Hell spawning ninjas meet with spandex-clad superheroes. FIGHT!
Midways’ Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is the latest installment in the MK fighting series and is the first in the line to break the mold of previous games with it’s inclusion of superhero characters from the DC comic strips.
MK co-creator Ed Boon’s risky idea to combine his supernatural undead ninjas and hell beasts with family friendly superheroes and crime lords has culminated in one of the greatest games in the series, and arguably the first recognised gaming success for the DC franchise. The game revolutionises the series with a completely revamped fighting engine, presentation that is in line with today’s console standards and features a ‘greatest hits’ cast of characters from both sides of the coin, making for a sublime ass-kicking package.
The plot centres on a disturbance between the realms, ultimately leading to the merging of the MK Earthrealm with the DC realm, which creates the main antagonist of the game Dark Khan (MK’s Shao Khan and DC’s Darkseid fused together) who threatens to rip the fabrics of both realms apart meaning it’s up to the other warriors to stop him. It’s not the most elaborate of backstories for sure, but it does the job of serving as a vehicle for explaining why we suddenly have MK rivals Liu Kang and Shang Tsung combining their efforts against Lex Luthor and Catwoman.
The story mode is split between the MK and DC sides; so to fully complete it you must play through both campaigns. These are told through a number of chapters which feature cu t scenes, interwoven between fights, where you play as a different Kombatant for each chapter. It’s simple enough, but fun all the same. In fact, some of the best moments of the game will resonate from the story mode, as it’s an interesting experience to witness how these different characters would behave if suddenly thrown together. Seeing the Joker in conversation with the ninja spectre Scorpion was certainly an eye-opener, for example. The writing and voice acting is good for the most part, although at times can be a little cheesy and less inspired, but as it’s a computer game featuring colourful comic book characters wearing capes and bright tights, it’s easy to let the hammy acting slide. Besides, after a while it kind of adds to the classic arcadey feel of the game.
One of the main points that was raised on many gamer forums prior to the actual release was how the game would be able to explain why normal mortals like Kano can suddenly defeat Superman, or how The Joker can put up a good fight with Thunder God Raiden or even Batman, for that matter. This is explained through one of the new in-game fi g hting mechanics Rage, which is caused as a result of the merging of the realms. For each of the fighters, their powers are subsequently balanced out, meaning Superman isn’t as indestructible and the Joker is suddenly imbued with greater strength and endurance. This applies in-game to o, as each character has a Rage mode bar and once this is reached they can activate the Rage, which gives that character a temporary surge of invulnerability.
The new and improved fighting system as a whole gives testament to the work Midway have put into making this a stand-out game, with a really effective system which is accessible enough for beginners to pick up, but is really designed so experienced players can spend a lot of time learning complex character combos for deadly results. Along with the Rage Mode are another two fresh fighting mechanics which occur in-game: Close Kombat and Free-fall Kombat. The first of these is initiated when a player presses specific buttons when their characters are close enough, where both players will quickly move into a quickfire button-pressing minigame, with the player who initiated the close kombat beating up the other fighter unless the other player can Kounter it. The latter of the game modes is Free Fall Kombat, which is similar in style but occurs when one player smashes another through the breakable scenery of the level, leaving both warriors trading blows back and forth in the air, with the player winning the scrap having the chance to perform a super move just as the fighters are about to land in the next stage area, causing maximum damage. These new mechanics integrate really well into the main engine and occur at enough moments that allow fights to be broken up into intense set pieces, but don’t occur enough that it irritates or slows down the action.
The game doesn’t just play well, it looks great too. Each of the fighters is represented in magnificent detail, and as a fight ensues you will begin to see their clothes tear apart and bodies ripped to shreds, which is surprisingly quite novel for a fighting game. For instance, if Scorpion’s face has been battered badly enough you’ll begin to see his skeletal skull underneath his shredded ninja mask, which is just awesome.
The environments also look impressive, with a great host of interesting areas to fight it out, as well as merged areas (where the merging of the realms actually divides two different places, such as Shang Tsung’s lair with Wonder Women’s palace grounds.) In terms of audio the game brings together the usual grunts and crunches of battle action, as well as the classic deep bass announcer and the odd sound clip as fighters perform special moves like Scorpion’s trademark “GET OVER HERE!” as he fires his spear, or the Joker’s chuckles as he smacks his opponents with his goofy gadgetry. The soundtrack also conveys the sense of impending doom within the realms, combining the eastern influenced ninja scores for the MK arenas with the suitably modern apocalyptic music of the DC locations, which allows areas like Gotham City, the Bat Cave and Metropolis to really stand out.
MK vs DCU has a number of other modes to maintain player interest once they’re finished with the story mode, including the traditional MK Arcade mode (where players progress through a ladder of warriors until they reach the final encounter with Dark Kahn, and once victorious unlock a character specific ending, depending on which fighter was used.). Another new mode is the Kombo Challenge, which is unique for every character and sees the player prompted with a series of button combinations to perform a specific long-winded combo. However, these are harder than they look and require precision timing, not to mention unforeseen levels of patience and dedication.
The game also features on line capabilities with the option to play in ranked matches on Xbox Live or on a selection of chat room matches where other players select who they wish to challenge, with a list of win streaks displayed at the side of the page. And with the rumours of downloadable content still to be announced, the replayability of the game is looking to be mightily impressive.
There are only a few small issues that can be found through extensive playing of the game. One of them is primarily a consequence of including superhero characters in a game series which is most noted for being senselessly violent and brutal. Many MK fans will be disappointed with the toned down Fatalities (a trademark ending to a fight where a player will input a series of specific button presses unique for each character in order to make that character perform a horrific and incredibly bloody act on the other fighter.) So instead of Sub Zero freezing his opponent and then calmly walking up and ripping off the head and then throwing it back at the frozen body like a bowling ball, shattering pieces of blood and bones every where, he will simply freeze him and break his neck. But it’s a small price to pay for an otherwise excellent concept.
Also, at some moments the movement controls can be quite jittery, but this is probably more to do with the Xbox 360 controller d-pad not being as reliable for fighting games as the Playstation controllers, as at some points when a character is supposed to simply move back, it was sometimes found they would annoyingly jump backwards instead, making for an easy target in the air and making it slightly more difficult to input the right codes for fatalities. Small nitpickings for an otherwise excellent game.
These aside, MK vs DCU is an impressive step forward for both franchises, and with an excellent fighting engine, brilliant selection of warriors from both sides to choose from, intriguing story mode and a significant portion of unlockable content, it’s hard to knock this one down. Truly epic.