UFC Undisputed 3 Gameplay Impressions

Posted January 30th, 2012 at 9:30 am

With over a year and a half since its last release the UFC Undisputed franchise had the benefit of considerable time to both improve and polish the final product. From what I experienced at a recent THQ preview event it would seem at least on the surface that they have succeeded in both respects with UFC Undisputed 3.

Mixed martial arts is a dynamic and complex sport. To try and explain the improvements made, and why they make the game more fun and ultimately more realistic, I will use some of my own kickboxing and BJJ experience as a comparison to the various elements in UFC 3. To begin I will start where all fights start – that is on the feet. 

The striking part of the game control-wise has remained the fundamentally the same. That being said a few elements have been added to change the way that exchanges occur and in doing so have introduced a level a strategy that was previously absent from the series.

The most important of these changes is strike interruption. The idea is that if an opponent throws a looping punch you should be able to interrupt their attack by countering with a faster straight punch. While these punches are not as powerful they do allow for more precision and less risk to the attacker.

In my time spent kickboxing the instructors have drilled in the concept of “windows”. Every time a strike is thrown a window in the guard is opened up. The goal in learning boxing techniques is to open and close your windows as efficiently as possible.

In playing the game it now feels much more like a real fight. Throwing combinations become more of a factor – and setting up your power punches becomes a necessity. If you don’t than someone that knows what they’re doing will just pick you apart with the jab.

For the first time in the series I felt that I could play a boxing-style fight if I wanted to. Executing combos in the game do seem to come more natural now as well. I won’t say that there isn’t a steep learning curve to the controls (there has been from the beginning of the series) and that certainly factors in to striking ability. If you take the time to master the controls mixing up your shots between straight punching, power punching, and kicking becomes a lot of fun.

Another element that was added is the kick check. Those who have done bump drills in a kickboxing class knows that this can be a highly effective defense and in some cases a damaging attack. The point of checking a kick is to avoid damage to the soft tissue and nerves of the thigh. In fact if done correctly an attacker can be injured by their own kick as they collide their shin bone to yours.

In UFC 3 damage is caused when a kick is checked and in some rare occasions there can even be a leg break. I found checking kicks to be effective – while it did not seem to be much of a factor against the CPU the human opponents I played reacted to it and their movement and speed was clearly affected. This made the standing exchanges far more technical as you have to be aware of not over using your leg kicks. Also, just like power punches, kicks can now be interrupted by the jab and right-straight.

Once you are able to get a handle on the improved striking you are sure to encounter the new stun system. Good combos will now often lead to a stunned state for the fighter on the receiving end. This new system has a very visceral feel and look and translates into a very rewarding experience when a couple of clean shots are landed.

Circumstances have also changed for the stunned fighter. No longer is being stunned a death sentence as it was in the past UFC games. You can still strike, shoot a takedown, or simply take action to effectively protect yourself. I was stunned more than a few times but still never felt like I was completely out of the fight. The series is now far more real in this aspect.

If there is one thing I have learned while sparring it’s to never assume that you have someone beat until they hit the mat. A major concern from UFC 2010 came with the clinch position which was downright impossible to get out of at times. That problem has been completely fixed here as fighters can escape in multiple ways now. You can punch, transition, reverse, shoot for a takedown, or just guard until the clinch breaks from the struggle.

As the attacker these changes have made the clinch position feel more as though it has to be earned. One can’t just spam for it and expect to be rewarded any longer. When I was able to land knees from the clinch they felt as though they carried much greater impact. There was no longer the sense of being “cheap” by using them as I really had to work to not just gain, but also to control the position. In a real MMA fight this is a difficult position to hold on to and UFC 3 seems to have re-balanced it in effective fashion.

The striking game as a whole comes off far more responsive and crisp with all these new additions. It also is far more enjoyable to get not only big knockouts but also knockdowns with the new stun system. Most importantly though the game never left me feeling cheated by its mechanics while striking. There was always an adjustment that could be made in response to my opponents tactics. In a real fight almost nothing is more important than being able to make the right adjustments at the right time. The level of realism that they have been able to create in the standup game to me was quite impressive.

