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Pride FC

Review By:  J. Michael Neal

 
Developer:   Anchor
Publisher:   THQ
# Of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Fighting
ESRB:   Mature
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   5-1-03

Pride FC is the most disappointing game to come out all year. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I was expecting too much from the game.

As a devoted “Mixed Martial Arts”, or MMA, fan I was very excited when I heard THQ was publishing a game based on the Pride Fighting Championship license. Pride Fighting Championship, or Pride FC, is a big thing in Japan. It gets the sort of mainstream support that major league sports get over here and easily dwarfs the UFC in terms of size and funding. When I heard that Anchor, the team responsible for bringing the first (and what many consider best) UFC title to the gaming world, was set to develop I was thoroughly stoked. By the time I heard the roster would feature such legends as Royce Gracie, Don Frye, Ken Shamrock, Wanderlei Silva, and Kazushi Sakuraba I was about ready to explode. “How could this game possibly go wrong?” I thought to myself. Little did I know I was about to find out.

The first alarm went off in my head when I found out that Anchor was going to recycle the same, three year old engine that every UFC game to date has used. Refusal to go back to the drawing board with engines has never gone well for long-standing series (see also: Tomb Raider, see also: Resident Evil) and is usually a sign that things are about to get stale. I was also a little alarmed when I found out that they were going to continue to use the “Vitality Bar”, which makes about as much sense here as it did in Kengo: Master of Bushido. My mind was eased, though, after hearing things like “one hit knock outs”, “new fighting positions”, “improved engine”, and “one of the best Create-A-Fighter options this side of Smackdown.”

Well, some time passed and I got a demo in the mail. Things definitely looked promising. The visuals were clean, the sound effects were solid, and the controls were tight. The game felt and played a lot like the UFC games, only smoother. Positions flowed into each other much easier, countering and reversing was slightly improved, and there were a few new takedowns and submissions. Plus the two new positions, the one-person standing/one-person on the ground and the “clutch”, were pretty cool. Everything looked like it was shaping up nicely. The game wouldn’t be very “revolutionary”, but would do a fine job of picking up where the UFC games left off.

A month or so goes by and the game finally gets released, several months past the original due date mind you. Hopeful that the extra time was spent adding moves and positions and polishing gameplay I pop the disc into my Playstation 2 CD tray and boot it up. After countless hours spent with the game, both alone and with friends, I am safe to say that Pride FC is just about the biggest disappointment I’ve had in a long, long time. Not only does the game fail to add anything of worth to the genre, it actually lacks a lot of what Throwdown and Tapout offered gamers! It’s as if Anchor was oblivious to what Opus (the developers who took the UFC reins from Anchor after the first title) had done with the franchise and “fighting sim” genre and designed this game as a sequel to Ultimate Fighting Championship for the Dreamcast instead of a sequel to Throwdown for the Playstation 2 like they should have.

The first thing you’ll notice is the lack of modes. There is the One Match (which shouldn’t even count), a Training mode (which also shouldn’t count) the Survival mode (a standard in fighting games for the past 10 years, shouldn’t count), the Grand Prix (a glorified tournament mode, shouldn’t count), and that’s it. No career mode, no championship mode, nothing. To add insult to injury there is no reward for winning the Grand Prix, which can easily be won on your first try, or completing the Survival mode. You don’t unlock new moves, or hidden characters, or additional highlight footage. You are simply treated with a brief cut scene of your fighting jumping around like an idiot and some credits. Meanwhile, not only does Throwdown have an outstanding Career mode, among others, but also plenty of incentive to complete them thanks to unlockable moves for each character and a few hidden fighters as well.

There is a Create-a-Fighter option in there somewhere, but it’s easily forgettable. It’s nothing like WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth’s. Variation is so limited here that one or two fighters will completely exhaust all character possibilities. There are too few moves in the game and hardly anything to choose from in terms of appearance. Also, little strategy goes into planning your fighter. You’ll either pump everything into your standing or ground game, than just max out endurance. That’s because after a few practice rounds you’ll discover that there is no point to striking a balance between the two, despite the fact that’s what MMA is all about. You can program custom combos, which is pretty cool, but once you realize that setting up the most button-mash-friendly combos possible is the key to winning a standing fight all skill is removed from of the game. In the end most created fighters will end up playing identical to one another, so like much of the game so far, negates itself.

