Written February 2009 for http://www.xboxgamezone.co.uk
How epic does this sound? All the Mortal Kombat characters of your youth up against your favourite comic book stars. Sure that’s making a few assumptions but seriously, who doesn’t like comic book stars such as Batman, Superman, The Joker and erm Deathstroke? Ok admittedly that one passed me by completely but the idea of playing as Batman and The Joker in the same game sounds pretty good to me! Mortal Kombat wise, I was never really a huge fan. I admired the concept of fatalities and banalities and middle agedalities (I may have made that one up), but I was more of a Street Fighter 2 girl. Give me a fireball and hurricane kick and I was more than happy. However when Midway announced this game, I couldn’t help but be a bit excited. I have a great affection for it Midway; they developed NBA Jam and Gauntlet, how could I not be a fan and pay them a bit of respect. With this knowledge, I approached MK vs DC Universe quite excitedly, and I wasn’t disappointed for the most part.
MK Vs DC Universe offers the typical options that almost every beat em up worth its salt offers these days: an Arcade mode, a Story mode and a practice mode. As well as this there are the Kombo Challenges which is an interesting idea but a little flawed unfortunately. The challenges revolve around succeeding in pulling off ten set of move strings. In the early stages it is usually incredibly easy, simply a matter of upper cutting someone followed up by a few more punches for example. By the end of the set of challenges, it can get extremely frustrating and confusing if you’re trying to do it without a guide. There are challenges for each character which sounds great for extending longevity. Unfortunately however, all it really provides is achievements; there are no unlockables for completing a challenge which does feel like a missed opportunity. Even unlockable costumes would have been something but it seems it wasn’t to be.
The real meat of the game is of course the Story Mode and no doubt will be your first port of call when you load up the game. You can choose to follow the DC side of the story or the Mortal Kombat side of the story. I didn’t admittedly find a huge amount of difference between the two. Yes, obviously there are different battles and a different side of the story but the gameplay is near identical. It is just a matter of fighting a battle (in the regular beat em up manner) then watching a bit of the story unfold before undertaking another battle and so on. Fortunately however, the gameplay is excellent fun and challenging enough that the somewhat dull story doesn’t really matter. It is a beat em up after all, not an epic RPG, so why shouldn’t it focus on the gameplay?
Anyone who’s played a 2D beat em up knows the score. up is jump, down is crouch, left/right moves and that’s it. However MK vs DC is 3D…..sort of. The d-pad controls are as usual, just like in a 2D beat em up, however hold down left trigger and moving around is a tad more 3D in nature. It probably all sounds a bit odd written down but works surprisingly well in practice. Just like any other Mortal Kombat game, there are plenty of fatalities for the MK characters. For DC characters there are Heroic Brutalities, a nicer version of a fatality really, if such a thing can exist. As well as this there are four new situations added to the proceedings: Klose Kombat, Free Fall Kombat, Test Your Might and Rage Mode. Klose Kombat is where you grab your opponent with the touch of the left bumper and get the opportunity to punch them up close by using the face buttons on the controller to initiate attacks. The opposing player can then try to match these buttons to block an attack. Free Fall Kombat is much the same, only in air. It’s initiated when you tackle an opponent and throw them off the arena down to the next stage of the arena, as you fall you can press buttons to initiate attacks. This can then culminate in a ‘super’ attack which generally consists of throwing the opponent at the floor causing extra damage. Each character has their own animation for this such as Wonder Woman lassoing her opponent into the ground. Both Klose Kombat and Free Fall Kombat look really cool but it does slow the action down a bit which detracts from the MK way a bit. Also it’s a shame that you can seemingly only ever do a maximum of 30% damage with Free Fall Kombat no matter how many more punches you perform. Test Your Might has a similar 30% damage limit but is much more frantic. This is where you run your opponent’s body through many walls in the arena and you have to hammer all the buttons fast to deal more and more damage to your opponent. The first time I did this, despite causing very little damage as I hadn’t got the controls figured out, it looked incredibly cool and very unique as well. Finally there is Rage Mode which you can probably guess. Throughout each battle, a two tier bar fills up underneath your health bar. When one of these is filled, you can initiate a Kombo Breaker that messes up an opponent’s combo. When both bars are full, Rage Mode can be initiated which allows you to absorb attacks without being interrupted, ignore an opponent’s block and generally be undefeatable for the brief time that Rage is activated. It’s very cool to have, and very annoying to have to face! My only real request with the controls isn’t really the game’s fault. They make me wish I had an arcade stick as it really would feel so much more fluid with one.
It’s unfortunate that despite the mostly great gameplay, that the game is lacking in substance. The story mode, although entertaining, really isn’t very long at all. It only took me around 7hrs to complete both sides of the story and I’ve heard similar tales from friends with this game. It’s great fun while it lasts (although I can’t for the life of me remember the actual story!) but it does feel a bit poor for a full priced release game. The Arcade Mode gives you more to do, as there are 24 characters to play through in Arcade mode, but again, there’s just no reward for completing it other than satisfaction. This brings me to the final and to many the most crucial, addition to the game: the online capabilities. These are frankly disappointing, not because of any huge server lag or the general multitude of problems that afflict online gaming, but simply because they feel so limited and average. As if Midway just went through the motions with it. There are the usual ranked, player and private options for matches and leaderboards. But well, that’s it. In a world of online gaming where 20 players can join together for a game of Fifa 09 and games such as Left4Dead around. Why would you bother playing this online? Why are there no tag team options, or team battles? How much fun would it be if you could play a tag team survival mode online with a friend? But you can’t, which just seems like a huge oversight to me.
Personally as a consumer I have limited money and so many games vying for my attention. For the most part I rent a lot of games, the same as many of you do I’m sure, however if a game has a sufficiently entertaining online mode, that’s when it goes on my ‘Must Buy’ pile. These days I can’t buy a game just for its single player, especially not if it’s only 6-7 hours long. It needs to have that factor that makes me keep returning to it. In the case of MK vs DC Universe, despite it being very enjoyable, it’s just too short. It has no longevity; ultimately it has no reason for me to recommend it to you as anything more than a rental. Obviously if you are the biggest beat em up fan that ever lived and regularly have tournaments at home then this is still for you. However if you like the odd beat em up to wile away a winter’s night, then don’t buy this. Rent it, enjoy it, then hand it back and buy something that will last you a bit longer. It’s just a shame that more wasn’t made of the story mode, it could have been like Soul Calibur 2 in terms of story and made a really interesting single player game. However, despite the great gameplay, Midway haven’t quite managed to create the complete package yet and the Xbox 360 is still lacking the ultimate beat em up that it so desperately craves.