Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (Xbox 360) Review

I've been having so much fun with Mortal Kombat that I decided to hunt down and pick up its predecessor and the franchise's first foray onto current generation consoles, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. While not as polished as its successor and certainly a lot cheesier than the standard Mortal Kombat storyline, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is still a solid fighter filled with its own campy fun.

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe features several modes of play, such as Story Mode, Arcade Ladder, Kombo Challenges, and of course, multiplayer over Xbox LIVE. The Story Mode is where most will venture into first, and it allows you to choose your side, Mortal Kombat or DC, and play through that faction's events of the overall story.

As a non-canonical story, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe sees Raiden defeating Shao Khan at the same time Superman is stopping Darkseid's latest invasion attempt. At the exact same moment Raiden zaps Shao Khan into a portal Superman uses his heat vision on Darkseid as he attempts to flee into a Bomb Tube. While both villains appear to be destroyed by these events, the duplicate timing actually merges them into one being, Dark Khan, and slowly begins merging Mortal Kombat's Earthrealm with DC's Earth.

Story Mode is broken down into Chapters in which one character is focused on and playable out of the 22 playable characters featured (two of which must be unlocked), and all but a few are playable in this mode. Some of the most popular and recognizable heroes and villains from the DC universe make an appearance, such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Joker, Lex Luther, and Catwoman, while all the Mortal Kombat cast is pulled from the first two games in the franchise. Favourites like Scorpion and Sub-Zero as well as villains like Shang Tsung and Baraka are all present.

The Mortal Kombat characters are, of course, well suited to a fighting game while the DC characters had to be adapted to the roll. DC Comics collaborated with Midway to create the right special moves and tone for all of their characters, and the results are a cast that fit their comic counterparts but also feel like other absent Mortal Kombat characters. For example Catwoman's agility and pounce move reminds me of Mileena, Flash's fast attacks and dashes reminds me of Kabal, and Lex Luthor's missile attacks and escape moves reminds me a bit of Sektor. Such moves and familiarity are not a bad thing at all and help to better integrate the DC cast into the game.

Back to Story Mode, as the worlds merge not only do these heroes and villains all encounter one another, but the creation of Dark Khan has begun spreading "Kombat Rage" throughout, infecting the characters and making them volatile, hostile, and prone to violence. Friend and foe alike can't help but clash with one another, and the Mortal Kombat and DC characters each see the others as invaders to be destroyed.

While both the Story Mode experiences are separate, the Mortal Kombat and DC story lines are parallel with one another and the DC side has one extra Chapter for some strange unsuspicious reason. The dialogue is cheesy and very comic book styled, with many battles actually starting with one character shouting "Fight!" at the other. They like fighting you see. It's also rather amusing how the characters are always threatening to kill one another, yet once defeated in a fight the victor simply walks away from the defeated. Finishing Moves can not be performed in Story Mode, so there'll be no killing here.

Once you're done with Story Mode there's Arcade Ladder to tackle. Here you select any of the 22 characters and then you can choose for the Ladder's opponents to be all Mortal Kombat characters, all DC characters, or a mix. The sub-boss for each Ladder encounter will either be Shao Khan or Darkseid (depending on what type of opponents you picked or random if you selected a mix), and the final boss is always Dark Khan. One interesting trait about Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe's Arcade Ladder is that you can actually perform a Finishing Move on sub-bosses, something I've wanted to do to Shao Khan for nearly 15 years.

It should be noted that this is the only Mortal Kombat title to be rated "T" for Teen, which means the Fatalities are toned down and the DC heroes sport Heroic Brutalities as they're not permitted to kill by license. While the Fatalities themselves may be far less gory, they still kill their opponent and get the job done, and I personally didn't have a huge issue with this. What did irk me though was the complete lack of Stage Fatalities. Each character posses two Fatalities or Heroic Brutalities and that's it, and while it keeps things simple, honestly, I always loved the creative Stage Fatalities the franchise has had. It was cool though to see some classic Fatalities return, such as Kitana's Kiss of Death, Liu Kang's Arcade Drop, and Sub-Zero's Ice Breaker. The Heroic Brutalities do work even if they aren't exactly typical of the franchise, though honestly some of them would be fatal as well. If Superman pounds someone into the ground, they wouldn't just be brutalized, they would be dead but hey, whatever works for the licensing.