Even if you do take the time and build a perfect fighter, there is nothing to do with him aside from pit him against a friend, unless you want to run him through the utterly pointless Grand Prix or Survival mode. For this reason Pride FC relays solely on its multiplayer experience for entertainment. Playing this game with friends can be fun, but how many games aren’t? Gameplay itself isn’t too bad, it’s pretty much a slightly tweaked version of the UFC engine, it’s just annoying. Why is it annoying? Well, although there are a few new positions, countering is been improved, reversing is been expanded, and positions flow into one another a little smoother, some things are noticeably missing. First of all sidestep moves have been removed. They have forward dash moves, and back dash moves like in Throwdown, but no sidesteps. Second, I can name you about two-dozen moves that were present in Throwdown yet are nowhere to be seen in Pride FC. You’d think, if anything, a game like this should have more, not less. Third, the promised “one hit knock-outs” are nowhere to be found. I’ve played dozens of matches and have yet to see a single one hit knockout. What is MMA without the random 42 second, first round knockout?

Another problem is that fighters don’t handle like their real-life counterparts. Sure, there is some vague preference for standing or ground fighting among them, but that is about as deep as it goes. For the most part Royce Gracie doesn’t fight like Royce Gracie, Shamrock doesn’t fight like Shamrock, Sakuraba doesn’t fight like Sakuraba, and so on. It’s due to how ridged and limited the engine is, though. It will never be possible to capture the true feel of MMA without abandoning this outdated engine. There needs to be something faster, more spontaneous, and more free flowing powering these games. Either way, it’s pointless to include such legends in the game if you can’t tell who they are just be watching them in action.

There are also a lot of little things the game is missing, like, for example, an auto-save feature (Throwdown had it) and really fast load times. This game has to load the pre-fight movie, then load the intros, then load the fight. Throwdown did all that with one, quick load. And can you believe Player 2 can only remap his control pad by using Player 1’s controller! It’s just ridiculous! Even the ability to remove the health bar from the screen isn’t a good idea, since there is no way to tell how healthy your fighter is just by looking at him (they don’t limp or bruise or anything) and you have no idea when a sissy slap will end up knocking you out.

Visually the game is nothing special. The graphics are nice and clean and characters models are large and fairly recognizable, although lacking detail. The blood effects could have used some work, as could the ring and audience, and some proportions seem off (“Why do everyone’s arms seem to stubby?”). Overall, though, the game looks marginally better than Throwdown, although that’s not really saying much.

Sound is also nothing much to talk about. There’s not much music to speak of, and what’s there sounds like middle-of-the-road 80s rock. Sound effects are loud and crisp, but there only seems to be three or four of them at best. Also, there is no commentary or recorded player voices, which could have added a lot to the game.

Probably the best thing about Pride FC is the highlight footage included in the game and the opening movie. But there can even be some complaints about that! I mean, first of all most of the footage is very low quality, and second most of the “highlights” aren’t even that note worthy! It seems that they left most of these fighter’s best moments on the cutting room floor. It would do you more good just to rent a “Best Of” DVD from your local video store.

HIGHS:

  • Slightly improved fighting.
  • Highlight footage.
  • Incredible lineup of fighters.
  • MMA = a good thing.

LOWS:

  • Sparse modes.
  • Non-existent single player.
  • Regressive gameplay.
  • Fighters are nothing like their real-life counterparts.
  • Mediocre visuals and sound.
  • Weak Create-a-Fighter.
  • Need I continue?

FINAL VERDICT:

A theme that seemed to have run through this game was that of taking one step forwards and two steps back. Anchor would add something to a particular area of this game, then take two other things away from it. What this adds up to in the end is a game that is well behind the competition. Games that came out over a year ago like Throwdown and Tapout seem more current than this one, and that’s a real shame. This game could have really been something if more effort and thought put into it. I wanted to like this game, hell, I wanted to love this game, but everything prevented me from doing so. There is no real reason to even play this game. The game offers nothing beyond a throwaway multiplayer single that could easily be satisfied with the free demo in circulation. If you are absolutely dieing to play the complete game, it might be worth a rental, although not a very long one, but since you are on your way to the video store you might as well just pick up the Ultimate Knockouts and Ultimate Submissions DVD set or something, you’d have much more fun with that. Or, just pick up TDK's Tapout 2 instead.

Overall Score: 5.2

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