Back in 1997 we saw one of the greatest mash-ups in gaming history. Marvel vs. Capcom was a pure stroke of genius. Bringing together some of the greatest comic book heroes and villains of all time and pitting them against the legendary characters of Street Fighter et al. It was life-changing.
Now, after more than 10 years later Midway have taken an almost identical plunge and produced Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Few can argue that the MK series has had some high and low moments over the past five years. Midway has produced numerous MK titles ranging from 3D beat-‘em ups to RPG-like action adventure games. Not to mention the horrendous Mortal Kombat Kart Racing game that was included in Deception. Long gone are the days of the basic 2D fighting game, but the question remains – is this a bad thing?
In a similar vein to Marvel vs. Capcom, you are given a selection of classic MK characters and some of the more well known personalities from DC comics. The roster of initial playable characters includes (from the MK corner) Baraka, Jax, Kano, Kitana, Liu Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Shang Tsung, Shao Kahn, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, and (from the DC corner), Batman, Captain Marvel, Catwoman, Darkseid, Deathstroke, The Flash, Green Lantern, The Joker, Lex Luthor, Superman and Wonder Woman.
Now the first thing that comes to mind is… what the hell is Superman doing in this line-up? Surely an upper-cut from The Man of Steel would send Kitana to the moon!? But in a strangely distorted manner, all of the abilities and powers are balanced to make for even fights in MK. Vs. DC Universe. This means you can expect to see Superman being hurt by a punch to the jaw from The Joker. I can imagine comic book fans being extremely annoyed by this fact, but the game still opens the doors to some classic encounters. Batman vs. Superman, Batman vs. The Joker and Catwoman vs. Batman… actually Batman versus anyone.
Like MK games of recent years, the game has a mix of 2d and 3d gameplay. This has both its advantages and disadvantages. Firstly it looks great with all of the characters brilliantly rendered and there are only occasional collision detection bugs with capes or long range attacks. Against the right opponent (with a similarly matched skill level) the combat is impressive to watch, with a fast pace that MK fans will appreciate. The game even includes damage effects with torn clothing and bruised faces as your fight progresses. Meanwhile the 3d environments include scenes from the world of MK and also areas inspired from the DC Universe including the Batcave and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. These surrounds are pretty to look at, but also open up a large amount of interactivity too. You can throw opponents off ledges, resulting in the two of you plummeting to the next level whilst throwing punches at each other all the way down. Or charge at your opponent and smash them through walls into new arenas via a “Test Your Might” (aka button-mashing) mini-game. But this 3d freedom gives way to one major issue of the simple side-step. While the original Mortal Kombat forced you to either block and take a bit of damage, or jump a projectile and make yourself vulnerable to attack – now you can simply step backwards from a fireball and watch it fly harmlessly past.
Sure it takes some skill with the timing, but a three-parter flaming skull projectile from Shang Tsung leaves him completely open to attack. The increasing difficulty of the AI as you progress through the game doesn’t help matters either, as your opponent can often foresee your moves and easily avoid them leaving you with egg on your face. Or more likely, an upper-cut to the face.
Those players who have mastered Sub-Zero’s freeze + slide + upper-cut routine will be glad to hear that the library of moves has remained practically unchanged. Although the characters have fewer “super-moves” than in previous titles, fireballs and special attacks can be triggered by basic commands like down-forward (punch) or down-back (kick) or forward-forward (punch) and so forth. Unfortunately the Xbox 360 controllers don’t lend themselves perfectly to these controls, but moves can be pulled-off via the D-Pad with practice. Hardcore fans will definitely get a more enjoyable experience with an arcade stick however.
Being a huge fan of both DC comics and the Mortal Kombat series, it was a shock to find myself being disappointed with this title. Unbalanced characters and a very steep difficulty curve can cause an unnecessary amount of frustration. The Story Mode (playable from either the DC or MK point of view) was interesting to progress though and had some well thought-out storylines. But eventually you’ll come up against a near unbeatable foe like Scorpion who will put a dampener on your enjoyment levels. Finally, the fact that the fatalities (one of the features that made MK stand above its rivals) have been toned down significantly to achieve an M (15 years or higher) rating make this game lose several points that should be a given. Midway has stated that there will be downloadable content for MK vs. DC Universe though, including new characters and arenas so there is still room for improvement.