Do you know what it actually feels like to take a Muay Thai roundhouse to the leg? If you've never felt the thud of shin bone on prone quadriceps then it might appear a fairly tame way to attack another human being. It isn't. Once you've felt that splitting of muscle and savage aggravating of nerve, sending emergency signals firing through your entire body from the tips of your toes to the lenses of your eyeballs, your whole perception of hand-to-hand combat changes forever.
I've just come fresh from rendering Urijah Faber's leg to mincemeat with the human baseball bat Jose Aldo in UFC: Undisputed 3, and the addition of leg kick TKOs is just one example of this latest iteration getting the little things right. The MMA obsessed will purr over nerdy minutiae like the new seated cage position, or the ability to take an opponent's back while you're both still standing, while hardcore UFC nuts will cheer at every one of Jon Jones' spinning elbows or the sight of GSP's powerful double-leg. THQ and Yuke's have managed to include all the little details and personality ticks you want to see from the Ultimate Fighting Championship's most famous stars, and tuck them into their most complete, balanced and sturdy engine yet. This game sees the Forrest and the trees, if you will.
There's no point splitting hairs (or should that be eyebrows?) over the fact Undisputed 3 is for the fans. If you're after some rock 'em sock 'em head-smashing action, or the thought of two men tangled in a warm embrace on a sweaty mat turns your stomach, this really isn't the game for you. Undisputed 3 is for people who'll get excited by improved counter-punching, which sees jabs and straights now halting more powerful attacks mid-animation, so you can truly box off the back foot and frustrate your haymaker-hurling opponent. This is for the Tapout-clad Underground-lurking fanboys who know their Josh Rosenthals from their Josh Koschecks and their AKAs from their ATTs.
The in-cage (or in-ring if you're playing the new PRIDE mode) action is still a little stilted and robotic compared to the sublime fluidity of EA's MMA, but there's so much depth to the brawling. Every position, from standing to clinch to ground, and everything between, has been lavished with detail - there are so many ways to transition from one facet of MMA to the next. Case in point: takedowns. The old UFC games let you shoot for a double leg before both players twiddled with the right stick until either the takedown was completed, or it was stuffed. It was a fairly competent system, but one sorely lacking in subtlety.
That system is still there, but now takedowns can be charged into the cage and completed using a throw, they can be sprawled out of (leaving the aggressor in danger), they can be shrugged off completely, or they can dive under a strong strike and lift a fighter clean off his heels. Mercifully, there's no unstoppable Machida takedown this year either; as clear a demonstration as any that a game like this needed more than the 10-month development cycle UFC 2010 struggled through.
This depth and meticulous balance seeps into every area of UFC Undisputed 3 like warm salty sanguine to the eyes. Where there's an attack, there's a counter. This is particularly prevalent in the new submission system. Not only can you now block an incoming submission attempt (vitally), the new mini-game gives a clear indication of who's winning the battle and why. An octagon appears on screen with two coloured outlines, one for each player, and the aggressor needs to keep his coloured outline over the defender's until he gets the tapout, while the other guy just needs to keep away. It's not as elegant as EA MMA's dual submission meters, but it's a damn sight better than mashing your pad into a fine powder with the 'shine' method from the last two games. And importantly, it's now perfectly feasible to submit the CPU on any difficulty.