UFC Undisputed 3 Hands-On Preview
By Paul Stuart (01.18.12)
Nearly two years ago, THQ’s crack PR team attempted the anthropologically unfathomable: immersing a slew of haphazard game reviewers directly into the world of Ultimate Fighting Championship (link) for several days’ time. My console brothers and I emerged with bruised thumbs and sore muscles, the latter in places most of us had forsaken years ago. Seriously, one should not have calf muscles in places like that…let alone capable of inducing so much cramping…after doing so little.
The purpose of this 2010 Jane Goodall gaming experiment gone surprisingly right was to preview the subsequently very well received UFC Undisputed 2010 (UFC 2010), a title which remains the most commercially and critically successful mixed martial arts (MMA) offering to date.
Back to the madness we returned. Under the bright lights of San Francisco, the review clan delved into the next THQ UFC gaming foray, UFC Undisputed 3 (UFC 3).
Akin to most publisher’s claims following best selling offerings, promises of significantly improved gameplay, graphics and experience greeted my email inbox, pre-event. As UFC 2010 was already a ridiculously good game, expectations were tempered under an ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it too much,’ mantra.
To elaborate and most noticeably, UFC 3 went back to the drawing board – well, literally – for character modeling and movements, opting for motion capture (MOCAP) versus comprehensive hand drawn models for fighter movements around the ring.
UFC 3’s Senior Game Producer Wes Bunn confessed, “[he] wanted more secondary animations” in UFC 3, to reduce the ‘robotic’ feel that solely hand-drawn movements produced. Producer Neven Dravinski seconded Bunn’s comments, in UFC 3 aspiring to “go in animation by animation,” representing how “(movements) flow into each animation. Snaps look better, hips turn better,” noted Dravinski about the new title.
After several hours of solid gameplay, I declare both Dravinski’s and Bunn’s goals as ‘mission accomplished.’ At ease, soldiers.
Moreover – and tossing in some additional personal perspective - I’ve spent the last nearly two years engaged in comprehensive Muay Thai training at a terrific gym in Canberra, Australia. Having participated in literally hundreds of hours of training and tutelage, I came to UFC 3 with a more critical eye on authenticity and sport representation. UFC 3’s improved ring movement flow and feel emerged as tremendous victories, as logical combo strikes (via height and strike type adjustments), also intelligent counters feel exponentially more natural. Meaning, finding openings…then truly maximizing them…replaced button mashing and/or ad nausea right stick twirls in most instances. UFC veteran Mike Swick praised the more realistic feel to the game, and – while not an avid gamer by admission - UFC 3 “did a very good job of capturing [him] as a fighter,” also “the game very accurate” in look and feel.
To get it right, Dravinski noted that “focus testing started from the beginning” for UFC 3 via its top community players, a stark contrast from UFC 2010 where similar fine tuning occurred predominantly in final stages of the development process. This approach – according to Dravinski and Bunn – produced some surprising discoveries.
To explain, UFC 3 re-inserted several items native to the original UFC title...ones taken out of UFC 2010 for the right reasons but wrong results. Passive defense is back (where the CPU helps you block), also an ability to select movement type (simple flick versus circular) when conducting transitions. Both producers independently noted and concluded that despite the popularity of UFC and desire to create an authentic license feel, at the end of the day “people play the game very differently…how they want to play it” stemming from gaming and/or UFC familiarity.
Famed MMA trainer Greg Jackson was along for the ride, and lauded UFC 3’s ability to offer gamers a nice glimpse into the nuances of being in the ring…albeit your couch and console. “A videogame will never punch you in the face, or grind you down after two months of training,” Jackson indicated with a wry smile. He was quick to also point out the strategic elements of MMA, ones he declared as critical aspects of a successful fighter and also video game player of the sport. For those keeping score at home, Jackson likes games…albeit only ones with complex story telling. The guy behind Jon Jones’ brilliance is also a self-confessed Dragon Age connoisseur.
UFC 3’s new bells and whistles are aplenty. Most noticeably, Pride is an ever-present staple of the game, in a) fighter selection, presentation (gotta’ love those wacky announcers!), b) dynamics (10 min, 5 min, 5 min rounds in rings versus cages) and c) rules (legality of head kicks while on the ground). Attention to Pride detail is astounding; crossover fighters are represented in both Pride and UFC player models, with aging, tattoos, looks and body types represented accordingly. Atmosphere and environments are likewise spot on, a wonderful old school feel that celebrates the legacy of the sport.
