Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a massive change in direction for the fifteen year old series.
It's been a rough transition at times, from arcades to consoles, from generation to generation, with the latest (and eighth!) iteration pulling half of its roster from the DC Comics mythos, dropping gameplay mechanics established in previous games and plugging in new ones. As odd as it may seem on paper, seeing Batman battle Sub-Zero in the streets of Metropolis doesn't look that unusual on-screen.
But how does it play? We've spent kountless hours... sorry, countless hours with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe to see how well these two worlds collide.
Killer Kast Of Kharacters: Midway pares down the roster to a lean 22 combatants, of which there is very little filler — especially compared to the over-stuffed 60 character line up from Mortal Kombat Armageddon. There are a few notable absences — Kung Lao, Reptile, Lobo, Despero — but outside of personal preferences, the "greatest hits" selection of fighters is more than adequate. The Flash and Joker are tons of fun to play and MK mainstays like Sub-Zero and Scorpion feel fresh despite their age.
A Flashy Fun Alternative: It may not have the deep fighting mechanics of its competitors — Street Fighter III: Third Strike and Virtua Fighter 5 snobs will likely turn their nose up at such fluff in between counting frames — but it's still a hell of a lot of fun to play. Having given up any semblance of competing with the hardcore, it's still enjoyable, personally, to play MK games against my more casual circle of friends. The Klose Kombat and Freefall Kombat modes add a welcome, if occasionally imbalanced, diversion from straight up fighting.
Campy Story Mode: Both sides of the core story line are a blast to play through, giving you about six hours of single-player gameplay when you don't feel like getting your hat handed to you online. The cinematic sequences blend in surprisingly well with the action, all of which is held together by the barest of storytelling. It's occasionally (unintentionally?) hilarious to see the Mortal Kombat and DC universes intertwine. There's solid fan service with respectable production quality helping to put some extra shine on the campy package.
It's The Best DC Fighting Game Since Blizzard's Justice League Task Force: I may have grown up a Marvel man, but it's still amusing to see Batman, Green Lantern and Superman go at it. With the exception of Wonder Woman's bizarre moveset, the DC side translates to the fighting genre beautifully. We're hoping there's a sequel or spin-off, so we can see how, say, Martian Manhunter or Plastic Man fight.
Short On Features: When you're done with the story mode and you've completed the Kombo Challenge — the latter, no small feat — there's not much else to do beyond one-on-one fighting. That may be enough for fans desperate for more Mortal Kombat, but given the depth of features seen in previous games in the series, not to mention the feature set of the current-gen competition, the whole package feels lacking. Character specific endings in Arcade mode consist of nothing more than a piece of character artwork with narration. With no create-a-fighter mode and very little to unlock — there are no alternate costumes — we've braced ourselves for a flood of downloadable content.
Aggravating, Inconsistent AI: The MK series has always struggled to provide a computer controlled opponent that feels believable in its skill level. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe's artificial intelligence is all over the place, pulling off some combinations that will have your eyes rolling wildly. The next round, they may simply take a boot to the face after boot to the face without ever blocking. It's nowhere near as bad as the offenses from Mortal Kombats II and 3, but it's no replacement for a human opponent.
Lame Fatalities: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a T-rated game in an M-rated series. While a few seconds of gore and sadism should never be the deciding factor in whether you're dropping sixty bucks on a fighting game, it's still deflating to see how tepid the finishing moves have become.
Online Works, But Where's The Chat Server? The one-on-one fighting is functional, even if the lag can be painfully noticeable and we've been endlessly ground-pounded by Jax more often that we'd like (once was quite enough). Unfortunately, the reliability of the chat server has made getting into a room, where more than one-on-one fighting can be done, spotty. The PlayStation 3 version wasn't suffering the same performance issues as the Xbox 360 version, possibly due to recent Xbox Live downtime, but it soured the initial experience.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe may have been knocked around for some of its design decisions, most notably the inclusion of DC characters and the toned down violence, but it's still an enjoyable ride. The game looks damn good... from a distance, as things can get a little uglier up close. The most disappointing thing about MK vs. DCU, though, is its lasting value. The head-to-head fighting may offer near infinite replayability to the more dedicated MK fan, but the depth of content left us wanting more.
MK vs. DCU is a capable fighter, full of camp and silliness, that does a good job of rebooting the franchise — even if this is just a one-off — and giving lapsed fans something to latch onto. It can't compete with the robust offerings from other established fighting game franchises, but its a raucous and fun alternative.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was developed and published by Midway, released in North America on Nov. 16 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Retails for $59.99 USD. Completed single-player story modes on Xbox 360, played through arcade mode, and tested online multiplayer modes on both platforms.
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