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Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe Review

5
  • X360
  • PS3

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe successfully merges the two worlds while also delivering a great new fighting system for the current generation of consoles.

The game's story is all about throwing the different characters together in ways you wouldn't expect.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe sounded like a dicey proposition at best. With the crossover thing having been done by Capcom and Marvel before, it isn't exactly groundbreaking. Plus, the DC Universe license comes along with the baggage of making the game a bit friendly to a younger audience, forcing the series' gruesome finishing moves to be toned down to a more-acceptable level of violence. On top of all that, it's the first time the MK series has come to the current generation of consoles, and with it comes a completely rebuilt fighting system. To say that the deck was stacked against MKvDC is something of an understatement. But all those potential pitfalls make the success of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe that much sweeter. The characters fit together better than expected. The new fighting system is a terrific mix of old and new that makes this the best Mortal Kombat game since the series went 3D. And the finishing moves... well, they're toned down, but even they still manage to put a good exclamation point on a hard-fought victory.

For the second time in series history, the fighting in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has been completely revamped. Most of the features and fighting from the previous three console games has been thrown out. Apart from a pair of characters who are armed with blades, there aren't any weapon stances or style changes to worry about. And the combo system ditches ground-based, memorization-heavy combos in favor of timing-focused juggles, which effectively makes it more like the previous 2D games in the series. While you can still sidestep to avoid projectiles at range, the game has a snappy, classic feel to it without feeling like a throwback. One of the few things that carry over from the more-recent 3D entries in the series is the combo breaker, which will crack you out of a jam if you have enough juice in your super meter to use one. You can store up to two breakers if your meter is full. A full meter also lets you enact rage mode, which makes you attack through an opponent's block and not react when you get hit for a few seconds. It's a neat idea that can be effective when playing alone, but most human opponents seem to know to just get away when you pop into rage.

While the core concept of merging the two worlds together is kind of appealing on their own, it's really the gameplay in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe that makes it stand out. There's a steep learning curve to contend with, and the game doesn't really provide many pointers about how to get better. But once you spend time with it and start to pick up on how it all works, it's fantastic. The fighting manages to feel unlike anything else on the market while still retaining enough Mortal Kombat style to make it appealing to players who are familiar with the series' arcade roots. It also seems to work on multiple levels, rewarding players who take the time to learn and master the more difficult combos while never feeling completely alien. Two players with a passing knowledge of fighting games could probably pick it up and have a decent time, but you get the impression that between the different juggles and things like "pro moves," which are enhanced or branched versions of your special moves that often require very precise timing, there's a lot of appropriately rewarding stuff to pick up as you improve. While it may play quite a bit differently than most of the other fighting games coming out today, it still revolves around the classic balance of knowing what moves are available to you while also deciding when to use specific attacks, or how to block incoming flurries from your opponent.

Green Lantern, seen here dropping the hammer on Liu Kang.
The roster in MKvDC is solid. The MK side is a classic collection of fighters that don't get any newer than Mortal Kombat II. The DC side mirrors the powers and concepts of the MK fighters a bit, but without feeling like MK moves were cheaply slapped onto the superheroes and villains. That said, Lex Luthor's power armor grants him a wrist flamethrower and missiles that come in both regular and homing varieties, making him a bit like Sektor. Captain Marvel has a Kung Lao-like teleport. The Flash has Kabal's spin dash. The Joker tosses bombs near and far like he was Cyrax. Superman has a Jax-like ground pound, a Nightwolf shoulder charge, and his heat vision matches Kano's eye laser. Batman has a Sheeva-like teleport stomp. Green Lantern uses his ring for a telekinetic lift-and-drop move that comes right out of Ermac's repertoire. Actually, while we're on the subject, it's almost weird that Superman doesn't have Raiden's torpedo move. But if it's any consolation, that move can now be officially referred to as "The Superman" in Raiden's move list. While there are plenty of special moves on the DC fighters that map back to previous MK fighters, they fit the characters that have them really well, so you don't feel like you're just playing MK characters with a DC skin. It all feels pretty legit.

The game has a more elaborate story mode than you'd expect out of a fighting game, and it's largely in place to give you a good reason why the fighters of Mortal Kombat and the tights-wearing set from DC are getting together for a fight. Much like how the Mortal Kombat series is all about the bad guys trying to merge their horrific realm with Earth, a series of events causes Mortal Kombat's Earthrealm to begin merging with DC's universe. This sets everything in both locations topsy-turvy, as everyone's powers fluctuate and characters begin fighting due to an infection known as "kombat rage." Really, this all seems like it's in place to tell you why a ninja like Sub-Zero could harm Superman with his fists, or why Batman and Wonder Woman would face off.