Also new to the gaming octagon is a simulation setting, where fighters become gassed following excessive strikes, submission and/or clinch/grapple attempts. Clearly a means of addressing said button mashing and stick twirls gone awry, a correction of enormous consequence when matching up vastly different fighter types. Hard strikes can now be interrupted by quick ones, and vice-versa, with new player character traits in footwork, plus individual top and bottom grapple skills secondary means of creating fitness and training realism.
Camps are limited to six…but offer tighter skill leveling and loyalty rewards. Also, a new ‘credibility’ system Jackson perceived as maximizing “the utility of a fighter” beyond lone fight toward actual career plan. Last, training is now a great deal more interactive, and meshes well with actual in-fight moves (e.g. like movements for training tire flips and mount transitions).
Continuing this thread, head fakes are now accompanied by a ridiculously cool feint system, one I couldn’t figure out for the life of me but executed in grand fashion by UFC 2010’s online leaderboard legends (whom THQ invited to the event). Speaking from experience, feints are the lifeblood of standup fighting, with Jackson espousing this dynamic as “huge, what we do” in MMA.
With homage to aforementioned leaderboard legends, UFC 3 takes multiplayer by the horns…or armbar, for the pun intended among us. Currently in beta status, UFC 3’s multiplayer is now internally developed (versus via third party in UFC 2010), a decision meant to substantially increase multiplayer experience via – what should be – increased connectivity and intelligent server selection. Of course, finished product will ultimately determine the utility of this decision.
Also and for the doppelganger inclined, ‘mirror’ matches – mano y mano against the same dude – are now a possibility in both online and offline multiplayer. Truth be told, this confused the hell out of me in execution, resulting in yet another quick exit in a media UFC tourney event stemming from an inability to ascertain which of the two B.J. Penn’s was actually me. I’m sorry, Extreme Gamer: I have failed you once more.
Learning curves also get a boost. To address created fighters being complete crap from the get-go in alternate fighting styles, UFC 3 provides a slightly higher starting skills point to compensate. Meaning, selection of the grappling-inclined doesn’t automatically equate to ‘death by standup’ in early game progression stages. Senior Producer Wes Bunn noted this a common complaint amongst the UFC 2010 masses. I was one of those masses, your honor.
Perhaps the most tangible of new additions lie in finishing tactics, as the submission and TKO system received major overhauls. If you’ve been tracking the game via YouTube, UFC 3’s new ‘tag, you’re it’ submission dynamic replaces endless stick twirling and for the very better. Rock your opponent and/or dominate a fight yields a greater window for submission success. This new ‘cat and mouse’ system admittedly took some time before true acceptance, but eventually became ridiculously fun, especially in multiplayer.
TKO’s can now occur via leg kicks, and with it logic in wearing down an opponent via standup before shooting for the takedown. A new damage heads up display (HUD) capably informs on damage induced, much-needed especially in clinch battles where alpha attacker was often a guessing game.
Thus and in summation, there are oodles of new nuggets to savor in UFC 3, nearly all well executed and direct improvements over problem areas of UFC 2010. It’s clear THQ’s UFC team loves this franchise, evident in both interviews with their producers plus attention to detail across the entire title. While additions are several and very welcome, I was thrilled to discover Bunn and Dravinski didn’t ride on laurels via a simple roster and/or Pride update.
As the UFC 3 Preview Event concluded in a small viewing party of UFC 142, many attendees couldn’t step away from review stations long enough to watch the actual fights. If ever one needed evidence of authenticity, there you have it. (In contrast, I was a sucker for the free finger food, open bar and ridiculously good undercard matches. Yes, I’m a simple man.)
For the UFC fans among us, February 14th can’t come soon enough. What was offered at the Preview Event reeked of a near-retail copy, and with it tons of terrific first impressions of a game amazingly better than an already terrific UFC 2010. Worth noting and while an XBOX 360-exclusive event, Bunn indicated no disparity across that and the PS3 versions.
See you in the online Octagon next month.
UFC Undisputed 3
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360
NA Release Date: February 14th, 2012
EU Release Date: February 17th, 2012