With the possibility of upsetting its legion of fans it was a brave move by Midway to change a winning formula, but after 15 years, and considering over a dozen games have been born from the Mortal Kombat franchise, it was arguably an action that was long overdue. Merging its heavyweight roster of characters, including the electrifying Raiden and the knife-throwing Kano with that of the infamous DC Universe and its catalog of crowd-pleasing heroes and villains, it appears to be, certainly on paper anyway, an ideal way to freshen up and re-invigorate the popular fighting game.
When we first heard about the coming together of these two universes we were excited at the prospect of some explosive battles, but also intrigued to hear the story of how the collision of these two very different worlds had come about. Why on Earth would Superman ever cross paths with the shape-shifting Shang Tsung and why would The Joker possibly come to blows with Sub-Zero on the streets of Gotham City? Penning a tale that involves such an iconic set of characters has certainly afforded respected comic book writers, Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with the freedom to be creative with their talents. Ample source material should also, in theory, allow them to conjure up some intriguing scenarios and fascinating twists to make Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe a really attractive prospect, especially for those hoping for a unique and exciting take on the fighting genre, not to mention fans of the subsequent worlds. In reality though, when we take into account our expectations of how impressive the storyline could have been, it hasn’t quite worked out.
Aside from a bog-standard arcade mode and a straightforward online multiplayer component, Midway’s attempt to be different from the crowd is through its story mode, which tells the tale from two different perspectives. Although each story path culminates in the same universe-saving ending (as if you didn’t know), the game begins when you choose to either side with Mortal Kombat or DC Universe, with each chapter being told solely through the eyes of your chosen team-mates. Broken up by cinematic sequences the story begins well enough; building up nicely and revealing itself gradually through seven chapters, but it’s abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion brings you straight back down to Earth with a thud. Still, thanks in the most part to the appeal of its two sets of characters and indeed some addictive and frenzied action in the arena, MK vs. DC does deserve some credit for managing to dangle that proverbial carrot in front of you for long enough to keep you interested to actually want to find out the story’s outcome.
Following two cataclysmic battles, one involving Raiden against Kahn on the MK side and the other entailing Superman and Darkseid on the DC Universe side, you learn that portals have opened allowing both sets of characters to step into each other’s lands. This allows the likes of Scorpion and Raiden from the Mortal Kombat posse to mosey on down to the streets of Gotham City where they do battle with the DC Universe characters and against themselves before joining together as one force to save the universe. The premise is without question appealing, but following a deluge of lame excuses for why the two sides are fighting with and against each other, the story soon takes a downward spiral. More often than not, the excuse that the worlds have been contaminated by a viral “kombat rage” that makes them want to kill anyone who happens to be standing around at the time is enough reason to see them do battle, whereas bitter rivalries, including The Joker vs. Batman and Lex Luther vs. Superman come to a head without any real substance. Fighting against your own team-mates, such as The Flash vs. Captain Marvel or Catwoman vs. The Green Lantern, inevitably takes place because the rage washes over them and makes them attack. When ‘the rage’ wears off after a fight, they’re friends again. Hmmm…
Steeped in the kind of humor that is more likely appeal to the DC Universe and comic-book crowd, the storyline and the script in MK vs. DC Universe is full of cliché and groan-inducing lines. “You look like hell,” says Captain Marvel. “Flattery will get you nowhere,” replies Kano. This is a prime example of the childish, tongue-in-cheek nature of the script. “It’s so bad, it’s good” is a cliché that immediately springs to mind. No matter how ludicrous the excuses get for characters from the same side turning on each other or the ridiculousness of bumping into a Mortal Kombat character casually wandering around Gotham City, the over-the-top introductions to each fight, which are told through some great voice acting and suitably impressive audio, are surprisingly enjoyable and bizarrely end up playing a big part in the story mode’s overall appeal . MK vs DC certainly provides more frivolous entertainment outside of the fighting arena than many other games of this ilk. The thing to bear in mind here is that it’s clear from the outset that MK vs. DC is not trying to be a serious fighting game. Keep that in the back of your mind and you’ll have a decent time.
Although combat is still deep enough to appeal to hardcore fighting fans, with plenty of special moves, pro moves, fatalities and combos to master, technically MK vs. DC isn’t on a par with other more serious fighters, such as Virtua Fighter 5 or Soul Caliber IV. Here the action is more accessible and you can quite easily choose to plough through the single player mode without ever trying the likes of Kitana’s ‘Mystical Teleportation’ or Green Lantern’s ‘Triple Overhead Hammer.’ With the introduction of some entertaining new fight mechanics to the series, MK vs DC seems to be all about having fun with the characters and enjoying some of the moves on offer as well as the impressive visual production that comes as part and parcel of that.