The story is split in half, and you choose if you want the MK side or the DC side at the onset. The two stories run concurrently, so you'll see things referenced in one that take place in the other, and so on. They both culminate in a battle against the creepy merged creature that's causing all of this strife in the first place. Interestingly, you don't choose a character in story mode. Instead, it jumps around, devoting each chapter to a different fighter. This serves the alternate purpose of getting you up to speed on how most of the fighters operate. The story sequences themselves have a laugh here and there, but they're also a little hokey in spots. Then again, I tend to find most superhero stuff a bit hokey, anyway. Of course, there's probably something sort of hokey about a martial arts tournament that determines the fate of the world that is fought by movie stars, demons, ice ninjas, and thundergods, so maybe it all balances out. Either way, it works and the tone of it is just fine.

The game also has a single-player arcade mode, which provides you with the standard MK ladder, culminating in a boss fight and an ending. The endings are in the classic MK style, giving you a couple of static pieces of artwork with some dialogue about what your chosen fighter did after beating the crap out of everyone else. On the practice side of things you can find a standard practice mode and the kombo challenge. This mode gives you ten combos for each fighter that you must complete to succeed. The combos are surprisingly difficult and showcase the tight timing that many of the moves and juggles have. The game doesn't hold your hand at all, which is a bit harsh, especially when you consider that DC fans who don't play many fighters might be coming in only to discover a series of button presses that make absolutely no sense. A proper tutorial and a "show me what this combo you're asking me to do is supposed to look like" button--like the Tekken series has--would have been a good addition.

Between ice breath, heat vision, and extreme strength, Superman can do a little bit of everything.
It's also worth noting that the notorious Xbox 360 directional pad doesn't do the game any favors, especially when it comes to the kombo challenge mode. If you own an arcade stick or some other controller solution, you'll be happy to know that the game lets you freely remap the buttons. You can duplicate all of the game's functionality on six buttons, though the standard three-by-three setup doesn't feel quite right.

All of these single-player modes are made better by the game's AI. Unlike most MK games, which had bad pattern-based AI that refused to be thrown or only became susceptible to certain attack patterns, the opponents in MKvDC seem to fight fair and use a variety of tactics. It's a great improvement over most of the previous games to bear the Mortal Kombat name. That said, there's no substitute for human opposition.

You can, of course, play against another person locally. But the game also has online support on both platforms. The player matching is a bit different between the two versions, though. On the 360, you get ranked game and player match options, and unlike most Xbox Live games, there's no "host game" or "join game" options. You just push the "ranked game" button and it finds you someone to play with. Player match works the same way, but you can also just invite friends to join you in these unranked battles. There are also chat rooms that you can join (at least there are in theory--as of this writing, the 360's chat servers are offline). These chat rooms are the only available matching option on the PlayStation 3. You get a list of rooms that seem to each hold up to 100 people. Once in a room, you see a list of players, a window for text chat, and notices whenever a fight ends. You can select another player's name from the room list to issue a challenge, or wait for an incoming challenge, which pops up and lets you accept, decline, or ignore. If you want to find friends, you'll need to agree on which room you want to be in (or create) before you can fight. It's functional, but feels like it fell out of a PlayStation 2 game or something. Some honest-to-goodness automated player matching would have been nice on the PS3 side.

If you've been playing fighting games online for any length of time, you know how this next part goes. When you have a good connection to the other player, everything works great, and it's not much different from having a player sitting right next to you. But once the latency starts to rise, the game gets pretty glitchy. You trade hits and knock opposing players out of moves more frequently in laggy matches, as the game is trying to figure out who hit whom without causing the action to slow down. Considering the number of disorienting, direction-changing moves that are in the game, as well as the razor-sharp timing required for some of the combos, it becomes a very different game when your connection isn't prime.

At the end of a fight, the game still shouts "finish him!" Well, if you're fighting Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Sonya, or Kitana, I guess it actually shouts "finish her!" But you get the point. The game has finishing moves in it. With its T-for-Teen rating, though, you won't see Jax crushing skulls with his arms. Instead, he just claps his hands on either side of a victim's head, and they go down, head intact. The DC heroes that wouldn't normally kill their enemies instead perform "heroic brutalities." This is really just a matter of semantics, though. It really just means that after doing something horrible to the other fighter, that fighter wriggles around a little bit as if to say "see? No one died here today!" The finishers do still serve their purpose, though, and that's to put something extra on the end of a fight to make a loss a bit more humiliating. It's funny, the actual moves and animations of the finishers aren't that different--it's just that no one explodes into a cloud of blood or a mountain of rib cages at the end.

