UFC Undisputed 3 is the third entry in Yuke's mixed martial arts fighting series. In a move that could prove as difficult as five rounds with Brock Lesnar (or perhaps that should be Alistair Overeem), Yuke's must try to improve on the excellent UFC Undisputed 2010, which was roundly praised for its intuitive, satisfying and brutal gameplay. Keen to see how they better the previous instalment, Digital Spy tapes up the fists and pops in the mouthguard, as we go toe-to-toe with UFC Undisputed 3.
With a mightily impressive platform to build upon, UFC Undisputed 3 isn't in need of an overhaul, but a few tweaks and modifications. The latest game includes a brand new submission system, the addition of the even more brutal and bloody PRIDE mode, multiple new control methods and all of the usual visual and presentation upgrades we've come to expect from a sports-based sequel.
Fighting With PRIDE
If you thought that past UFC games were violent, UFC Undisputed 3 goes one step further, introducing players to the world of the PRIDE Fighting Championships. For those unaware of its roots and rules, PRIDE was formed in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan. Its only philosophy: "The acceptance of any fighting technique from any school to mimic the realities of an actual fight in the form of a legitimate and honourable sport."
What exactly does this mean for gamers? Well, for starters, there are practically no holds barred; moves such as soccer kicks, knees to the head and face stomps are all legal, while PRIDE fighters think nothing of driving opponents head first into the mat - a big no-no in UFC. Having only played a few games under PRIDE rules, it was hard to spot the changes to the combat - after all, nobody wants to be kicked in the head - but things were certainly a lot different in terms of presentation.
PRIDE fights feature alternative commentators and authentic arenas, and take place in traditional four-sided rings - the kind you see in boxing and wrestling matches. The absence of the cage makes it impossible to completely trap opponents against the mesh, so long-range foot and fist strikes play a more prominent role in offence and defence.
Rounds are also fought with different time restrictions. The first round lasts for ten minutes (compared to five in UFC bouts), while the second and third last for five. In the few fights we managed, we witnessed plenty of first round knockouts, not to mention a few exciting scrambles to make it to the bell and grab some recovery time.
Tweaks and Changes
As mentioned, combat should still feel familiar to experienced UFC Undisputed players. Yuke's has opted to include a wide variety of tweaks and changes, as opposed to a complete and unnecessary overhaul to the gameplay mechanics. There are two types of control methods, including a brand new simplified scheme to aid beginners with the analogue-based takedowns. Regular controls see players strike with face buttons, using the triggers and bumpers as modifiers, while grabbing, clinching and taking down with a combination of buttons and circular analogue movements, as opposed to a simple up and down motion.
The combat in general has a distinct cat and mouse feel to it. Clinches, for example, see players attempt to match the opponent's body position in order to reverse or avoid a takedown. There are new submission moves, strikes, and even some cracking KOs - which are incredibly satisfying - as well as a new submission system when a hold is locked in. Again, it's very much a game of cat and mouse, with players attempting to trap their opponent's coloured energy bar in an octagon-based mini-game. Using the analogue stick, players either chase or avoid their opponent, changing directions or stopping still to avoid capture. It's easy to know what to do, but can be quite tricky to pull off against a skilled opponent.
The Glitz, the Glamour and the Gore
Finally, UFC Undisputed 3 looks fantastic. After choosing our gladiator from the wide selection of fighters available - there must have been more than 100 - we hit the Octagon. Glitzy and glamorous ring entrances capture the big budget feel of a UFC PPV, with music, lights, lasers and entourages the order of the day. Character models, meanwhile, are extremely well rendered, whether it's the bulky muscleheads from the heavyweight division, or the slim, slender bantamweights with the kind of abs that remind us of that fateful partnership between Peter Andre and Bubbler Ranx.
The lack of HUD ensures that fights are truly immersive, with no off-putting and unrealistic energy bars or stamina gauges cluttering up the screen - so much so, in fact, that we didn't even notice it until halfway through the first round. And granted, while it's by no means a new feature, using facial injuries such as cuts and bruises to dictate offensive and defensive strategy is a nice touch, and makes recovery time between rounds very important. The amount of blood soaked into the mat is another wonderful, albeit stomach-churning visual flourish, and a sure-fire indicator of a good fight.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to sample the single-player career mode, a mode which has always proven to be the weak link in an otherwise excellent gaming series. It'll be interesting to see how the PRIDE Fighting Championship is used (if at all) and whether or not Yuke's manages to inject a little more excitement into a mode that often feels a little flat. Based on what we've seen so far, however, Yuke's looks set to deliver another knockout blow with UFC Undisputed 3.
UFC Undisputed 3 will be released on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on February 14 in North America and February 17 in Europe.