Technical sports featuring subtle movements and paper thin lines between a win and a loss are not easy to translate into videogame form. Not only do you need to recreate the nitty-gritty of the sport, you need to recreate it in such a way that satisfies the hardcore without alienating pretty much everyone else.
However, THQ’s UFC Undisputed series has done an impressive job in bringing the intimidating and brutal (but highly technical) world of the Ultimate Fighting Championship to joypad junkies. Indeed, given the fact that there have only been two home console releases of the series thus far, the series’ success speaks volumes about the skill possessed by the development team at Yuke’s.
Due out next year, UFC Undisputed 3 seems to be trying to reach out to an even larger audience by including an optional simplified control scheme, news rules and various tweaks and additions to the in-ring gameplay.
Many players have been put off by the way in which the two previous games have handled wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and general grappling transitions (in layman’s terms, the stuff that happens when both guys are on the floor). The same system of major and minor transitions being performed by one-third rotations of the right-stick in a given direction still remains, but this time it’s accompanied by an “amateur” control scheme which switches the rotations to flicks. Flick the right-stick up for a minor transition, down for a major.
Success is still determined by timing, your fighter’s comparative stats and your opponent’s ability to block/counter your movements but it’s now much easier to bring those elements into effect; I know for a fact that many players had difficulty with the right-stick gymnastics of previous games.
Given the fact that the traditional control scheme offers more control over your movements – in that you can choose your exact transition if you know the correct input –it’s unlikely that hardened fans of the series (like myself) will opt for the new scheme but at least newcomers will have some kind of ground game without hours of practise versus the CPU.
Staying with the ground game, the submission system has been completely re-worked; the button mashing frenzy of the past replaced by something altogether more civilised. Upon initiating a submission a circular ring now appears with two bars, one for you and one for your opponent. The aim is for the attacking party to use the left-stick and position your bar over that of the defending player; if you can hover your bar over your opponent’s for long enough before they break free then they’ll submit.
Of course, the new system results in a frantic scramble as you chase the other player’s bar around the circle and against the clock. Things are made easier when playing as a fighter with a high submission rating in that your bar is longer and the defending fighter finds it more difficult to break free of the hold. During the five or so fights we’ve had so far we haven’t witnessed a submission victory yet (either in our favour or against us) but it is nice to not have to just circle the stick and smash the buttons like a madman.
Alterations are also being made to the stand-up systems. Hits to the body and legs can now result in KO’s, giving you the opportunity to recreate Rashard Evans’ crushing knee-to-the-chest blow against Tito Ortiz in the recent UFC 133 event with the same sort of impact. Leg kicks can also be ‘checked’ with a well-timed flick down on the right-stick; a very welcome feature and one that should have been featured in the series from the very start given the technique’s importance and frequency of use in the sport.
There’s also a new ‘quick hit’ attack which doesn’t deal much damage but is designed to put your opponent off-guard and/or set them up for stronger blows or simple takedowns. These quick hits cannot be caught or deflected, only blocked or dodged. Feints/strike cancels can also be used with similar effect, for putting your opponent off balance etc.
The clinch system has been tweaked to allow for clean breaks via punching your way out or simply moving backwards and pulling yourself out of your opponent’s grip. Previously clinches could only be broken by way of transitioning out of them, these new options providing much greater fluidity and a much improved sense of realism to such situations. Frankly, anything that diversifies your available set of options is okay by me in a game of this ilk so long as they’re in keeping with the realism of the sport.
With all of these new additions and alterations the design team have clearly been worried about how best to communicate them to the player. The most effective way that they’ve done this (from what we’ve seen so far) is by including coach’s comments between each round. Split into positive and negative these hints/comments include things like “move your head when striking”, “use combos rather than single strikes”, “go for more takedowns”, “be quicker on your toes” and “avoid submission attempts”.
They’re hardly in-depth but they do a decent job of highlighting your strengths and weaknesses while reminding you of some of the game’s techniques that you may have either forgotten or ignored.
All fights can be played with a variety of new rule and gameplay set-ups. The new (and fully-licensed) ‘PRIDE’ rules option brings the head stomps, soccer kicks and squared circle of the legendary Japanese fighting organisation to the series – attacks and a ring type formerly left out due to the fact that they’re illegal in UFC competition. We’ve yet to play this mode so the new moves’ impact on gameplay is as yet unknown, however we do know that all UFC fighters can partake in the mode.
Accompanying PRIDE rules are ‘competition’ and ‘sim energy’ gameplay modes. Competition mode is aimed squarely at the hardcore fighting game fan, equalising all the fighter’s stats and removing one-hit knock outs and referee stoppages due to cuts over the eye/s. Sim energy puts much more emphasis on the amount of damage you can take (especially to the face) and limits your speed of stamina recovery, forcing you to play much more defensively and (to an extent) more realistically.
What’s clear is that THQ are serious about improving the franchise and providing an experience that will appeal to as many as possible while staying true to the spirit of the sport. There are so many changes to the gameplay that it’s difficult to take to them all in and, during our brief gameplay session, impossible to properly learn and implement with any degree of finesse. What is clear though is that there’s so much more to get stuck into and so much more that brings the game much closer to what you see of the sport on television.
Then there are the things we haven’t even mentioned; the new weight classes that takes the roster over 150 fighters, new stats that further differentiate fighters, new (and customisable) fighter entrances and much more.
The UFC will have you believe that mixed-martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world and, in terms of new features, it might just be that UFC Undisputed is the fastest growing sports game franchise in the world.