The UFC is growing up -- and so is its game.
UFC Undisputed 3 (THQ)The world's biggest MMA organization is about to make the leap from cable to network courtesy of a seven-year deal with Fox TV. That's a serious boost from its previous deal with Spike TV, an upgrade that means millions more eyeballs on the fast-evolving sport.
And that suddenly positions THQ, the creators of two wildly successful UFC video games, as the Madden of MMA. While a few competitors have stormed the mixed-martial arts video game ring, none have managed to pry the belt from THQ's UFC Undisputed franchise. They named it correctly.
But unlike with EA's annual football release, the developers decided to avoid oversaturing the market by taking a year off from releasing a new game. The result is UFC Undisputed 3 -- and it already has one UFC fan impressed.
"The first game that came out was incredibly successful," said UFC president Dana White at a recent media event in Las Vegas. "The second game was a little better, but I can tell you right now — this is the one."
Ever the salesman, White might actually be right. In a case of great timing, the developers decided to streamline and simplify the complex fighting system, leading to a game that's got the pick-up-and-play potential past games lacked. Everything from striking to grappling to submissions can be handled with a few easy button presses or analog stick movements, turning what was a bit of a gameplay beast into a more accessible fighter.
But it's hardly leaving behind the hardcore fight fans. In fact, it's giving them more than just the UFC.
"This is completely different from the first game…the job they did recreating Pride was phenomenal, White said. "You can take UFC fighters and fight them in the ring, or take Pride fighters and fight them in the Octagon."
He's referring to UFC Undisputed 3's crowning achievement: reviving the defunct Pride fighting league.
Once considered the greatest threat to the UFC, Pride launched the careers of countless MMA legends, including Mirko 'Cro Cop' Filipovic, Antonio Nogueira and even current UFC middleweight champ, Anderson Silva. The league officially folded in 2007 before tasting the widespread success of the UFC, and it's certainly never gotten the video game homage it gets in UFC Undisputed 3.
The differences between the UFC and Pride matches in the game reflect the differences in the real-world leagues. Despite taking place in a conventional ring rather than an octagonal cage, Pride is much more savage. Head kicks to downed opponents are legal. So are knees to the head. It's brutal, bloody and a dream come true for fans of MMA. They've even got younger versions of current UFC fighters, from Wanderlei Silva to Quentin 'Rampage' Jackson, lending a 'legends' feel to the match-ups.
The game goes bigger with other touches as well, from customized fighter ring entrances to real UFC refs calling the action. And should you be getting beaten down — and there's a good chance you will — a smart in-game hint system pops up in between rounds via your trainer explaining what you need to do to stop getting smashed in the face. Hint: guard.
With no other MMA games on the horizon — and with the UFC taking a big step forward with Fox — UFC Undisputed 3 is bound to be a big deal for MMA fans. Look for it on the Xbox 360 and PS3 on February 14.