The ground game stays fundamentally the same as well. The changes that were made are more along the lines of adjustments to the balance. In terms of mechanics the takedowns feel pretty much the same as UFC 2010. The one big difference is that they are considerably more difficult to pull off. They have to be timed correctly and it’s easy to get punished for over using takedown attempts. Setting up your shots with short strikes and feints is now almost a necessity.

If you are someone that likes to stay standing it’s much easier to do that this year – as long as you take advantage of the new interruption system and mix up your strikes. One is really able play like the respective fighter selected this year. If you want to be Vitor Belfort or Melvin Guillard and stay standing you don’t have to worry about getting clinch and takedown spammed-to-death (but takedowns definitely will still happen). This year though even people who struggle with the ground game should find that its possible to get back to your feet. Transitions are easier to complete and harder to reverse in this iteration. While it does detract from the level of realism in the game somewhat it adds to the fun factor by reducing frustration.

BJJ is a methodical sport and a lot of what goes on cannot be seen by a spectator. The shifting of a person’s weight or a change in their center of gravity is a difficult thing to try to represent visually in a video game. Frankly if you are not interested in BJJ it’s easy to find it boring. The last two UFC’s failed to make this area fun because they tried to be too real. The ground game now feels more like flow grappling. In a live BJJ class flow grappling is a way for both students to work on technique at a speed somewhere between drilling and full sparing. Both partners take turns attempting maneuvers and working to a variety of positions.

Things happen much faster on the ground in the game now. You can’t lay and pray on your opponent. You have to always attempt to improve position or the guy on bottom will be able to work his up. New positions have been added to the ground too – the most interesting of these is the seated position. It becomes a real chess match particularly when on the bottom. Using the cage as a pivot point is sometimes the only way to get back to your feet in a real fight. Your opponent has to pick when to hit you and when to try to hold you down – not to mention that a defender can now sway on the ground to avoid strikes as they try to get up. Drilling this position in an MMA class is one of the most miserable experiences a person is likely to have. Thankfully, if you get to this position, you do have a good chance to get back standing.

With all this happening while on mat it can be easy to forget about submissions. Submissions have the new HUD system added to the game which put simply feels like a game of “duck duck goose”. I personally found the HUD a little intrusive visually and it certainly becomes the aspect of the game with the lowest level of realism.

I had a very difficult time with submissions at the event. In fact I was not able to complete one during my approximately 15 hours with the game and it probably became my least favorite part of UFC 3. I was told however that they were aware of the issue and would be addressing it (imagine it would have to be through a patch at this point).

Overall the ground game has removed some realism but is a heck of a lot more fun. If you avoided Undisputed in the past because of the BJJ aspect, I would suggest taking another look now. I am sure it would be recognized right away that getting taken down is no longer the black hole that it used to be.

Stamina management is another crucial aspect of MMA training. It’s odd that when a person is under stress they easily forgot to do the most basic thing and that is to breathe. Regulating your breathing is the first and most important thing you have to learn in any martial art if you intend to go beyond just training. UFC 3’s new simulation stamina makes this very apparent.

In this “simulation” mode you have to temper your attacks. There are crucial moments after you drop your opponent where you have to decide whether they’ve been stunned or hurt. Going in for the kill at the wrong time in this mode can drain your stamina and compromise you for the rest of the fight. I really enjoyed playing with these settings and sincerely hope that there is a ranked mode online using “simulation stamina”. It makes the standard stamina seem more like an arcade game. If they do have this mode online I would not play the game any other way.

It’s also important that it no obvious ways to “cheese” the game were identified. If you want to win this year you have to beat the person you are playing and not the game’s programing. The submission system was the only real sticking point and with a few tweaks could even be corrected. The extra time spent working on UFC Undisputed 3 has made the game the complete MMA experience that many thought it could be.

Ultimately what I walked away most satisfied with is that you have to be good everywhere in the cage to win. There is a counter to every position one may find themselves in and they are effective when utilized properly. This is what MMA is all about – and I am confident in saying that UFC 3 is, at least up to this point, as real as it gets.