UFC Undisputed 2010 must have proved to be something of a disappointment for both publisher THQ and licensee, the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s not that UFC Undisputed 2010 was a bad game by any stretch of the imagination. Beyond a woefully poor online component the game was largely mechanically sound. Instead, the game failed to capture and replicate the success of what proved to be the biggest year on record for the world’s premier Mixed Martial Arts competition.

Pay-per-view figures for the Ultimate Fighting Championship in 2010 are extremely impressive. It has the fastest growing spectatorship in the world. It’s also one important enough to the games industry and its consumers that Microsoft decided to dedicate a portion of its E3 media event to the announcement of an exclusive pay-per-view partnership with the league.

Some of the mixed reception, no doubt, comes down to the term ‘sport’. In the world of videogames, there’s a clear delineation between sports titles and fighting titles. Fighting games need easily comprehensible rules: behind the fireballs and gymnastics, they’re a grandiose game of paper-scissors-rock with room for flourishing punishment if a weakness is exposed.

On the other hand, UFC Undisputed 2010 was more sports simulator than tournament fighter. Players had to come to grips with a convoluted control schematic which meant that simply picking up and playing against someone fractionally more experienced could be punishing.

Perhaps the most significant indicator that the next instalment in the UFC franchise hopes to redress these shortcomings is its title. This is not UFC Undisputed 2011, but UFC Undisputed 3. Here is a game that has had 18, rather than 12 months in development. Presumably, it sets a precedent for the turnaround on future instalments too. In order to keep the game fresh for longer, UFC Undisputed 3’s menu background will dynamically update on connected consoles to feature artwork from the latest UFC pay-per-view event.

THQ says that UFC Undisputed 3 has benefitted dramatically from a comprehensive user feedback report, and that approximately 95 per cent of the changes requested by the community have been implemented.

In order to appeal to core fighter fans, the game also introduces amateur and professional control configurations. Those hoping to pick up and have a go on a Friday night will be able to access an essential suite of skills and remain competitive against seasoned players without spending an hour sobering up in tutorial purgatory.

Those who do wish to learn the games intricacies will find a more robust tutorial system that gradually educates players on the niceties of mixed martial arts. A number of new skills have also been added such as swaying and sway counters. The submission system has also been overhauled: After placing an opponent in a submission hold, an octagon appears on the screen with two moveable bars. Chasing one another around the octagon, the aggressor must cover the defender’s bar in order to force a tap-out or pass-out. If at first it feels like it’s an immersive disconnect, it quickly proves to be a highly entertaining mini-game of cat-and-mouse.

To further define the rule-set some features, such as random knockouts, have also been somewhat curtailed. This, says THQ, is already paying dividends within the fighting gamer community. UFC Undisputed 3 recently made a non-competitive appearance at premier international videogame fighting tournament Evo alongside established titles such as Tekken, Marvel vs. Capcom and Street Fighter. The feedback, THQ assures us, was overwhelmingly positive.

The presentation of fights has also been overhauled. The goal is to bring players closer to the action and in keeping with the move away from sports simulation, the camera now enters the cage rather than remaining fixed to the broadcast perspective. We also now follow fighters and their entourage as the make the walk from the locker ring to the cage. Some fighters will even make their signature entry.

The final significant addition to UFC Undisputed 3 is Pride, the former Japanese Mixed Martial Arts tournament. Those familiar with Pride will know it as a league with few of the scruples that apply to UFC. Fighters ruthlessly hammer at one another with little input or interference from the referee. Knees drop onto the heads of downed opponents. Garish techno and laser light displays distract from excitable commentary delivered wholly in Japanese. The fighters, too, bear the statistics and appear as they did – which is to say, usually enhanced by steroids – in their Pride fighting days. It’s fine touch that lends credibility to its inclusion in this game.

There’s still much to be determined about UFC Undisputed 3. Certainly we won’t know how the multiplayer component stacks up until release – a critical shortcoming in the last iteration. It’s also possible that seasoned fans of the series will consider UFC Undisputed 3 a “dumbed down” product. Whether that’s fair will need to be assessed closer to the game’s release in January. But the game needs broader appeal, frankly. To our eyes, UFC Undisputed 3 is a promising improvement.