round 1" signs in hand.
As you fight, there's a stamina bar that showcases how fatigued your fighter is. There's also the option to view a "paper doll" for each player that showcases where your fighter's developing injuries; if you're repeatedly kicked in the shin your doll's shin will turn red and, eventually, you'll lose due to a shin injury. It's a great way to keep track of how your fighter's doing.
The matches themselves play out like a proper UFC fight, complete with audio clips taken directly from UFC fight feeds and intelligent corner advice for the fighters. The first time you play as a particular fighter in a tournament you get to see an interview with them, which is an actual movie of the fighter himself as opposed to cut scenes.
You can choose how you play the game, like you would in a real-life sporting event, by choosing options to make it into a "rec league" or a "competitive league." By changing the rules, you can eliminate things like flash kicks, or you can make hits more realistic so it takes only a couple of punches to the head to K.O. someone instead of dozens. If you don't like the options you have, or just want to change something whether it be your fighter or the game-controls, you can simply pause and switch instead of having to forfeit a game and restart a match.
With over 160 fighters to choose from, which is more than the previous games had available, fans are sure to appreciate this newest addition. The graphics look great, they captured the feel of UFC well, and they've managed to allow new players and possible future fans a way to get in on the action and genuinely enjoy the experience. UFC Undisputed 3 is scheduled for release on Feb. 14, the day of red ironically enough, for both the Xbox 360 and PS3.