I'd rather have two combo breakers than rage, but hey, to each his own.
Personally, I didn't find the lack of M-rated violence to be that big of a deal. Even when fatalities are present, they're only really meaningful for the first month or so, when they're fresh and new. After that, everyone's seen them all, and they only serve to make the downtime between fights longer. But it all comes back to why you're personally interested in Mortal Kombat. For some people, the action is the juice. For others, it's all about the gory displays at the end of the fight. For what it's worth, the game does have blood during fights, so hits to the face will result in a bit of splatter. Also, clothing gets ripped up as you get beaten, resulting in some great-looking scuffs and scrapes at the end of the fight.

The game has a good number of backgrounds that reflect the game's storyline nicely. Some of them have a huge beam of energy down the middle that reflects the merging worlds, so one side of the line is a Mortal Kombat location and the other is a DC location, like Shang Tsung's island and Wonder Woman's home, Themyscira. You'll also see the Batcave, Superman's Fortress of Solitude, the torn-up streets of Metropolis, and so on.

The audio holds up its end of the bargain with appropriately intense music and the loud thumps and cracks of hand-to-hand combat. Moves like uppercuts and ground slams are accompanied by some great, deep bass that will shake your surroundings if you're appropriately equipped. While there's plenty of great new sound, there's also some old stuff. Raiden's superman move features the same, classic, unintelligible speech that it always has. Scorpion's "get over here" and "come here" also sound like they could have come from previous games. The announcer is also the same voice you've heard in the past several games. I could have gone for a new announcer this time around, but everything else seems just fine. There's also a lot more speech in the game to accompany the story's cutscenes. The character voices don't always perfectly match the look of the characters, but they're right on more often than not.

Given the way the last few MK games have gone in terms of redesigning the core concepts of the fighting and presenting a cast of characters that weren't as memorable as the ones that debuted back in the 2D days, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe feels like the refreshing start of a new era for Midway's fighting series. It probably won't change your mind if you're not into the genre, or even if you're into the genre but have already made up your mind about the MK series. But if you're open to the idea of more Mortal Kombat, you'll find a terrific game here.
Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
202 Comments
Posted by Yit

I'm so excited, I may have to pick the game up.

Posted by mracoon

Look good but I'm not much of fighting game kind of person, I might rent this.

Moderator
Posted by norton123

Good to see a modern fighting game do good.

Posted by JohnB

My God, that's a long review.

Posted by dtran1212

still not interested in it

Posted by banned8921

move to a .1 out of 10 system.

Posted by EpicBenjamin

This turned out to be good?! I'm surprised.

Posted by AlucardaLaCarte

I can't believe they pulled it off...hm, we shall have to see.

Posted by gzl5000

Wow....5 stars for this one is surprising. Seems like a lot of negative points given the top score too...then again it's the resident MK fanboy reviewing XD This sounds way better than anticipated, I might have to rent it.

Posted by John

Consider me fucking sold.

Posted by LordAndrew

Not going to happen, Levio. Have you not read the FAQ page where the rating system is explained? Have you not read Jeff's old blog entry where he explained why GameSpot went from a .1 scale to a .5 scale?

If the scores bother you, maybe you should stop looking at them.

Posted by mudkip9000

5 out of 5?! Really?  Is it possible that you let a little of your bias get the better of you, Jeff?  Great review still.

Posted by floodiastus

I played it and it felt very stiff, alot more so than SCIV, which got what.... 4 stars?

I love fighting games, but this one was dissapointing to me. Let's see if UFC can make some original ideas spring to life.
Posted by dtran1212

IGN gave this a 7.5, hmmm..... i don't know who to believe

Posted by Artie

Didn't Jeff used to go by the rule "if you preview a game you're excited for, you can't review it"?

I think Brad should've reviewed this, because I feel like Jeff would've given the game five stars back at PAX.

Posted by TooWalrus

It's on the top of my GameFly Q. I should probably return Viva Pinata 2...

Posted by JDevL

5 out of 5 on Giant Bomb + Mark Hamill's Joker = Wallet becomes $60 lighter

Edited by whackmypinata

Wow, I'm surprised. I know Jeff loves Mortal Kombat, but he's usually an honest grader. This game must be good..

Posted by mrfluke
excellent review jeff im surprised with the 5 stars ( guess that means its really good compared to what u gave the other games last time on gamespot)but i dunno if my eyes are playing tricks on me but i think you didnt talk about klose kombat or freefall kombat in the review
nice pic you chose as the header it may not be the ideal one that i was pushing for but it shows that its still mk without it being 100% all about mk and you love mk so you wanted to be serious in the review so you didnt go with the other pics
totally get it
Posted by AaronBelfast

Jeff, all I am saying is don't take the GiantBomb community for fools, I'll leave it at that.

Posted by ElectricHaggis

Nice review Jeff.  Personally, I care very little about fighting games.  The merging of MK and DC is more interesting to me than the gameplay.

