UFC Undisputed is a franchise that's already had a surprising amount of ups and downs in its short lifetime. The first title was a solid hit for THQ, and a sign that the public was again ready for a video game about mixed martial arts. But the second annual title floundered, putting the franchise's future into doubt just as it was getting underway.
With the third title in the series, THQ is backing off of yearly updates and moving back to a numbered scheme. As the company told Joystiq during a recent pre-E3 press event, THQ is taking a little extra time, both to go back to basics for the core audience, and to make a big new addition to the series: Adding in the new defunct Pride Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting rosters. Both fighting organizations have now merged with the UFC in real life, but here in this title, THQ plans to give them a place to live on virtually.
The Pride mode's implementation is impressive -- not only does the game include all of the old fighters (including Pride versions of current UFC fighters, completely separate, so you can fight Pride Rampage Jackson against his more modern UFC counterpart), but old Pride arenas and the old Pride ruleset is included as well. Why? Because sometimes, you should be able to kick someone in the head when they're down, right?
WEC fighters are in the mix as well, which means there are plenty of feather and bantamweight fighters to choose from. And all of the bells and whistles that you'd expect in an official UFC game are here, too -- Goldberg and Joe Rogan do commentary, official referees can be chosen for a given match, the music and official graphics are included, and for the first time in the series, fighter entrances are seen before a fight.
The other major new element of this latest iteration is a completely revamped control scheme. The old control set (where you flicked the right analog stick around to make transitions in your grappling) is still there, but it's been labeled "Pro Control." "Amateur Control" is the new setup, and rather than require you to make precise flicks (which THQ says caused some trouble for newcomers), it lets players transition quickly with simpler gestures.
The developers made it clear, however, that Amateur didn't just mean "easier." Especially in online battles, they want to make sure that while the motions for Pro Controls might be a little tougher to pull off, they also allow for feints and other high-level moves. Players need to make a specific choice when choosing control schemes, as high level players will find some extra rewards when using the more precise controls.
Different parts of the match have been tweaked to play more easily as well -- submissions are now controlled with a big on-screen graphic that has players trying to line up color wheels against each other. Originally, THQ says, they were trying to get away from having HUD elements on screen, but for a back-and-forth battle like a submission, they found the graphics, while simple, just worked better.
Difficulty levels have been updated as well -- there are five different levels (as in previous titles), but there are options now to switch to "competition rules" (which make the game like a more traditional fighting video game) or "equalized stats" (which level the gaps between UFC fighters, allowing for player skill to shine through even if specific UFC fighters are better than others). That should shut your friend who always chooses Anderson Silva right up.
Overall, the changes seem good -- THQ was almost apologetic about dropping back from the yearly release schedule, but the extra development time should be worth it (not to mention that if the second game was any indication, UFC fans don't necessarily want or need a new iteration every year anyway). UFC Undisputed 3 is due out early next year.