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We're still amazed at how well THQ adapted the Ultimate Fighting Championship to the videogame medium. UFC: Undisputed had its issues when it was released in 2009, but it succeeded where other fighting simulations failed in creating an entertaining MMA brawler. The sequel, UFC: Undisputed 2010 faltered, however, not due to a lack of polish, but due to a lack of purpose – there was no reason to take the series yearly, and after 2010's iteration failed to succeed on shelves, the publisher decided to take more time between the games.
With that extra time, THQ fixed most of the problems with UFC Undisputed's career mode and gameplay. No longer are we forced to spend more time managing stats than we did fighting – the downtime between matches is slower, cut down to two-weeks which can be blasted through without any problem. No longer are we forced to play through painful and boring training mini-games – they're still there, but they're better and actually help train your fighter as well as your fingers. No longer are we forced to stumble through endless menus to get back into the Octagon – everything is sleek and easy to navigate.
It's a streamlined experience this time around which, when mixed in with the improved gameplay, makes for a much, much more entertaining UFC career mode. But it's conflicted. Despite being technically sound, sporting vast improvements over every element of the gameplay, it's confused as to what it is to be a career mode, sitting in-between two extremes and refusing to take the full step into either.
Undisputed 3 seems to have split the difference between attempting to immerse us in the UFC brand and attempting to immerse us in the UFC experience. In 2010's iteration, it was all about giving us the UFC experience – we worked our way up the rankings, met with UFC coaches, talked in post-fight interviews, and talked to a computer-generated Dana White. We answered emails, trained, and did everything else a UFC fighter would on his way to becoming a star. Was it silly? Sure, but it did a great job at making us feel like we were in the UFC, and we were excited to see where future iterations would take the immersive career.
The answer, we found out, was by removing most of the immersive elements of the career mode entirely. The cinematic, personal segments were replaced with archival footage and interviews giving context to fights. When we entered into the UFC we were greeted with a video explaining exactly what the UFC was. After our first professional win a UFC fighter told us what was going through his head when he won his first fight - when we earned our first title fight we heard from fighters what that experience was like. We were invited into the heads of different UFC fighters every time we approached a milestone, and it was interesting to hear what they were thinking when they fought.
Above: Flipping tires is so much more fun than it should be (so it's slightly fun)
As we watched more of these beautifully-edited videos and learned about their experiences we realized that UFC Undisputed 3 was sharing all of this with us because it didn't care about our character. Our character has a name, a belt, a weight class, but the game doesn't care. It treats its career mode like a supplement to the UFC brand, removing the personal interviews, the cutscenes, and the actual feeling of being a UFC fighter.
This would be fine if not for the fact that there are still remnants of the old way. We joined fight camps, we saw our character show up on random magazine covers, and we won "Fighter of the Year" awards that fold our fictional fighter into the UFC. Why remove the post-fight interviews but leave in magazines? Why include fight camps if they serve no purpose besides learning more moves?
Luckily, the tone of the career mode didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves. We smiled from ear-to-ear as we punched and kicked our way through our favorite UFC fighters in order to get a title shot, and the added ability to go up a weight class or fight in Pride after we'd succeeded was a fantastic addition to the game. It all works great...
...we just wish the developer decided what a career really means.
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