Pride FC is a no-holds-barred fighting organization based in Japan. Its rules are similar to those of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a more well-known mixed-martial-arts tournament. The games based on these events are also quite similar, as THQ's new Pride game was developed by Japan-based Anchor, the company that developed the first UFC game for the Dreamcast. While the similarities between the two games are nearly endless, Pride FC delivers deeper, more fluid gameplay than any mixed-martial-arts game to date, making for an especially exciting two-player game.
Pride contains 25 real-world fighters, including Kazushi Sakuraba, Ken Shamrock, Don Frye, Wanderlei Silva, Renzo and Royce Gracie, Gary Goodridge, Carlos Newton, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The game's fighters handle roughly the same as one another, giving the game a good "pick up and play" feel, but once you've mastered the controls, the characters' differences really start to shine through. For example, Silva is a savage striking machine, while Sakuraba is more of a well-rounded fighter. The different fighters aren't exactly balanced so that one isn't any better than another, but there aren't any "impossible" matchups to be found, either.
Like previous games of this type, Pride FC maps one of the controller's four face buttons to each of your fighter's four limbs. When combined with movement on the D pad, you can use these buttons to perform several different strikes. Combining button presses lets you attempt to grab your opponent and bring him down to the mat, counter strikes, and put your opponent in a submission hold, among other things. The game features a few positions and situations that haven't been represented in any of the UFC games, such as some standing sprawl and clinch animations, which can even result in a match-ending guillotine choke. You'll also find that some strikes can knock a fighter down without rendering him unconscious, setting up a situation in which one player is standing while the other scoots around on his back, snapping kicks up at the standing player's knees. The additional situations, combined with the much-improved submission-move dynamics, really make Pride FC feel far more fluid than any of the other games in the genre. Simply put, Pride feels less like a series of canned animations and more like a real fight.
Pride FC also contains a create-a-fighter mode. The visual options for your created characters are pretty standard, letting you choose tattoos, ring attire, facial hair, and so on. What really sets the mode apart from the pack is that it lets you configure all your fighter's moves and combos for each of the game's different fighting positions. You can create multiple branching combos for each position, and the game gives you some good statistics on each move, helping you create more-damaging sets of strikes. The only thing missing here is a way to jump directly into the ring from the create section to test your character out. Instead, you have to jump all the way out to the training mode and load your fighter. Even then, there's no way to get a look at your list of combos.
While Pride is easily at its best in its multiplayer modes, it does have some single-player options that will hold your interest for a time. The grand prix mode takes you through a 16-man Pride tournament, the survival mode puts you up against fighter after fighter until you lose, and the one-match mode lets you set up any fight you wish. The grand prix and one-match modes are the two options that allow for multiplayer combat. Grand prix even lets you set up tournaments with up to 16 human players. The fights are frantically fast and, with only a few exceptions, rarely last more than a couple of rounds. The action-packed bouts are made exciting by the gameplay's heavy focus on countering and submission moves. For any situation you find yourself in, there's always a way to escape, and once you've learned how to properly play the game, you'll never find yourself feeling like you've lost control. The combo system has a huge buffer, letting you mash out all the presses of a combo while the first hit is still coming out, if you so desire. A slightly more timing-based system might have been a welcome challenge here.
Graphically, Pride looks great. The fighter models are all well constructed, and for the most part they animate incredibly well. The game makes good use of facial animation to properly convey pain during a submission or the unconscious collapse of a fighter going down to the mat. As nice as Pride looks, though, it could have used a bit more work in the collision-detection and clipping departments. In some cases (such as when a downed fighter attempts to punch at a standing opponent) punches will land even though the polygons don't appear to connect at all. Clipping rears its ugly head when you're on the mat, but it's most noticeable when you see fighters' heads or limbs moving right through the ring ropes.
The soundtrack is designed to mirror the Pride events themselves, including the regal ring music and the various fighters' entrance music. Unfortunately, there is no color commentary, but the game does have authentic ring announcing, oftentimes done in both Japanese and English, just like the real thing. The strikes and other moves in the game have an exaggerated sound to them that adds a bit to the action. The strikes land with loud thumps and the submissions sink in with an audible cracking noise.
While casual mixed-martial-arts fans might not see too many differences between Pride and the series of UFC games that are already on the market, the additional gameplay depth and loving attention given to the details of the license make Pride the best mixed-martial-arts game on the market. Some more single-player options could have added a bit of longevity to the package, but as it stands, Pride is sure to please fans of the genre and, to a lesser extent, fans of fighting games.