When you consider Scorpion’s penchant for peeling the skin off his victims’ faces and Superman’s long history of do-gooding, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe isn’t such an obvious pairing – less a deadly alliance than it is a marriage of unlikely convenience – but the contrived set-up does create some undeniably daft, grin-making matchups. Jax vs Superman, anyone? Hokum plot aside, at its heart, the first next-gen Mortal Kombat is as good as it ever was over 15 years ago, for better and worse.
The complex attack-style juggling of previous MK’s is replaced with a more accessible set of moves. There’s a new Rage mode, where if you inflict (or receive) repeated blows, your character glows, allowing higher speed and more powerful combos – but its effect is undone if your rival counters out, which the computer invariably does. Complex combos require such precision timing and dish so relatively little damage they’re hardly worth bothering with. All characters are lovingly reproduced, though, with amusing special moves like the Joker’s ‘Bang!’ gun or The Flash’s speedy dashes, where he inflicts multiple-blows from blurry copies of himself.
There’s an attempt to explain all of this via the preposterous story mode, in which a strange force pits good MK characters against evil ones, then unites them both against the DC characters who have mysteriously warped into their world, and ultimately persuades everyone that their best interests would be served by combining their efforts against a common foe. Our tip? Switch off your brain and pile in.
It’s so poorly scripted and acted it’s pretty damned funny – Sonya Blade’s fight with Catwoman, who suddenly materializes in her military base, was an early highlight of badness, and it just gets stranger thereafter. The only predictable thing is that whenever two characters meet, one of them is going to beat the truth into the other, and if they’re not friends by the end of it all they’ll be hooking up again in the near future for another one-on-one barney.
The basic fighting system is much the same as it was in Mortal Kombat II, with the addition of a third dimension to allow fighters to sidestep. Special moves are of the back-forward-punch variety, and there’s a Klose Kombat camera-zoom for blood-spurting grapple moves. MK veterans will have no trouble rattling off familiar combos, and even though the animations have changed, the feel is pure MK.
Big new gameplay innovations are thin on the ground. Instead of bashing opponents against the arena wall and keeping them jammed there for some cheap damage, hard shots now smack them clean through the side of the screen. A cutscene ensues, in which you have to follow the button prompts to see who winds up on top when you land in the next area – which always looks strangely similar to the one you just broke out of. Focusing on the prompts distracts the eye from the fighting action, and the game doesn’t really gain anything from having these scenes. On the plus side, the trusty old Mortal Kombat uppercut is still the juiciest, most satisfying move in any fighting game, even if the DC tie-in has reduced the amount of gore from its victims.
Fatalities are still in the game, but you’re not going see Kano ripping off Batman’s head. It’s tamer than ever before, and that’s a worrying thing for a series whose chief appeal has always been its shameless bloodlust. Characters do take visible damage during the fights, though, and even the DC mob have their Lycra leotards torn to ribbons by the end of a fierce battle.
As a beat-’em-up, it pales next to the complex hit systems and frame-buffering of games such as Virtua Fighter, Soul Calibur and SFIV. Mortal Kombat’s moves are comparatively limited and annoyingly difficult to pull off in some cases. Even the graphics aren’t quite up to par – despite running on the Unreal 3 engine, it all looks very pixilated and oddly plasticky. What it does do better than most other fighting games is provide a terrific piece of fan service, with mindless, retro fun. Approach with honest hopes, and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Nov 17, 2008