Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe Review (PS3)

For a good few years now, some have been harping on about the beat Ďem up as a dying genre, a stable of games fast becoming irrelevant and anachronistic. Sequel after sequel of increasingly desperate Tekken and Dead Or Alive games may indeed support this claim, reheating the previous instalment and chucking in a few perfunctory features then shoving a Ď4í or Ď5í onto the end of the title without bringing anything particularly new to the party.

With the current crop of beat Ďem ups, we seem to be slap bang in the middle of a resurgence with more than a few old pugilists stepping back into the ring for another round (Street Fighter IV, Soul Calibur IV, Tekken 6, Virtua Fighter 5) to prove that theyíve still got what it takes. And to be honest, we were apprehensive as to whether the Mortal Kombat series would be fighting fit after a couple of decidedly patchy offerings causing the development team to rethink the entire mechanics of the series and start from scratch.

Strangely, seeing MK fighters taking on DC Comic's finest isn't as incongruous as you'd think
Lex Luthor fights in high-tech armour and is one of the lamer characters. Nice flamethrower though

Most would argue that MK has always been the poor manís Street Fighter, itís combat unrefined and needlessly bloody, the trademark fatalities pointless and grotesque. Weíve never subscribed to this train of thought, always having enough room in our heart to allow Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat to sit together, side by side in our game collection. And casting a beady eye over Mortal Kombatís latest move, we can see MK vs. DC happily rubbing shoulders with SF IV on our shelf.

Flying square into your face with a skull-shattering high kick, MK vs. DC is an incredibly pleasant surprise. When the announcement initially emerged that the eclectic, ghoulish MK world was to merge with the incomparable DC Universe, alarm bells started ringing. No fatalities!? Superman fighting Scorpion!? Surely itíll never work!? We feared the worst, thinking that Midway were getting ready to hammer the final nail in Mortal Kombatís koffin.

Well, whoopee! We were wrong, wrong, wrong, because Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe confounds all expectations by actually being a bit good. Firstly, there are fatalities and the game is lovely to look at, proving that Unreal Engine 3 can do more than just create hulking space marines in gaudy armour. Although not nearly as attractive as Soul Calibur IV, MK vs. DCís fighters are suitably beefy and drenched in small details, such as cuts, bruises and costume tears that accumulate as the fight wears on. However, the backdrops - though perfectly serviceable Ė lack the imagination and verve inherent in the surroundings you see in most other console brawlers, with some aspects rendered in ropey, lo-res textures. However, none of this matters as youíre usually too busy belting seven shades out of your opponent to care.

Yet, what the backgrounds lack in finesse, they more than make up for in interactivity with breakable scenery and Dead Or Alive style leaps to hidden lower levels. Itís during these freefalls that youíll discover the first of several neat little touches to the fighting dynamic that Midway has implemented to keep things fresh. In true comic book style, Freefall Kombat allows you to continue battering your opponent before hitting the ground on the next tier. Throwing an opponent through the arena walls initiates the fall causing a bar to appear at the side of the screen. Filling the bar is a case of beating your rival in the face and when the bar is full, pressing the right shoulder button with a face button instigates a super attack, which thrusts your hapless enemy right into the concrete in a satisfying rubble strewn collision.

Freefall is one of the best additions to the game. Stomping a mate into the ground is great fun
The Joker is a nice surprise in that he's actually pretty decent. A lot like the game itself

MK vs. DCís other new fighting mechanics include Klose Kombat, which begins when you grab a player with the right shoulder button. Zooming in to frame both players, Klose Kombat calls for each to match pressing a face button as indicated by an icon in the bottom corner of the screen. For the dominating player who initiated the brutal head-to-head, you can dole out the damage for a brief period of time unless your adversary times a Kounter button press enabling them to break free. Again, itís nothing particularly revolutionary, but it does a pretty good job of keeping the fisticuffs interesting and lifts it above the usual toe-to-toe button mashing that weíve grown accustomed to over the years. Test Your Might also makes an appearance, albeit as a brief Track and Field style button bash brought about whenever you throw your foe through a wall.

Midway have done a superb job in assembling a stellar character selection for MK vs. DC with the majority of fan favourites making the cut. Some might baulk at the omission of their own fondly loved character and we can foresee a select minority getting bent out of shape because Reptile or Goro didnít get into the game. Hopefully, the fact that thereís a roster of cool DC characters should appease die-hard MK fans and all being told, weíd rather play as Batman than Reptile given the choice. Particularly galling though is the presence of Quan Chi during the story mode, whom youíre unable to play as. If Midway took the trouble to put him into the game, then why didnít they make him a playable character? Seems silly to us, but then you can never rule out the prospect of DLC these days now can you?

Story mode is just one of the core single player modes and Midway have called upon top writing talent to explain why in Outworld Mortal Kombat characters are knocking about with the DC Comics crew. During the story mode each chapter restricts you to a single character as the convoluted narrative unfolds. The recurring theme is a mysterious yellow energy called Rage driving the fighters to have a go at one another at random intervals. Itís throwaway stuff that is little more than a flimsy excuse for MK and DC characters to have a bit of a scrap, explaining away the merging of the two properties and the new Rage meter, which renders you momentarily stronger and immovable. Rage can be unleashed when the yellow meter is filled and can turn the tide in an otherwise hopeless battle. The Rage meter is comprised of two segments where filling one enables you to execute a reversal move whereas filling two allows you to enter Rage state until the meter expends itself: another clever addition that adds an extra layer of strategy to the proceedings.

As well as the standard story and arcade modes, MK vs. DC includes a Kombo Challenge where the idea is to execute ten complex combos for each of the 20 characters (22 if you include the unlockables). The timing and execution in this mode has to be so incredibly precise, that we quickly gave up on this after grinding our teeth to dust in frustration. Itís ridiculous and only sadists will persevere with the string of increasingly convoluted button mashing as thereís no fun in this for any normal, well adjusted individual.

Unleashing the Rage can turn a fight on it's head. Knowing when to use it helps
Klose Kombat is yet another new feature that keeps the scrapping varied

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is quite possibly one of the finest beat Ďem up titles weíve played in a while. Itís not without itís flaws, but thereís hours of unpretentious fun to be had playing with friends both on and offline as well as completing the daft-as-a-box-of-frogs story. The fatalities have been watered down due to the DC licence, but then being able to play as Superman, The Joker, Batman et al compensate for this. Itís great that blood and carnage even made it into the game at all, even if it is in 15-certificate form.

We love MK vs. DC despite the fact that itís uncomplicated stuff, lacking the refinement of other examples in the genre. Yet as a no-nonsense punch in the face, MK vs. DC fits the bill perfectly. Itís nice to look at, effortless to play, tough to master and will satisfy all but the most po-faced Mortal Kombat or DC fan. Midwayís masterstroke is in formulating a convincing reason why Scorpion could beat Superman, even if a rudimentary knowledge of popular culture tells you that this would be impossible under any other circumstances. That you never question The Man Of Steel having his ass handed to him by Sub-Zero, shows that MK vs. DC works. So, ask yourself, do you love Mortal Kombat and do you love DC Comicsí iconic characters? If the answer is yes to both, then thereís really no reason for you not to purchase the game. Youíd be krazy not to.

Top game moment: The first time you chuck someone through the arena barriers and jump after them to initiate a Freefall. It's a moment of pure wish-fulfilling comic book violence.

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By Kres (SI Elite) on Nov 20, 2008
Didn't played fighting games in ages and this looks like fun.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 20, 2008
Just re-started playing MK games with my son, and remember just how fun they are. Combined with my all time fave, the Batman, this actually looks fun...shallow, but fun.