To borrow a phrase from Bruce Buffer... It's Time! With more fighters, accessibility and options than ever, UFC Undisputed 3 is the poster child for abandoning the yearly release cycle.
Take the roster for example. More than 100 UFC fighters across seven weight classes are available for you to play as - with more on their way as DLC. Add to this more than 30 PRIDE legends, and you wind up with a two person fighter with more than 150 available options.
Ridiculous doesn't even begin to describe it.
At first it seems diminished - in UFC mode fighters can only compete with those in their own weight class, so you're looking at something closer to 15 - 20 people per division. In UFC 3's new PRIDE mode though, the weight classes are truncated to just four weight classes - meaning you can have your Anderson Silva/George St Pierre dream matchup with one proviso... They're allowed to stomp on each other's heads.
That's right, PRIDE mode brings back the more barbaric parts of MMA. The foot stops, the knees to the head, the soccer kicks... they're all open season in PRIDE mode, making it a spectacularly entertaining mode to both play and watch.
Adding to the entertainment is the addition of Bas Rutten and Stephen Quadros as the commentators for PRIDE - while Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan continue to deliver some of the most reactive and intelligent commentary in any sports videogame, El Guapo and The Fight Doctor just seem to have fun with it.
Another massive addition this year is the new control system - the option of an amateur ground game. Designed to simplify what is admittedly one of the most complicated fighting game systems, it works unbelievably well at two things.
First of all, it does what it is supposed to do - by reducing all transitions to either a flick upwards or a flick downwards of the right thumbstick, new players are able to move around while on the ground. This opens up a brand new aspect in their fighting - especially in PRIDE mode, where the ground is more than just a fast track to a submission (or a Full Mount Ground'n'Pound beating).
The second thing is for the better players. Those using amateur controls can't reverse transitions - this is their punishment for using "easy mode". Of course, if the player using Pro controls doesn't really reverse transitions much, this advantage is moot - so you're encouraged to utilise transitions a lot more. This leads to the new players learning to time transitions better (to not get reversed), which leads them to understand the sport a bit better and everyone becomes a better all-around fighter.
The options available are well-thought out, too. Competition and Equalised modes both skew the game heavily towards being viable on the competitive scene - a strong point for me, as it's the only fighting game I'm any good at.
The other great option is Simulation mode - this increases the stamina cost and damage of every strike and move, meaning fights are much more realistic... if you have a habit of wading in and soaking damage with your face, it won't be long before the mats are soaking in your drool. My favourite fights in the game so far have all come from Simulation mode - especially when an epic hard hitting fight still somehow manages to go the distance for a split decision win.
Continuing this insane focus on options are the two tournament modes. You can do a normal UFC tournament, which is fine (if a little vanilla) or - if you're truly insane - you can do a PRIDE Grand Prix tournament.
Here every fight is on the same night, so between rounds you maintain a significant amount of the damage you took during the previous fight. As you make your way through each round you slowly become more and more damaged until you reach the Grand Final, where you and your opponent will both probably begin the match at 50% damage.
Once again there is a career mode, but I feel like this time around it's not as good as I'd have liked. The addition of career films - videos cut together from real footage and interviews focused on your current challenge (like your first title shot, for example) - is good, and it's definitely cool to see what the real fighters were going through at the time.
However, I think Career modes in sports games have progressed beyond the simplistic concept borrowed once more froom the previous UFC game. NBA 2K12, which hinges on rewarding you for your successes in games, is the perfect example of how a sports career mode should progress. Hell, if I was actually rewarded for my actions in-game I wouldn't even mind the stat degradation so many complained about in UFC 2010.
Instead you find yourself completing 'training' tasks in-between fights, forcing you to manage stat building with growing your character's moveset. Added to this is evidence of diminishing returns in the stat building gained from training, and you wind up struggling to build your characters stats at a rate which keeps them competitive compared to the opponents they're taking on next.
I'm also disappointed that once again The Ultimate Fighter house plays no role in the UFC series, despite how pivotal it has been to the wider success of the promotion. I have little interest in role-playing punching down doors or peeing in people's bags, but as a mode where you might actually manage your hype I think it would be interesting.
UFC Undisputed 3 is still the champion. It's going to be the champion for a very long time. In terms of combat sports games the only contender is EA's Fight Night series - for those of us enamoured with the finesse of the ground game and the massive arsenal of a kickboxer's stand-up game, EA's title will never be enough.
Still, it feels just a little bit like this year's champion is a tiny bit complacent. Reminiscent of Anderson Silva versus Damian Maia in April of 2010, UFC Undisputed 3 knows it's the best. It knows it can't be beaten, and while it's still getting better all the time it's not trying as hard as I think it should be.
Don't get me wrong - this is the best UFC game, the best combat sports game and one of the better fighting games to come out... it's just that I can see it being even better, and I'm disappointed that hasn't happened yet.