When I reviewed the excellent NBA 2K12 last year, my only real complaint was that the training was so weak. As someone who doesn't really follow basketball, I thought the game assumed too much of a familiarity with the rules and jargon of the NBA, unnecessarily throwing up a wall in the path of eager newcomers who wanted to master the finer points of the virtual sport. My suggestion was that the developers look to fighting games for some ideas on making a system more accessible to someone entering it for the first time. I knew that wasn't a perfect solution, but I thought it was the clearest example. With the release of UFC Undisputed 3, however, there is a definite leader when it comes to crafting the best single-player training for a one-on-one game.
Play UFC Undisputed 3 with your friends, then play it for hours after they leave.
UFC Undisputed 3 excels at presenting not only the spectacle of mixed martial arts, but also its intricacies. And, best of all, it is meticulous in teaching you how to adapt your game and play at an advanced level. We'll get to the meat of this when we discuss the tutorial and career modes, but almost everything you do in the game can be instructional. Information presented to you in fight graphics and by commentators before and during the battle provide clues as to what approach will work best. Trainers yell advice from your corner and provide you with specific strategy in between rounds to spur you into mixing up your moves and finding the most effective plan of attack.
Even if you aren't currently an MMA fan, the game easily has enough challenge and drama to hook you for many, many hours. It can help you evolve from desperately mashing strike buttons to controlling your opponent in a clinch to the effective use of submissions. Unless you're on the lowest difficulty setting, you probably aren't going very far spamming the same move or playing keep-away. But why would you want to, when there are so many sweet ways to pummel, stretch, and break your opponent?
Both UFC and Pride are represented here. Full entrances are included for each of the 150+ fighters and they differ greatly depending on which organization is promoting the event. Pride has a Japanese ring announcer with Bas Rutten and Steve Quadros on commentary, while UFC has Bruce Buffer handling introductions and Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan calling the action. The crowd is very vocal at times in backing its favorites and the atmosphere can get pretty electric. Instructions from the referee and the trainers also compete for your attention, even as you get punched in the ears or lie in a rear naked choke. All in all, the game is very good about making you feel like you're in an important match with millions watching.
In Exhibition, you choose your weight class and other variables before heading to either the Ultimate Fighting octagon or the Pride Fighting Championships ring. In another mode, one player can work his way up a ladder and eventually snag the title in his fighter's weight class. Doing so allows that fighter to participate in an series of up to one hundred consecutive title defenses. Persistence here will allow you to unlock nicknames (that the commentators will actually call you) for your created fighters. You also earn points used to unlock all sorts of items, up to and including extra characters.
You also have the opportunity to play through classic matches as either of the combatants in order to unlock bonus movies of the fights. Furthermore, when you play through the classic matches, you are given a set amount of time to achieve each one of a list of objectives. These present an extra challenge during the fight while also requiring you to try out different types of attacks. If you don't make it, the match continues and you can come back later to finish up the objectives you missed. A ton more classic matches will be released as downloadable content, but they are still listed by default to whet your appetite - or annoy you, as the case may be. A couple of the DLC packs are available for free right now, so it's not as bad as it sounds.
UFC Undisputed 3 also allows you to set up tournaments and your own events (up to eight matches with a custom name at the arena of your choice). If you want to get more creative, you can design your own fighter, logo, and banner, plus a highlight reel. For the latter, you can choose clips of your fights entirely on your own or you can have the computer give you a hand. As we've seen, THQ is all about community, even if its servers didn't get the memo, so there is plenty to do over Xbox Live, sharing your custom creations, fighting matches, and talking strategy with other players in organized camps.
The career mode allows you to fight dozens of matches as you work your way up from the minor leagues to the hall of fame. You'll have chances to fight in other weight classes and enter Pride tournaments as well as decide on which training camp you want to associate with (this affects which moves you will be presented with). There are an abundance of training options, and these are not the typical button mashing mini games you might expect. Instead, you are required to master the same motions and timing you use in actual fights. If you're still rusty, you can always go back to the comprehensive tutorial mode, which teaches you the ins and outs of strikes, clinches, positioning, cage techniques, transitions, submissions, and all the other goodies that make this fighting engine so deep. There's even a super-helpful pause menu that offers you a move list, a more in-depth guide to your options at the current moment, and other tips. You always have everything you need to win right at your fingers.
Believe it or not, there are a lot of customizations and other details I haven't even touched on. It is crystal clear that UFC Undisputed 3 was made with a lot of love for the sport and a lot of respect for the gamers who will be making this purchase. If you want to support sports games made with a deep single-player experience in mind, this is a solid purchase, even at full price. Play it with your friends, then play it for hours after they leave. There's always more to learn.