Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe Hands-on

What better way can there be than to re-invent the Mortal Kombat series by throwing into the melee some of the best loved heroes and villains from the immensely popular DC Universe?

In theory, the concept of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a stroke of genius. Immediately it conjures up images of spectacular battles between the likes Superman with his famous arsenal of powers and the might of Raiden with his electric decapitation, or Sub-Zero with his deep freeze uppercut against Batman and his arsenal of funky gadgets. It’s undeniably an exciting prospect.

However, despite the premise having great storyline potential, we were still slightly concerned that by bringing these two game worlds together the developer could actually compromise the very essence of what has essentially made the Mortal Kombat games so appealing. Through the toning down of its trademark over-the-top violence, so as to appeal to the younger fans of DC Universe, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe could potentially alienate a large chunk of its target audience.

Having had some hands-on time with the UK version of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe our faith has been somewhat renewed. It appears that developer, Midway, has retained the fast-paced gameplay of old, whilst pushing its violent theme to the very edge of acceptance of the current rating system and in the process has managed to move along with the times by offering up a stylish next-gen makeover, an impressive DC Universe roster and some entertaining new features, all of which have been undoubtedly facilitated by the game’s movie-style budget.

Midway is throwing everything at Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe in order to make it a success, with huge amounts of money spent on its marketing campaign. Expect to see huge billboards, TV spots and cinema ads between now and the holiday season.

However, it’s blatantly clear from the outset that it has also spent masses of money on the game itself. The DC Universe crowd, who are used to seeing their heroes on the big-screen, will expect nothing less than a top quality production. They should be very happy with the outcome.

Aside from a rather manly-looking Wonder Woman, the character models are exquisitely realized, with each one individually motion-captured to ensure fluidity of movement on the screen as they pull off their arsenal of visually arresting moves, whereas next-gen touches, such as damage modeling and motion blur, help to give the fights flair and intensity.

Throughout each of the battles we fought in, whether it was Raiden vs. The Flash, The Joker vs. Sonya Blade or Batman vs. Kano, the soundtrack builds the tension perfectly and manages to get that adrenaline pumping by building up slowly and rising to a crashing crescendo.

From the Joker’s evil cackle to Batman’s deep booming tones, the slew of over-the-top superhero-esque voices effectively adds to the whole MK/DC-soaked atmosphere, whilst the multi-tiered fighting arenas, such as the Gotham city rooftops or the Lin Kuei temple are impressive platforms to fight on.

Whilst the overall look and sound of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is top notch, the makeover also crosses over into the gameplay. For the first time in the Mortal Kombat series we can expect multiple fighting systems. One of those is ‘Free Fall Kombat’, a mini-game that is triggered when you throw an opponent off a stage.

This particular sequence, which saw us falling through mid-air whilst trading blows with our opponent, restricts the amount of moves you are able to perform. We had to tap corresponding buttons that appeared on the screen and if we managed to get the combination spot-on then we could execute a special move to bring our opponent to the ground with an almighty thud.

Whilst ‘Free Fall Kombat’ is certainly as fun as it is visually impressive, it does break up and somewhat hamper the flow of the gameplay. It does add to the spectacle of the fight, but the style-over-substance approach could be deemed as a bit of a ‘kop out’, or even a ‘novelty’ feature by hardened Mortal Kombat fans. It remains to be seen, after substantially more gameplay, whether ‘Free Fall Kombat’ will actually become more of an unwanted annoyance than an enjoyable part of each fight.

Nevertheless, in arcade mode or online you can choose levels where ‘Free Fall Kombat’ is not allowed, so the option is always there if you’re just looking for a standard fight.

The same also applies to ‘Test Your Might’, an enjoyable new in-fight feature, which unlike ‘Free Fall Kombat’ fits smoothly into the action. When our opponent was up against a wall we were able to grab hold of them and pummel them through a series of walls, whilst mashing the buttons as fast as we could to increase damage to our opponent. Meanwhile, our adversary mashed his buttons in an attempt to decrease any damage we made. This new game mechanic does add a new tactical dimension to the gameplay. Not only did it keep us on our toes whenever we happened to back against a wall, but we also took great delight in using that short window of opportunity to run full pelt at our opponent to send him thundering through the rubble.

‘Klose Kombat’, on the other hand, is a fairly short sequence comprising of around four blows. Just like in ‘Freefall Kombat’ we had to press the face buttons that correspond with those that flash on screen in order to execute a range of blows on the enemy. He too presses face buttons to counter-act those moves. Once again, it’s all about the spectacle of the fight. The developer has obviously thought long and hard about how to make the experience more movie-like and immersive. ‘Klose Kombat’ achieves that aim perfectly and as a result fits in with the action nicely.

Although we’ve yet to try out the all of the characters, or indeed see the whole range of special moves on offer, the fighting itself is fast-paced, visually dramatic and exciting. The DC Universe roster undoubtedly gives the series even more entertainment value. Knowing that you can jump into the purple-suit of The Joker and pull off moves, such as punching your opponent silly with a spring that has a boxing glove attached to it or lobbing a pocket-full of smiley-faced bombs at your opponent whilst you run around in a circle cackling to yourself, has wide appeal. We’ll have a more in-depth look at the moves in our review shortly, but suffice to say there are some funny and vicious fatalities, such as when Raiden electrocutes his opponent, who turns into skeleton in front of your eyes.

In our exclusive interview with the Senior Producer, Hans Lo, he was spot on when he said that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is shaping up to be a game that is “easy to learn, but tough to master.” The move lists are chock full of complicated maneuvers that require multiple button presses that should appeal to hardcore Mortal Kombat fans and those seeking a deeper experience, but it’s still accessible enough to mean that we could jump straight into a game and still have an exciting battle against our opponent without knowing how to pull of the pro moves.

Our hands-on time with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has left us keen to play more. Whilst ‘Free Fall Kombat’ doesn’t exactly excite us and the list of game modes is, well, underwhelming to say the least, the actual fighting itself, coupled with some brilliant production, has left us keen to play more and eager to unravel the story of how these two worlds have collided.

We’ll have a full review on Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe shortly.