There are several mini-games to be found throughout the various game modes. Most stages are multi-tiered and if you knock your opponent off to a level below, you'll begin Free Fall Kombat. In Free Fall you're on top of your opponent mashing buttons to hit them and increase damage. If your opponent matches your button press though you switch places and the damage you did to them is transferred to you. Once you reach a certain amount of damage dealt you can press "Right Bumper" to do a nice little character specific finisher which'll send your opponent smashing to the ground.

Another mini-game is Klose Kombat. During any regular match if you press "Right Bumper" when standing next to your opponent you'll grab them and the camera will zoom right in. You can then mash buttons to severely damage them, but if your opponent matches your button press they'll break free and the fight resumes as per normal.

The last mini-game is Test Your Might, but it's implemented in a completely new fashion. Instead of breaking blocks they're now featured in regular maps on specific stages. If you knock your opponent into a building you'll keep pushing them through, pressing buttons quickly to increase the damage they take. Your opponent, on the other hand, will need to mash buttons themselves to try and reduce the damage you're doing to them. The max damage dealt is capped and the mini-game ends when you both emerge on the building's other side. Personally, I wasn't a big fan of this version of Test Your Might and I'm glad the idea was abandoned in Mortal Kombat.

The game's Super Metre has two bars that fill up over time, either by dealing or absorbing damage (but more so by dealing it). The first bar allows you to perform a Kombo Breaker by pressing forward and Block, which can really help save you from some punishing damage. If you allow the second bar to fill, however, you can either perform another Kombo Breaker or you can instead enter Rage Mode by pressing both Triggers. Aside from having glowing yellow eyes, a nice roar, and a crazy aura, your character will no longer be stunned from Kombos for the duration of the Rage which really lets you dish out the damage. If your opponent is next to you when you activate Rage Mode they'll also be knocked back and take damage. You do still take regular damage while in Rage Mode, however, so it's up to you whether you want to use it or stick to Kombo Breakers as there's no guarantee that you'll do significant damage when Raged.

Once you've finished up with Arcade Ladder you can attempt the game's Kombo Challenges for each character, which are a series of increasingly difficult combos to pull together. These combos will sometimes involve the new Pro Moves, which are a specific special move followed immediately by another to create a devastating effect. The timing for Pro Moves must be perfect, but if you pull them off you'll do some nice damage. The Kombo Challenges in general are extremely challenging and require precise and expert timing, and as of this typing I don't expect to be able to complete any myself.

If you finish up or give up on Kombo Challenges, you can always take the fight online over Xbox LIVE. The player pool is small, especially since Mortal Kombat is now out, however I never had to wait long for a Ranked Match (unlike Mortal Kombat) and the few matches I've played in had no lag (also unlike Mortal Kombat). This surprised me greatly as if any title would have had more online issues, I would have expected it to be the earlier one but that's apparently not the case. The online matches I've played thus far have been fun, smooth, and quick; exactly what I expect out of an online fighting game. Perhaps Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe sports better net code or perhaps I just got lucky. Regardless, if Ranked Matches aren't your thing you can hop into a chat room and simply challenge anyone who's there for some friendly or not-so-friendly competition.

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is built on Unreal Engine 3, and it certainly shows. While visually not as pristine and polished as Mortal Kombat, the game does look solid and the 3D arenas are reasonably well detailed and filled with enough variety to keep them appealing and engaging. Character models are well detailed and fluid in their animations and this was the game that introduced visual damage to your characters as they get smacked around, which is a very nice addition. The games physics are good though the juggle combos that can be pulled off are insane, and for those of you wondering all the female characters do have a solid hefting of physics applied to their breasts, though less so than in Mortal Kombat.

Audio wise the voice acting is solid and campy for a fighting/comic book game but it does what it needs to do, and the sound effects are spot on. The music is well composed as well and generally works in complimenting each setting or section of Story Mode.

The Xbox 360's D-Pad still isn't overly precise but for some odd reason I found Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe handles rolling motions better than Mortal Kombat. Scorpion's Teleport Punch, for example, is easy to execute with a simple role of the thumb while in Mortal Kombat the thumb roll usually has him jumping backwards. One thing I found Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe to be very unforgiving on though would be Finishing Move distance. You really need to be precise on your distances and quick with the button combinations to get these finishers off right, which can be a bit frustrating.

