There are a lot of things I never expect to see in my lifetime. I don't expect to see the Chicago Bears win three Superbowls in a row; I don't expect to see Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo get behind one end-all, be-all system; and I don't expect to see hoverboards (no matter how badly I want them). However, even though I don't expect to see those things, there's a still a chance that they might come to be because anything can happen -- if you need proof of that, look at Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
This game defies logic by both existing and not sucking.
If you're just joining us, MK vs. DC packs 22 characters from both the videogame that became Exhibit A in how brutal this medium could be and the comic book powerhouse that's been around for more than 70 years. These heroes, villains, and ice-hurling ninjas are then let loose on one another to do battle in bloody brawls that are decided in the best two out of three rounds, but MK vs. DC is a bit more than just fight after fight after fight.
Reading gives you wrinkles; click to watch our HD video review.
However, before we get to the modes this game offers, talking about the fighting system MK vs. DC employs is probably a good idea. When things were 2D on your SEGA Genesis and Super Nintendo, Mortal Kombat was simple: up was jump, down was crouch, and left/right moved you left/right. Being an awesome fighter came down to timing your blocks and moves while dodging ranged attacks the best that you could with your limited movement options. However, when MK made the move to the 3D realm, things got sticky. Suddenly, characters could just walk deeper into the plane and watch Liu Kang's fireballs float past them harmlessly. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe blends both of these styles with a varied amount of success.
The D-pad controls your movement on the 2D plane (crouching, jumping, and moving), but if you hold down left trigger, your up an down arrows move you in the 3D sense of side to side. Meanwhile, the left stick is strictly 3D movement. The choice is nice, but I personally would've preferred anchoring the title to the 2D controls. It's nice being able to explore an arena -- there are 14 in the game that range from the Guardian's Green Lantern base to the Batcave to Themyscira -- but it's frustrating to launch a screaming skull as Shang-Tsung and have the opponent just step to his or her right and watch the Supermove -- what the game calls all of your cool moves beyond simple attacks -- fly on by. Against a computer, these sidestepping shenanigans aren't that bad, but if you get two skilled players together, it's rare to land a series of ranged hits.
Beyond these movement commands are the tried-and-true Mortal Kombat combos we've all spent time punishing our thumbs with as we attempt to pull off bicycle kicks and Fatalities. Thankfully, you can scope all of your character's moves and Supermoves from the pause screen, directions are usually pretty consistent on a character by character basis -- Kano and Superman use a lot of down-away and down-toward moves, while other folks will use more toward-toward attacks -- and the moves actually look cool. Wonder Woman's "Gotcha Girl" has her kick the opponent into the air, catch the midair foe with her lasso, and then slam the body back to Earth; Sub-Zero can create a block of ice in the air that'll fall and crush opponents; and Captain Marvel's "Mercury Bearhug" has him grab an opponent from behind, turn the foe so that his or her chest is pointed toward the sky, yell "Shazam!", and watch the ensuing lightning bolt fry the combatant. Of course, all of these combos are hampered by the 360's lackluster/unresponsive D-pad, but I can't fault MK vs. DC for what it has to work with and you can get into a groove with the device. If you're interested in other PS3/360 differences, check out IGN Insider's Head-To-Head
when you get a second.
Nifty, character-specific moves aren't the only things MK vs. DC brings to the table in terms of fighting mechanics. This addition to the Mortal Kombat franchise introduces four scenarios to the series: Klose Kombat, Free Fall Kombat, Test Your Might, and Rage Mode. To initiate Klose Kombat, you'll need to tap left bumper and watch as your player reaches out and grabs the opponent. The camera zooms in to a tight shot of the fight between the combatants, and the face buttons of the controllers will pop up on the different sides of the screen to represent the different players. It'll be up to the attacker to input his or her individual commands. A lot of people confuse this with a quick-time event, but the buttons that light up on the screen are actually the buttons you are pressing. See, the person getting attacked needs to block and the only way to do that it to hit the same button the attacker is hitting. So, when Klose Kombat begins, the person about to get wailed on needs to start trying to match the attacker's onscreen moves. If the guy on the defense hits the right button, the character pulls off a reversal and you're back to fighting in the normal view. If the reversal never comes, it's a beatdown for a few hits.
