E3 08 Preview: Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe
Midway surprised a lot of gamers a few months ago with the announcement of Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, especially since the last MK game was billed at least in some way to be the final game in the series. But it seems that it was successful enough for the publisher to move on, admittedly with a new focus of crossing over their characters with that of the comic book world.
That's not to say that putting comic book characters into a fighting game is some kind of ridiculous or useless concept, as Capcom has been doing it successfully for years with X-Men vs Street Fighter and on to the Marvel vs Capcom series. And now, that "other" fighting game franchise (back before there were a ton of them at least) has teamed up with that "other" comic book publisher, and the result feels surprisingly fresh.
MK vs DC will pit something like 10 characters from each universe against each other in a format that will at first feel very familiar to MK fans - at first, maybe a bit too familiar - but quickly the differences start popping out. For one, this feels and plays much more like MK2 did, with more juggle combos and improvisation and less memorization of lengthy sequences of buttons. But beyond that, now the characters will mostly play on a two-dimensional plane. Sure, you can pull your thumb off the D-pad and use the analog stick to move into or out of the screen, but that's only really useful enough now for setting up an enemy for an environmental attack or dodging incoming projectiles. For the most part, the game takes place on that 2D plane.
The universe of these two properties have literally collided, causing rifts that have brought Outland and the MK-style Earth settings into Metropolis, the Batcave, and more. From the rubble of the Daily Planet to dark underground caves, each level has a few dangers and the developers at Midway have given you new ways to exploit them with versus-type button presses during these for either player - even the one getting busted through a concrete wall - to reverse his situation and start doing some damage of his own. This type of action can also be initiated during regular fighting, zooming the camera in on the characters and close-quarters fighting is done with the same button system. During these sequences, if you pick the same button as your opponent does for a move he's about to unleash, you can block or even reverse the damage.
The six playable characters at E3 this year were Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Sonya from the MK side, and the Flash, Batman, and Superman from the DC side. Other characters confirmed to be in the final game are Liu Kang, Catwoman, Shang Tsung, and Captain Marvel (not to be confused with Marvel Comics or, for that matter, Captain America). I found it a little disappointing that the look of the DC characters seems to have come directly from the 50s comic books, so they have a very dated look compared to their modern movie counterparts as well as the more recently-designed MK characters as well. Currently there are no plans to update their look to match the more recent times, but it's a possibility as the game nears launch and the ideas of extras and unlocked items get tossed around. One amusing thing is the bruises and cuts that characters get when they take damage, and their costumes can even rip and the cloth that hangs sways with the appropriate physics code.
Some concern has gone around over Midway's well-documented intent to get this game a Teen rating, especially as this would be the first MK game to not be rated Mature. But it's a part of pairing up with DC, and overall, the Fatalities are still plenty deadly without seeing torsos ripped apart and such. And the DC characters themselves will have finishing moves, but the good guys will have "Brutalities" that are still really hard-hitting but don't actually kill their opponents. Either way, I think anyone who spends too much time complaining about finishing moves probably wasn't that big on the series anyway, as the dedicated fans enjoy the lore and characters more than they do the finishers.
I lucked out and played the game on the PS3, as the Xbox 360's D-pad is just not well-built for fighting games. I talked to someone else who gave it a shot on the 360 and he agreed that any problem with its D-pad wasn't solved in software for MK vs DC, but I wouldn't expect that. Maybe at some point someone will release a nice, compact gamepad that plays fighting games correctly on the 360, but until then we'll just have to stick with one of these.
While online play is promised as well as the expected local match-ups, we didn't get to see any of it at the show. As far as whether fans of classic MK will enjoy this, well, I'd have to say that with every game since around #3, it's been pulling away from that original draw, and the rubber band has finally snapped back into place. If you dug MK2 and have wondered just what happened to the franchise since, then this is the first game in the series in a decade that I'd recommend you try out. You'll get your chance when it's released on Xbox 360 and PS3 this November.