"The result is something that feels more like an old-fashioned fighter and less like a grim SoulCalibur clone with too many characters. Instead of a cluttered roster, you'll be asked to choose from the distinct likes of Kano, Baraka, Sonya and Jax. Each utilizes vaguely familiar moves that haven't really been prominent in the series for quite some time. Seeing them executed regularly here is enough to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye. More importantly, it adds to the impact of seeing Sub-Zero square off against Batman. Such a conflict would feel like nothing more than a cosplay convention if they were hauling around generic swords, but instead you'll see them battle it out in exactly the manner you'd expect."
If I say “Mortal Kombat is finally back,” will you do me a favor and hold off on saying “But it's been back for awhile now” for just a moment? I'm aware of games like Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and the ones that have followed since. I haven't been living under a rock, after all. I've played those recent installments and even liked them to varying degrees. Now that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has come along, though, they just don't matter.
The big difference between Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and something like Mortal Kombat: Armageddon isn't necessarily the obvious one--the inclusion of characters like Batman and Superman that you've seen in comic books for years. Instead, it's the way that the combat system has been pared down to something more closely approximating the 'glory days' of the series. That change is the one that I will think back on whenever I recall the game... but I'll go ahead and talk about the super heroes first.
Essentially, there are 10 characters from the Mortal Kombat and another 10 from the pages of DC Comics. Two others can be unlocked later. Everyone was brought together when various events in two realms came to a head. Barriers between the two dimensions broke apart. Now, two vastly different worlds are about to mash together and probably implode. Only by uniting against their common enemy can the inhabitants of either planet live to see tomorrow, but there's a strange aura going about that makes cooperation extremely unlikely.
All of this is explained at length in the game's campaign mode, which you'll need to play through twice if you want to see everything (once for each universe). Irritatingly, you can't choose your champion. The plot takes care of that, so you'll fight four battles as Batman or the Flash or even the Joker, then another four as Superman. Though this setup allows for an occasionally interesting script with some great lines that should appeal to fans of the mythology behind both universes, you're sometimes left using a weak character to battle a powerhouse as a result. It's all still doable, though, and at least this way you'll have time (and a reason) to master a wider variety of fighters.
That ties in nicely to the thing that I've already mentioned wanting to talk about: the actual combat. If you've played recent Mortal Kombat games, you'll surely remember pressing shoulder buttons to switch between fighting styles. This made for some interesting, combo-based combat as it allowed each fighter to melt from one attack style to another, but it also had the unintended side effect of stripping characters of their personality. Success too often came down to a matter of simply switching fighting styles on the fly and going at things that way, without much consideration for the character's unique abilities. This was especially true if you were a total scrub, like me.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Comics scraps that dynamic. Now each character has just one style that is unique to him or her. The result is something that feels more like an old-fashioned fighter and less like a grim SoulCalibur clone with too many characters. Instead of a cluttered roster, you'll be asked to choose from the distinct likes of Kano, Baraka, Sonya and Jax. Each utilizes vaguely familiar moves that haven't really been prominent in the series for quite some time. Seeing them executed regularly here is enough to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye. More importantly, it adds to the impact of seeing Sub-Zero square off against Batman. Such a conflict would feel like nothing more than a cosplay convention if they were hauling around generic swords, but instead you'll see them battle it out in exactly the manner you'd expect.
The nuances of the new battle system don't end there, though. Midway has added a 'Rage' meter (which ties nicely into the story, as well). The way this works is that as you take damage--or deal it--you'll fill two little bars that appear below your health meter. When they start flashing, you can go into a brief rage that allows you to shrug off several hits. Your own strikes do more damage, too. Entering into this state can really turn the tide of battle if you're in a close fight and definitely adds some strategy to the proceedings.
Another twist is the ability to crash through walls. Sometimes this will merely expand the arena horizontally. You'll watch as one battler pushes the other through concrete slabs. Damage mounts as both contestants mash the face buttons to influence the total amount of vitality lost by the victim. More commonly, the combatants will find themselves plummeting toward a courtyard or street far below. Airborne, they'll grapple with one another in an attempt to come out on top and perhaps even execute a special move along the way. Initiating such an assault can be tricky since things can just as easily work against you as not. It's all about risk assessment.
One other change I've noticed is that computer-controlled opponents don't seem quite as aggressive here on the normal difficulty settings. They'll still kick your ass if given half a chance, but they're not all about an unrelenting barrage of special attacks. Expect to see some variety in how they bring the pain, and be ready for them to back away if you happen to initiate the rage meter at an inopportune moment. They know when you're dangerous and they won't be afraid to retreat and then attack when a new opening presents itself.
If you get tired of the computer AI, there's also the option to head online. The main lobby that greets you when you do so is divided into smaller rooms where up to 100 players can gather. You simply look at a list and issue a challenge to someone who isn't actively battling, or you can wait for someone else to do the same to you. Then you'll get to pick your characters and start your fight. After someone wins, both can then indicate that they want a rematch--at which point character selection is again available--or you can return to the lobby listings. It all feels a bit sparse, but it's effective. I was able to jump into a few extremely satisfying matches right away, though I did notice that many of my opponents had a thing for Scorpion. Get good at ducking projectile ropes (you know the ones I mean) and it's easy to do some serious damage.
When I first heard about Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, I was skeptical. It seemed like Midway had simply decided to throw in the towel. I didn't expect the best entry that the series has seen in years, but that's precisely what I got. There are some flaws, including lengthy load times that you have to endure even when retrying a match you've lost, but they don't get in the way of the thrilling big picture. If this is a sign of developments to come, consider me delighted. Mortal Komat is finally back!
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 24, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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