E3 Hands-On: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

“Really? Come on, seriously… really?” If those thoughts were running through your head when Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was first announced, trust us, you weren’t alone. During E3, we were able to see the game in action, and also get a few rounds in for ourselves to confirm that this isn’t just a practical joke by series co-creator Ed Boon, and that both him and the team at Midway are certainly not treating it like one.

Being the eighth Mortal Kombat game, and the first to appear on the latest generation of consoles, a crossover seemed like an odd choice next-gen debut. But Midway told us that the idea was in the cards for a long time, and thanks to some friendships between a few of the high-ups at both Midway and DC, such a title became possible. We know many of you are asking for an explanation for this “WTF” scenario, and the developers are promising that one will be provided in the game’s story mode as to why and how these two very different universes came together. Adding some more depth, the campaign will feature two parallel plot lines, one following the DC characters and the other their MK counterparts, so that a more well-rounded perspective is provided for understanding the conflict.

The first match we witnessed was between The Flash and Scorpion in downtown Metropolis. One thing that Midway is promising with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is a return to a more 2D style of gameplay (inside a 3D environment) to give the game a more classic arcade feel.

As the fight went on, we also witnessed the intense progressive damage inflicted onto both fighters such as torn clothing and bruised faces. We’re all very used to seeing our favorite MK characters torn to shreds, but in the case of DC icons like The Flash, Midway described some very nerve wracking email sessions with DC when planning damage models. So what was DC’s response? With some of the most detailed models of Superman and Batman ever created in a game, DC gave the developers very positive feedback saying: “You guys obviously know what you’re doing, go with it.”

While Midway has had to deal with a few limitations, some pretty heavy stuff is being inflicted on DC characters, such as Scorpion burning The Flash alive, but not to death. Midway also admitted that the restriction to a Teen rating has provided enforcement for more creativity when coming up with finishing moves, now called Brutalities, rather than just reverting to the usual spine removal.

The DC element isn’t the only new thing though, as the designers have a few other tricks up their sleeves to develop and expand upon the general MK experience by including varying combat events. The more subtle of these twists is Klose Kombat, where one player will pull another in for a personal face to fist encounter that can backfire on the aggressor if their attack is properly countered by hitting the correct face button. The other new addition is Free Fall, seen during a battle between Sub Zero and Batman in a graveyard set within the Outworld universe. During the fight, Batman shoved poor Subs off a cliff, triggering a mid air battle that worked similarly to the Klose Kombat mode where the aggressor and defender can continually switch positions in a sinking slug fest to achieve a free fall super move, making someone’s landing an especially unpleasant one.

But you can’t have free falling when you’re on the ground right? During Superman and Sonya’s fight in downtown metropolis, a Test Your Might mode went into action, causing a button mashing contest between the two fighters as Superman took Sonya off the streets for an indoor stroll, smashing her through a series of walls. Both the Free Fall and Test Your Might events are clearly an attempt to give some expansion to each of the game’s levels, but also let the transitions actually have an effect on the overall fight. Midway is promising a mix of both DC and Mortal Kombat universe venues, including Metropolis as mentioned earlier, and also the Batcave and various other classic Outworld locales. Given that the Dark Knight’s home base is included, we asked if Superman’s own snuggly abode, the Fortress of Solitude, would be available, and were given a coy “what do you think?”

Once it came time to get our own match on, the game did feel like a 2D fighting experience as we were told. Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe has a distinctly old school Mortal Kombat feel to it, perhaps even more so that some of the recent entries. And that’s not necessarily bad at all, considering it may help to ease some of the hardcore crowd’s apprehensions of the DC universe’s inclusion, or interference if you’re really bitter. All of the Mortal Kombat fighters play exactly as you’d expect them to, with Sub Zero’s icy maneuvers, Scorpion’s spear, and Sonya’s deadly kisses, so naturally we wanted to see what was new with the DC characters.

To our enjoyment, each had a pretty unique feel to them. The Flash is as expected very fast and nimble, unleashing a series of blistering hits, while Superman was a surprisingly heavy character for someone that can fly. It’s apparent that Midway is trying to get these characters to really mesh into the Mortal Kombat fighting experience, and at the same time feel like the kind of brawlers we would imagine them to be, rather than simply serving as a fancy licensed skin.

The one think we did find a bit weak were the overall visuals of the game. Even though Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is running on the Unreal Engine 3, the game pales in comparison to other titles that use the engine, but the game is of course still a ways off development wise.

We probably can’t completely obliterate that feeling of unease in every Mortal Kombat fan’s stomach, but we can say from our own time with the game that Midway is definitely focused on making a Mortal Kombat game at heart, despite the inclusion of some very unusual guests and absence of any actual heart removal.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is set to release this November for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.

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