Free Fall Kombat takes the button tapping game to the air. Here, a fighter will tackle his or her opponent and run the foe through the side of the environment -- a computer screen in the Batcave, ice walls in the Fortress of Solitude, etc. When you clear whatever you've smashed through, you and the enemy are falling to the next level while fighting. The same sets of buttons that pop up for Klose Kombat are on the screen and it's the same random press/guess to block situation. However, this time the onscreen doodads are joined by a meter labeled "Super." As you fight, this meter builds. When it crosses a white line that divides the meter, you can press right bumper to pull off a devastating Supermove that generally propels the enemy into the ground below -- Wonder Woman grabs the opponent with her lasso, twirls the foe around, and launches him or her at the ground; Jax shoots the opponent with an Uzi before blasting the foe into the floor below; and so on. This knocks off a large percentage of health based on how full the meter was when the move was deployed. Free Fall Kombat isn't available for every level, but at the stage select screen you can tell which ones are.
To me, both Klose Kombat and Free Fall Kombat are cool ideas that fall a bit short in practice. Klose Kombat is sweet because MK vs. DC features character bruising and costume tears so it's nice to get an up close look at that and Free Fall Kombat is cool because the fistfights end with such power, but the mechanics around these tantalizing tidbits are a bit stiff. Fighting in Mortal Kombat is supposed to be fast and furious, but the action slows down considerably when you get to the button-pressing parts of Klose Kombat and Free Fall Kombat. Suddenly you go from hurling fireballs and stringing together uppercuts with laser blasts to sending out sluggish punches and headbutts. It takes you out of the experience.
Thankfully, Test Your Might does nothing but enforce the frantic fighting of Mortal Kombat. Although only available in certain levels -- the Throne Room, Gotham City, and Metropolis -- Test Your Might has a player tackle his or her opponent and begin running the body through walls. As the attack continues and partition after partition is destroyed, you and your opponent are supposed to be pounding all of the buttons on the controllers. See, when this event begins, a meter pops up on the top of the screen with an image of each Kombatant on one side. When you're tapping the buttons, you're getting the triangle in the middle to come closer to your character in a sadistic game of tug of war. When the wall bashing ends, the game will deal out between zero and 30 percent damage based on where the arrow was on the meter. For me, this brutal and good looking fight is a perfect fit for the tooth and nail battles found in this game. Plus, it's cool to see Raiden run Liu Kang from one side of Metropolis to the other.
The final change to your traditional Mortal Kombat fare is Rage Mode. While you're taking damage, pulling off Supermoves, or having your opponent block attacks, a two-tier bar is filling below your health meter. This is the Rage Meter; when you've got one of the tiers filled, you can press toward and block to perform a Kombo Breaker that will bust up an opponent's combination of attacks. If you let both tiers fill, you can press left and right triggers to unleash Rage Mode, a move that makes your eyes and body glow gold with energy and allows you to absorb attacks without being interrupted as well as break through an opponent's attempted block. The addition of Rage is nice enough -- it's definitely saved me in a few fights that could've gone either way -- but it's a little lame when it works against you. It sucks to have been wailing on the computer the entire match only to have them be rewarded for sucking and be given the chance to come back. It's also lame that the characters squat like they're taking a dump when they deploy Rage.
Can the Joker win in our video?
Rage is actually the driving force behind the single-player story in MK vs. DC. When you choose to start the story mode, you'll be asked to pick a side to play the conflict from. Choose DC, and the tale begins with Superman hoisting Darkseid above a smoldering Metropolis. Seems the ruler of Apokolips tried to take over the Earth again and although the heroes were able to stop the attack, the world's pretty messed up. Superman smashes Darkseid to the ground, Luthor shows up, Clark and Lex jaw at each other, and Darkseid tries to escape through a boom tube. Superman fires off a blast of heat vision, the boom tube becomes unstable, and it explodes with a burst of golden energy. Over on the Mortal Kombat side, the same thing basically happens except that it's Raiden instead of Superman and Shao Kahn instead of Darkseid. When you pick your path and get going, you'll immediately notice that you don't pick your players. Rather, you're assigned people and take them through the chapters of the game. You'll get a cutscene of the Flash talking to Wonder Woman, he'll run to Gotham, Catwoman shows up, and you have to battle the lady. This gives you a taste of nearly every character and a structured story to follow. However, because Midway's building a specific story where everyone needs to be alive, story fights don't end with the opportunity to pull off a Fatality (available for DC Villains and Mortal Kombat characters) or Brutalities (the choice of the DC Heroes because they don't kill).
