When you’re pinned to the canvas with knuckles in your ribs, a knee in your kidney and hundreds of pounds of sweaty man-flesh urging you to tap out before you lose consciousness, it’s definitely time to re-evaluate what you’re doing. Such was the metaphorical situation in which the fledgling UFC series found itself a couple years back, unable to capitalize on the sports’ skyrocketing popularity with robotic, cookie-cutter efforts.

Instead of just plugging along and waiting to become obsolete in the manner of Tony Hawk or ‘Guitar Hero’ games, publisher THQ waited nearly two years to unleash the follow-up, and the patience paid off. Like a Jon Jones roundhouse kick to the jaw, ‘UFC Undisputed 3‘ is a wake-up call to MMA simulations. A genuine step forward for the genre, it’s rowdier, sloppier and less mechanical than its predecessors.

A comparison of the ‘UFC Undisputed’ to the mullet is in order. If the previous games were the business in the front, the threequel is the party in the back. The game has a looser feel in general, more a heated back alley rumble than ‘Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.’ Your old strike, block, strike and shoot in to take the opponent to the ground will no longer work so well. Now fighters more convincingly half-block and deflect hits rather than stop them as though their forearms are riot gear. You know how UFC matches can end in an instant when someone whips their foot into the side of someone’s skull? Now that happens here, too.

If you’re going up against someone who is quick with a long leg reach, you’re reduced to a cowering fool, desperate to slip in a lucky cross before it’s too late. Every enhanced attack has a counterpoint. If someone wants to take you down, you can brush them off with a quick knee to the jaw. If someone’s got you pinned and going for a knockout punch, you can shimmy to the side and try for a counter.

Despite the refined strategy, there’s still room for button-mashers. Multiple control schemes allow for more technical precision, while an amateur option treats your frenzied improvisation with more forgiveness. Slugging through each round made our forearms and hands genuinely sore, meaning some training is in order until we get into fighting shape.

It may be Valentine’s Day and all, but hopefully our wives and girlfriends will understand that we’ve got some work to do to be able to defend their honor in online bouts.

Rating: 8.5/10

UFC Undisputed 3 ($60) was developed by Yuke’s, published by THQ and is available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Rated T. The publisher provided a copy of the game for review.

Read Phil Villarreal’s blog at becauseitoldyouso.com and follow him on Twitter:@philvillarreal

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