Posted by Jayzilla

jeff is usually prety discerning when it comes to his reviews. i think the the slick is a little stilted here in favor of the mk seriies because he has always been a fan, but he hasn't liked the last few as much. great review man. i will go pick this bad boy up.

Posted by Dudacles

It looks better than I expected. I'll keep my eye on this game.

Posted by abbathdoom

I like the look of the core fighting, but man, those toned down fatalities look really lame. Most of them are huge anti-climaxes.

Posted by Sanj

Wow, this review definately peeked my interest. Looking forward to a vid review.

Posted by Bulldog19892

Really?.......... really?

Posted by TheGamerGeek

Dude, I love this site as much as the next guy, but 5 stars? This game has a lot of issues and does not deserve 5 stars.

Posted by RHCPfan24

GREAT review!

Edited by AaronBelfast

Why are you guys so surprised? I knew Jeff was going to give it 5 stars, and not because the game is good.

Posted by MachoFantastico

I played a bit of the game at a friends who got a US copy. Have to say I wasn't to impressed though the Joker is easily the best character in my opinion. I guess it's taste, Jeff as been a fan of this game for months now but there are much better fighters out there.

I include Soul Calibur 4 in that list.
Posted by DukeTogo

Jeff is bias on MK, so go to another place for a review.  I'd say if what you've seen puts you off, go with your instincts, it's that bad.  If you want to live with Ed Boon or buy anything MK, nothing I say will stop you.

Posted by Electric_Zen

I read through the entire review. Taking everything at face value, this sounds like a rewarding game for someone who is a hardcore fan of a very dated fighting franchise. It appears to have nothing to offer to anyone outside of the MK enthusiasts.

A well-executed progression of a nearly irrelevant series sounds like 4 stars at best. I like how Giant Bomb isn't afraid to inject their own personalities and preferences to the editorial content, but this is a bit much.

Posted by MattBodega

I loved UMK3 on XBLA, so I was already interested in the game, but between that Ed Boon podcast and this glowing review, I think I'll probably pick this up!

Posted by jakob187

5 stars?

hrmmm
Posted by Demyx

Great review, but I don't have 60 bucks to spare.

Posted by LiK

censorship blows, i'll be importing the European version

Posted by PapaLazarou

I hope it comes out for PC

Posted by Endogene

Well if this T rated MK can get a 5 stars and there is a new one coming which will build upon this that is M rated i will happily wait.

Posted by Kraznor

I tend to agree with Jeff's reviews but I just can't shake the feeling his incredible love of MK is overwhelming his judgment on this one. I may well pick it up but I'll wait for some more reviews.

Posted by Death_Burnout

Man...can't believe some people are questioning this review...wait, no, i can because most people are sheep.

Im a fan of MK, but not that big of a fan at all, and even i can acknowlage from everything i have seen that this a huge improvement for MK.

Trust me, just because Jeff is a fan does not mean thats why it got 5 stars...

Posted by zitosilva

Wow, I did not expect this game to be good.

Anyway, nice and thorough review.

Posted by Foxillusion

Definitely wish Jeff hadn't reviewed this game. Too much of a fan of MK, he's been stoked over it for a long time. Would have been nice to see someone else review the game. Surprise surprise, Jeff did and we've got a five star review.

That's not entirely sarcastic, I think the game could definitely be that good, but don't have nearly as good of an idea now. I guess I'd have picked this up anyway so I should probably stop whining about it.

But if the giant bomb crew is reading this, maybe something to think about in the future...? I can't take jeff's review seriously. I think this community has a generally good understanding of games that you guys are really into, ie the ones you talk about a lot... don't you think you owe it to us to go out of your way to review games you aren't familiar with to make them as neutral as you can?

Posted by Kush

Wow...I'll definitely have to give this game a shot. Quite surprised by the "perfect" five! <--- That rhymed, I like rhymes.

Posted by Bucketdeth

Yeah I was going to buy this anyways, this had made me even more excited.

Posted by wibby

Jeff Gerstmann = *****

I love you Jeff but come on ... Please can we a Negareview?

Posted by alrightok

You a fool for this one Jeff!

Posted by MasterSplinter

wow.. I'm not sure what to think. I guess I gotta see it for myself.

Posted by Sil3n7

I think Jeff is just really in love with the fighting genre

Posted by lordofultima

Well, the game looks good. If this somehow bests Street Fighter IV in score (which I highly doubt) it would be a bit upsetting. But me also being a Mortal Kombat fan, I can really see his enthusiasm for MKvsDC in this review, and it's good to be legitimately stoked about something once in a while. Granted, I would have deducted one star because of the horrible announcer voice and character art, but that's just me.

Edited by Snail

I was expecting this from Jeff... Fighting games are not my style though.