Back to the tale; these inter-dimensional explosions have created a rift between the planes that is making the worlds merge. Characters begin swapping places at random; Rage power begins infecting folks and turning friend against friend; and with the powers of the universe all out of whack, the powers of the heroes and villains are all over the place. Superman can be hurt (he's vulnerable to magic, people!), the Joker has strength that even he can't understand, and the Green Lantern's ring is suddenly limited. All of these expected issues and story threads are addressed in the typical over-the-top, hokey comic book/videogame story you'd expect and probably appreciate in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The voices are usually a bit overacted, but as long as you come in with expectations of characters more grounded in the comic book vein than the gritty realism of The Dark Knight, you'll be alright.
If you commit yourself to seeing the story from both sides, you're looking at less than six hours of gameplay, but there's still an arcade mode to tackle. Here, you actually choose who you want to play as and then take them up the traditional Mortal Kombat arcade tree of one-on-one battles. In this mode, you're free to use Fatalities/Brutalities and build toward each character's individual ending. See, when you make it all the way through the ten competitors, you'll get a piece of art with an announcer voiceover letting you know what happened to your character after the tournament -- sometimes the character changes the way he or she acts and sometimes the character refines his or her costume, but sadly this new suit shown in the concept art isn't available for gameplay.
This lack of reward for the arcade mode leads me to my main problem with MK vs. DC. Although it seems like there's a lot here -- story, arcade, a ten-part Kombo Challenge for each character, and online -- I don't think much of this will translate into sustainability. The only things for you to unlock in the game are Darkseid and Shao Kahn. The arcade endings and Kombo Challenges give you nothing other than Achievements. In the Kombo Challenge, you get ten sets of move strings that need to be pulled off in succession; it's like this for each character. Sometimes the first challenge will be as easy as uppercutting someone and hitting him or her with a few Supermoves, but eventually the mode starts tossing in pauses, simultaneous button taps, and Pro Moves (additional button combos that need to be deployed when a tiny twinkle happens right after deploying a Supermove). Figuring out these long combos can be a bitch, especially because you need to figure out how long you're pausing for on your own. Although YouTube videos will probably alleviate this challenge, it can be a fairly frustrating process to have Green Lantern juggling an opponent after two sequences only to see Hal consistently fail at guessing how long he needs to stand there before you hit down-away-Y.
Meanwhile, online is kind of just there. When you join one of the four game rooms (Gotham City, Metropolis, Netherrealm, and Outworld) or create your own, you're transported to a chat room-like interface. Players and their connection rating are posted on the left and you can choose to challenge or ignore people from this list, while you can talk trash via typeface on the right. When a player wins or starts a streak, the game makes an announcement in the chat room and everyone can marvel at how awesome SolderBoyZZZY is. If getting a random announcement isn't good enough for your ego, you can check out the game's online leaderboard that tracks win/loss records, best streak, and more. Oddly, you can't sort the leaderboard results by your friends list, but you can pop over to see the Hall of Fame trophy room that consistently displays the player with the most wins, the best streak, and the most games played. From my hands-on test, the server runs fine and there was no slowdown or lag for this combo-based fighter.
In the end, a casual fan sucked in by the allure of DC characters will polish off the six-hour story and maybe a few arcade trees before becoming frustrated by their inability to progress through Kombo Challenge and the mode's repetitive nature in general. The characters look good, but there are clipping issues with capes and whips while some of the backgrounds look weak. Meanwhile, hardcore Mortal Kombat fans are going to be saddened by the fact that a lot of the moves look like the ones they've seen before and that Fatalities/Brutalities -- the focal point of any MK game -- have been neutered.
Yes, since Midway announced that MK vs. DC was pushing for a Teen rating, the Internet has been in an uproar; now that I've put the final product through the paces, I can tell you that the move does make for some lame finishing moves. Baraka just knocks his opponent to the ground, leaps on him or her, puts his fists to the opponent's chest, and deploys his blades; Shang Tsung slowly sucks the life out of an opponent before they keel over; and Deathstroke's Fatality just has the screen go black, a bunch of groans happen, and the screen come back with the opponent on the ground. Lame. Heroic Brutalities aren't much better; Superman pounds his opponent into the ground like a spike with his fists, while Captain Marvel buries his opponent in the ground headfirst with a slam. Worse is the fact that every time you polish off someone with one of these finishers, your winning character stands there awkwardly in an "O'Doyle Rules!" pose from Billy Madison.
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