‘UFC Undisputed 3’ a technical knockout

UFC isn’t just that thing your buddies watch at the bar while eating hot wings anymore. Now, players can dive fist-first into the sweaty, bloody, face-smashing, arm-twisting world of mixed martial arts. Be warned, however, that learning every facet of the game’s exhaustively deep combat will take a lot of sweat and tears.

You don’t have to know anything about the combination of kickboxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu that make up mixed martial arts (MMA) to play “UFC Undisputed 3,” but it helps. The game is as faithful to the source material as is imaginable, so being able to tell the difference between a double leg takedown and a Superman punch will definitely pay off.

Players will have to be able to strike and block high and low, keep track of damage done to each of their limbs, know how to pull the opponent to the ground, how to maneuver into a dominant position while grappling an opponent, how to force your opponent to surrender via a painful joint lock, and how to escape your opponent’s attempts to do the same to you. There are also unique attacks for each fighter, special tactics when you’ve cornered your opponent, statistics to raise, sponsors and sparring partners to seek, and much more. There’s so much information to absorb that “UFC 3” can’t claim to have a learning curve at all. It’s really a learning cliff with no apparent bottom.

With that said, “UFC 3’s” greatest triumph is its dedication to explaining every wrinkle of the game’s systems and subsystems. The tutorial mode is divided into four sections—each one consisting of around fifteen chapters. Once players tackle the robust career mode, which allows them to create their own fighter and work their way up through the ranks, the nuances of training camps, wearing logos to earn money, and leveling up your stats and special moves are all explained in detail. Commentary from real-life UFC personalities also reveal the fighting styles and background of the fighters before the match begins, which will help newcomers plot out their plan of attack.

The fundamental gameplay remains largely unchanged from the last games, but a few tweaks to move properties, a new mini-game to determine if a submission succeeds or not, and the addition of the Pride fighting league should be enough to lure veteran players back into the ring. The usual versus, arcade, and tournament modes return, as well as a slew of standard, but solid online modes.

The massive roster of real-world fighters comes equipped with their signature moves, but those looking to fight their way through the ranks as a tattooed wrestler with pink dreadlocks can mess around with the game’s impressively detailed Create-a-Fighter mode. Everything from the logos you wear on your shorts to the victory pose after a match can be customized, though female fighters and the wackier creations of other fighting games like “Tekken” are still off-limits. After selecting your base fighting style and weight division, the player can improve their character’s stats by completing one of many training mini-games or sticking to a “game plan” set up before the match. For instance, if you schedule a fight against an opponent who is inexperienced with wrestling, you would pick a game plan that boosts your wrestling stats and allows you to exploit his weakness. It’s a unique strategic element that makes every bloody battle feel like a satisfyingly premeditated act of violence.

The presentation has not made a dramatic leap since the last game, but the characters definitely resemble their likenesses, and in the heat of battle the motion captured animations and facial expressions can seem so realistic that you may momentarily forget you’re looking at a videogame. Though none of the game’s fighters speak during the fights, unlockable interviews and convincing commentary give the game an authentic feel. While the load times and in-game commercials are a little obnoxious, and the new submission mini-game momentarily destroys the game’s hard-earned sense of immersion, it’s a small complaint to raise against a game whose only real flaw is just how long it takes to learn how to play properly.

Fans of UFC or anyone looking for a game with real staying power should strap on their gloves and boxing shorts and brawl until their heart’s content. Grappling with the sheer complexity of the gameplay may turn off most players, but hey, nothing worth doing is easy.