Part of the fun factor comes in the form of some credible and worthwhile features to the genre that have effectively added to the enjoyment of the fights. “Freefall Kombat” crops up in certain levels and allows you to run and then and grab onto your opponent free-falling with them down to the next stage. As you fly through the air you press the face buttons to pummel your opponent, but if he guesses which buttons you’ve pressed, he’s able to counter-act the move and switch the fight in his favor. If you do manage to smack him a few times without him guessing you can them pull of a special move to send him crashing to the ground with some force. "Freefall Kombat" fits into the fights seamlessly and doesn’t break the flow of the battles.
"Klose Kombat" works similarly. When you’re close enough to your opponent you can activate it and then the camera pans in and you’re locked into a sequence. You can then land a few punches, an elbow, or a head-butt by pressing the face buttons. Once again, should the defending player guess which buttons you’ve pressed correctly he’ll be able to break the attack. We were worried that "Klose Kombat" would break up the gameplay and stop its fluidity. It does to a certain extent, but it also adds a tactical dimension to the gameplay. The fact that there’s an element of risk in both Freefall and Klose Kombat, which means that your opponent can turn this move on you in the blink of an eye, adds to the excitement.
Despite the lack of comical violence, which has been toned down to appease the DC Universe crowd, the gameplay in MK vs. DC does feel much more like the earlier Mortal Kombat games with fast-paced, visually exciting and fluid fight sequences. The decision to blend both 2D fighting of old with fighting on the 3D plane, which allows you to side-step left and right, isn’t without it’s problems though. In single player mode, it doesn’t really make any odds because your opponent won’t usually take advantage of side-stepping, but online, better players will constantly use the side-step to their advantage making some of your special moves seem somewhat worthless. It doesn’t ruin the single player experience in the slightest, but we can’t help but feel that multiplayer matches would have been better if the whole game was played entirely on the 2D plane.
Overall, the range of moves on offer and the way they translate on screen is undoubtedly one of the highlights of MK vs. DC and the addition of DC Universe roster helps to freshen things up considerably. The Joker is a great character to play with, offering an arsenal of effective and funny moves, such as the ‘laughing fist’ where he holds a buzzer out to shake your hand and then electrocutes you when you grab hold of it, or when he launches a boxing glove on a spring from under his jacket. Equally, you’ve got the likes of Superman’s ‘soaring knockout’ and ‘heat vision’ or Green Lantern’s powerful ‘hammer smash’ to take advantage of. Mortal Kombat fans will also be glad to see a return of some familiar fatalities, such as Raiden’s electrocution and Lui Kang MK1 arcade machine drop.
However, despite a heavy emphasis before launch on fatalities, it’s disappointing that throughout our whole single player story mode experience we didn’t once see our opponent use a fatality on us. Even more incredible is that fatality moves aren’t revealed in your moves list, so unless you can be bothered to search around, you’ll have to guess which buttons to press. We jumped on the Net and printed off a whole moves list, otherwise we would have had no idea how to pull them off. Considering that fatalities have always played a major part in the Mortal Kombat series it just seems strange that they’ve been omitted from the in-game moves list and that we didn’t see any of our enemies attempt to try one out. Still, if you can be bothered to grab the list and practice, the satisfaction of performing Kitana’s ‘Kiss of Death’ or Deathstroke’s gun-shot to the head is worth the effort.
After playing MK vs. DC intensely over the last few days though, completing the two story-modes in little over 5 hours respectively, we doubt we’ll be putting in any more effort into mastering the moves of the 22 fighters. That’s not to say we haven’t enjoyed it. The appealing character roster and the range of entertaining moves on offer, coupled with some decent new in-fight features, have made it an entertaining experience. Even its wishy-washy storyline, poor ending and the lame excuses given for why these two sets of characters are fighting against each other, have kept us strangely amused. However, there’s little replay value for us now that we’ve completed story mode, even with the rudimentary arcade mode. If you’re a dab hand at fighting games, however, and are willing to go that extra mile to learn all the moves then you’ll probably get something out of challenging like-minded folk online. We just get our ass kicked time and time again by experts. Is MK vs. DC Universe worth dipping into your pockets and buying for its single player experience though? Yes, most definitely. The DC Universe characters have certainly added something to the series and even if you start off thinking, like we did, how rubbish story mode actually is, you’ll oddly end up enjoying it.