Being a 3D fighter the Left Stick is used to navigate the 3D plain allowing you to side step incoming projectiles, or you can also accomplish this by holding Left Trigger and using the D-Pad. Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is actually the first 3D fighter that I've spent any real amount of time with, and I can honestly say that I didn't find the 3D plain to be overly useful or drastically game changing, and even in online matches most players that I've gone up against seem to rarely use it. As an old school fighter I do prefer my 2D plain for the genre, but this was doable.

It is a shame that there aren't more unlockables or game modes available, and while what Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe does offer is solid, it's a bit on the sparse side. No alternate costumes or Stage Fatalities, Friendships, or Babalities, no hidden fighters, no Kombat Kodes or unlockable artwork, and not even a tutorial means that you'll be spending most of your time either online or with Arcade Ladder, and while there's certainly entertainment to be had this makes it hard to recommend at full retail price.

Thankfully though I don't have to, as Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe is already a Platinum Hits title and with a $19.99 price tag, well, it's a solid price for some campy fun. Personally, I also found it quite interesting to see the development of the franchise, to see how Unreal Engine 3 was first used and how the Super Metre, special moves, and combos have evolved to the current release. I missed the last console generation's entries into the Mortal Kombat franchise, and I've been told that Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe went back to a more classic feel that was lost with its predecessors. While I can't vouch for them, I can say the game was easy to get into and to play with no complicated fighting styles and any switching of weapons and the like (save for sheathing or unsheathing Baraka's or Deathstroke's blades). A lot of what this game did right or returned to properly was carried into Mortal Kombat, and those are all good things.

If you're waiting for a price drop on Mortal Kombat, looking to pad your Gamerscore, or just looking for a fun, cheap fighting game, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe will fill all those rolls nicely. There's a solid if limited fighter there, and with a more stable online mode than Mortal Kombat, there's definitely replay value in the box, even two and a half years after it's release.

Update: Having recently completed "The Competitor" and "Relentless" Achievements, I thought I'd pen a bit more about the game's Multiplayer experience.

Even this late into Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe's life cycle, there's no shortage of players on Xbox LIVE and the game really does have a solid feel to it. I have 217 games under my belt (over 50% of those are Ranked matches) and I must say that I've enjoyed myself immensely. In terms of number of games, this also makes Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe my most played game over Xbox LIVE to date.

Ranked matches are pretty standard, and the matchmaking system uses your TrueSkill to find you an opponent to compete against. It did a fairly good job of matching me against worthy foes, something I've always felt the TrueSkill system lacked at doing, and rarely was I in a game that I completely dominated in or was being dominated. Higher skilled players would unleash the most insane juggle combos I've ever seen in a Mortal Kombat title, and lower skilled players would attempt to spam the same move over and over or abuse the few characters who had a two-hit kick juggle that only seems breakable by using a Combo Breaker.

In any match I also found Combo Breakers to be a real life saver, and for Rage Mode to be a waste except in the rarest of circumstances. It's far too easy to avoid a player who's in Rage Mode, or even better, you could often crouch and keep punching with "1" and your average opponent just couldn't figure out how to hit you!

If you're not a fan of Ranked games you can simply hop into a Chat Room, where the "Gotham City" one usually has anywhere from 20 to 60 players lounging around, and you can simply challenge people over and over and over again by pressing "X." These were pretty fun and a lot of players enjoyed rematching, allowing you to play a sizable number of games in short order.

I played all 217 games as Scorpion, my chosen kombatant, and I fought against most of the others at some point. Kombatants like Kano and Lex Luthor were rare while Catwoman was the only character I didn't see once, and others like Scorpion, Captain Marvel, Batman, and Sub-Zero were hugely popular.

I was also very pleased with the lack of any serious lag which really allowed me to focus on my combos instead of trying to determine who was hitting what when, or why my hits weren't connecting.

So when all is said and done, I can't complain with my purchase of Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. While I've retired it to play Mortal Kombat, I most certainly got my money's worth out of the title and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to any of you for offline or online play.

No comments: