My head felt like it was 2006 and had just received a Cro Cop left leg kick. I played so much UFC Undisputed 3 this weekend my brain was begging for mercy. As a self proclaimed hardcore gamer I usually don't get splitting headaches. In fact, I feel my brain has a great tolerance to flashing lights and loud noises, but I just played almost 300 matches of Undisputed 3 in a little over 36 hours, and it felt like my gray matter was bouncing around inside my skull like Clay Guida after a double espresso. Eventually I mustered the courage to open my eyes. The ceiling to room 1026 of San Francisco's Westin hotel greeted me through a blur. The room looked like like hell; crumbled up scraps of paper with various cryptic notes on the upcoming UFC 3 career mode were strewn about the room. I cursed myself quietly then got on my hands and knees to collect my notes. I had to make sense of just what exactly went down this weekend in San Francisco. For the last 20 months I've been a card carrying, flag waving advocate of EA MMA, but with that franchise looking dead, I had to do some major soul searching to decide of THQ's latest UFC offering was really all they were hyping it up to be. I stepped over to my window and parted the shades, it was really bright out.
It all began on Friday the 13th. We had specific instructions to wake up early, way too early, at least for any MiddleEasy employee. We are more accustomed to going to bed as the sun comes up rather than waking up with it. Outside a light fog covered Market street where myself, and the collected media corps covering this Undisputed career mode reveal, patiently waited to be piled into a musty smelling van. Eventually we were transported to an inconspicuous looking brick building. As I stepped inside the dream of every gamer was realized: rows of monitors had the full build of the game ready and waiting for us to play, all while a giant projection screen showed replays of the best knockouts in UFC history. It was both awesome and strangely comforting, as this is essentially how I spend my daily life at home; gaming and watching fights, only this time I was on the west coast and all the breakfast pastries I could handle were on THQ's tab. I was told to sit down and have at it, the next nine hours would be myself and the UFC Undisputed career mode. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, did a quick stretch and picked up the controller.
I already had a lengthy play session in the Undisputed Alpha last month, so I was familiar with the game play which is so improved over last year you probably won't even believe me when I praise it. It's important to point out how much I loved EA MMA and how much I loathed UFC 2010, but even with that said I still played UFC 2010 like a cheap piano. I went through 2010's career mode in four weight classes, so I had an idea of what horror I might be getting into in this dark San Francisco club. My fears were quickly soothed, but first, the controls. UFC 3 is by no means an easy game. Even with the 'Amateur' controls. When you watch matches between players who are just starting out on the game, fights will look reminiscent of the previous installments: IE Rock em Sock em Robots. It's only after a few hours that you will truly be able to understand the nuances of the game, using feints and sways, grinding your opponent into the cage, and it's because of this somewhat difficult learning curve I found the game play very rewarding, even though I was aware of how polarizing it could be to a novice.
The career mode starts and footage of Royce Gracie in the SEG days of the UFC flashes up on the screen. I think to myself 'thank you'. Within the first half hour of the game I felt like this game was made for me, for the EA MMA fans, for the fans of the sport that have have taken the time to learn the history if they weren't there to live it. And if you are a new fan, this game has a Cliff's notes of the sport that feels more genuine than even EA MMA's admirable job. Especially due to all of the licenses Zuffa owns. Footage of Rampage, Rich Franklin and others fighting in the WFA as you start out is awesome, it gave me a feeling of purpose and I reveled in it. I couldn't wait to create my digital MMA fighter and get in there.
The character creation is a lot like 2010 but with much, much more to do. I don't think I have to go too deep into it, if you've played the previous games you get the idea. I create a welterweight fighter who's main school is Karate, decide to train at Black House (mural on the wall and everything) then head into my first WFA fight in which I get choked out in the first round. Damn. I put the game on a harder setting than suggested when I was first calibrating my career mode with the built in tutorial. That's fine though, plenty of fighters have have lost their first pro fight. After a few 'tune up' fights I go 6-2 over and I get the call I've been waiting for: my title shot in the WFA. Between each fight you have two weeks to train and build up stats or learn new moves. I like my skill set, so I improve my cardio and then take a look at my opponent, he's a wrestler and I have horrible TD defense. This is a tough decision. I decide a stiff drink will help me figure it out. As I make my way over to the bar I'm mulling over my two options; I could game plan for having to fight off my back, giving me a boost to all necessary stats for that fight, or I could have more confidence in myself and just train in my take down defense or fighting off my back. I lean over the bar top, deep in thought. I must have looked troubled as the bartender shot me a concerned glance as he wiped dry some newly cleaned pint glasses. He throws his rag over his shoulder and talks me through my decision. He understands what's on the line, and even though I'm in San Francisco he told me through a thick Boston accent that preparation is the key to everything in life. That settles it, I decide to game plan for fighting off my back. If I got this WFA belt the guys at Black House would stop pranking me and I would be in the UFC in no time. This was it, my time to shine.
My opponent never had a chance to take me down. I knocked him out in just over a minute with a kick Lyoto Machida taught me. Ed Soares runs into the cage celebrating. Back in San Francisco I sip my drink as I watch my digital self fist pump and scream. He worked so hard for this fight, and I have no doubt God was with me when I won that WFA belt. But now what? The UFC has offered me an undercard fight on a Fight Night broadcast, but I decide I want to cement my legacy in the WFA. I defend my belt twice more then lose it to the same guy who made me tap in my first match. I train submissions and ground fighting, win my next two fights and I get my rematch. The champ comes out and wants to touch gloves but I kick him in the head instead, which is met with a chorus of boos and chants of "bullsh**". This time our match is a four round brawl that leaves me the bloody victor. I would defend multiple submission attempts and the fight would go on to win Fight Of The Year. I was tired, but 4 years into my career and with a 12-4 record the UFC decided to offer me either a main card spot on a Fight Night broadcast or an undercard slot on a PPV. I decide to move on to the UFC, relinquishing my belt in the WFA to prepare for a match against Matt Hughes.
The best way to put it is like this: the career mode has way less micromanagement and way more fighting. After losing to Hughes via a doctor stoppage, I go on a six fight win streak, including some late fill in fights that I took at the last second to get in the good graces of Dana and Joe Silva. Eventually I get offered a spot in the Pride GP. I could have main evented a UFC PPV, but this was too good to pass up. It's every fight fans dream. I make my way out as Lenne Hardt screams my name. I battle my way through the legendary Pride tournament, eventually knocking out Mark Munoz with a glorious soccer kick in the final round and I'm awash in confetti with the adulation of thousands of Japanese fight fans pouring over me. All that while holding a gigantic trophy. Life is good.
Then I lose my next four fights in a row.
I'm not a guy who blames their camp or anything, but I think the weight cut was getting to my character. Black House was insisting that I should fight at 170, when I knew my money weight was at 85. Sorry Anderson, you're 42 now and not even the champion. You see, after a long winning or losing streak you have the option of moving up or down a weight class, so I move up to 185 for the last five years of my career with mixed results. I would go on to win the Pride GP one more time, but also lose in the opening round another year. After fifty fights I had to call it a career, finishing 6th in the middleweight division. I would never win a UFC title, but now that it's over I feel good about my career, and I'll be able to relive it through the in game highlight reel mode.
The sense of ownership over your character in this rejuvenated career mode for UFC 3 is hard to deny. Coupled with better graphics, a more responsive control scheme, deep character customization and just overall smoother gameplay, I can't help but put this right up there with EA MMA and light years beyond the previous installments. I didn't want to believe resident MiddleEasy videogame expert Tha Premiere when he told me how improved and satisfying this game was, but after a long weekend with it I believe him .
Now here I am in this dark hotel room a few hundred matches after I finished my career mode. Could this game actually be better than EA MMA? It certainly has more customization, more licensing and one of the most in depth career modes ever seen in an MMA game. It doesn't offend my intelligence as an MMA fan. It may not be the most accessible game in the world, but that's fine, I don't want that. As an MMA fan I want the Madden of MMA to come out, not the Blitz. I want it all, and fighting as Ryo Chonan Vs. Anderson Silva in the Pride ring just feels good. It's what the Gary LaPlante's of the world have always wanted. This is what the true successor to UFC 2009 should have been, an extreme step in the right direction. In fact, it's more than a step, it's a globe crossing leap. UFC 3 is without a doubt the best of the series, and even with this headache that doesn't want to go away, I'm thinking I might put in some eye drops, pop a couple aspirin and go upstairs to play more while I still can. It's that good. And don't forget, if you like UFC Undisputed's Facebook page you can get Overeem for free. Post horse meat Overeem in Pride? Yes, please.