Although MMA in general and the UFC in particular are as popular as they’ve ever been, interest in the sport hasn’t carried over to commercially successful video games. Both of THQ’s previous UFC efforts, as well as EA’s entry into the arena, fared well critically, but neither garnered the kind of following required to justify an annually updated series.
In an effort to find new proselytizers for their product, THQ attempted to make their new title UFC Undisputed 3 appeal not only to MMA fanatics looking for a video game representation of the sport, but also to fighting game aficionados. The annual EVO tournament is the highest profile event related to fighting games, and previews of Undisputed 3 were shown at the event in 2011. THQ was pushing to have the game included in the 2012 lineup of EVO games, but this did not happen. Given the kind of speed that makes most EVO games desireable, this isn’t that surprising, but it does indicate THQ’s desire to broaden the appeal of their UFC games.
Almost certainly, the most enjoyable aspect of Undisputed 3 is the new Pride mode. In the mid-00s, Pride Fighting Championships was the main rival of the UFC, and to this day, it is the only rival that has ever come close to achieving the UFC’s level of success. The Japanese-based promotion’s roots were as much in professional wrestling as in no-holds-barred fighting, and as such, the spectacle was valued just as much as the sport. With entrances punctuated by fireworks and a maniacal ring announcer, Pride set a new standard for production in these kinds of events.
Although it was purchased by the UFC’s parent company in 2007 and folded into the larger promotion of the sport, Pride still holds a very special place in the hearts of MMA fans that have followed the sport for some time. The inclusion, then, of a mode that conjures those events with their unique presentation and brutal rule set (soccer kicking the heads of opponents that were on all fours was perfectly allowable) seems specifically intended to draw in more than just the casual MMA fan.
It’s an interesting strategy, because while Yuke’s has proven that they can make an MMA game with the kind of depth that the sport possesses, they have yet to prove that they can do one that will appeal to the casual fan that just happens to catch a fight every now and again. Pride mode will feel distinctly alien to anyone who never witnessed the Pride events as they were happening, and what is left for those fans is a title with a great deal of polish on what is fundamentally the same game that they’ve ignored twice before. To be sure, Undisputed 3 is a very good MMA game, but whether or not it is one that will attract casual fans (in the way that a good fighting game caters to both the hardcore and the novice) has yet to be seen.
One of the most prominent ways in which Undisputed 3 attempts to make itself more appealing to new fans is via simplified grappling controls. While the more esoteric traditional controls are available, the new scheme aims to make the grappling game easier to comprehend. This represents an extremely wise decision on the part of the developers. While striking requires a good deal of timing and and an understanding of technical depth, its outcome is very understandable. When people see a knockout, they understand how a fight ended, and what led to that ending.
Without a doubt, ground grappling is the most opaque, least understandable part of MMA. To those unfamiliar with submission fighting, the submissions and transitions on the ground seem like a mad scramble. The depth in that part of this kind of fight game is daunting to say the least. Further, while great representations of punching
and kicking have been present in video games for some time, similar abstractions of ground fighting are relatively new.
To that end, the submission system this time around amounts to something of a minigame, where both offense and defense are represented via an octagon the screen, and it’s much easier to figure out at any moment who is ahead in the battle and what it will take to either cause an opponent to submit or escape a submission attempt. This is an
interesting choice given the otherwise realistic presentation, since it necessarily pulls the player out of the fight in an effort to simplify a complicated aspect of the contest. To that end, those who had trouble grasping the ground game before might appreciate the change, while series veterans may well find it an irritating distraction. The efforts to make Undisputed 3 more approachable than its predecessors is certainly admirable, but it still features a difficult and steep learning curve.
While UFC Undisputed 3 isn’t a perfect game, it’s both deep and entertaining. The developers clearly understand the source material, and there has certainly never been a better video game representation of the sport. However it remains to be seen if the title will be a commercial hit. While MMA is continuing its trek to the mainstream, particularly now that the UFC (inarguably the sport’s biggest promotion) is on network television, it still hasn’t reached a critical mass in terms of popularity. It will be interesting to see how Undisputed 3 fares at retail, and if the notion of an annual development cycle ever makes financial sense for the series in the way that it does with games representing more popular sports.