In 1992, from the dimly lit, cacophonous bowels of the local video arcade beckoned the rumbling monster of Mortal Kombat. Patrons crowded around the thunderous machine for a better look, responding with cheers and sympathetic groans to the action on screen. Fast forwarding through 16 years, Mortal Kombat moved from the arcade to the console with generally good results. But today, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe has definitively returned the franchise to its former glory with the visceral combat and legendary atmosphere of its heyday.
Pitting the Mortal Kombat character base against that of the DC Universe was initially seen by the gaming community as a misstep. These concerns were quickly allayed as screenshots and trailers became available. It was immediately obvious that these two universes were not only colliding, but becoming a part of each other in design. The DC characters live up to their roots in comic books while taking on the dark and foreboding light of the MK universe. And the MK characters are just that much more intimidating in their new high definition digs.
While some fighting franchises evolve by using progressively more complicated combo structures, MKvsDC brings its fighting mechanics back to the basics. This is not to say that grand flourishes of destruction are not possible. But it is now for the player to construct his or her own combos using the basic elements rather than memorizing a 20-button sequence for a single attack. The result is a refreshingly accessible fighting game that is entertaining to newcomers and enticing to the hardcore player who wants to dig deeper.
A few new mechanics have been added to MKvsDC. Rage Mode is a temporary power-up that can be triggered by a player to gain temporarily increased damage to opponents and decreased damage from opponents. This can be a life saver when you're down to your last sliver of health. Free-fall combat is activated on certain arenas when one player knocks the other through the side of the level. Both players plummet to the ground below while continuing the fight and reversing the advantage by playing a Simon-style game with the attack buttons. Whoever ends up on the bottom of the free-fall takes all the damage. Players have the ability to grab their opponents, engaging in Klose Kombat. This starts a short rock 'em, sock 'em boxing event with the initiator attacking and the opponent on defense, trying to anticipate the attacker's next move.
MKvsDC's story mode is quite good considering the competing titles in this genre. If you're looking for a story as deep as Fallout 3, forget it. But there is a good narrative that carries the player for several hours through the events that have caused these two worlds to collide. In fact there are two complementary story mode campaigns, one following the DC characters, and the other following the characters of MK. As you have likely guessed, there are significant battles waiting at the end of each campaign.
There are practice and combo challenge modes that prepare the player for battle, allowing experimentation with the game's 20 (not counting unlockable) characters. And once you have a few tricks up your sleeve, it's time to move on to the bread and butter of this game: Multiplayer combat.
Now let's be honest, fighting games have never been about the single-player experience. They show you their best during multiplayer matches, usually with the guy or gal sitting next to you on the couch. MKvsDC extends that couch across the internet with online multiplayer that is responsive and thrilling. Few things are better than listening to your opponent scream across the headset while you beat him to a bloody pulp. And if you should fail to do so, challenge him to a rematch and continue your climb up the leader board. With character-unique fighting styles and a wide variety of arenas, MKvsDC provides some of the best online gaming that next-gen consoles have to offer.
MKvsDC succeeds right out the gate with its art style that successfully merges two very different universes. Use of the Unreal Engine pays off in gorgeous environments like The Batcave with fluid 60 frame per second action. While fighting animations could be a bit smoother, they are dynamic, exciting, and satisfying. Character visuals are truly amazing with painstakingly detailed models and textures. Cinematics are attractive, well directed, and actually interesting to watch (rather atypical for a fighting game). Even if you're not behind the controls, it's a beautiful game to watch, especially in high definition.
Within the fighting genre, Mortal Kombat has always been at the forefront when it comes to audio. Combat sounds have tremendous impact and detail and the epic score gives the game's action a heightened sense of purpose and tension. Ambient audio in the arenas ties it together for a listening experience that really puts you behind the fists of your character. Voice acting in cinematics is high in quality and well acted on the whole with standout performances by Raiden and The Joker.
This part is easy to talk about. It kicks so much ass that everything around you will suddenly grow an ass and subsequently have its ass kicked off by MKvsDC. MK still reigns supreme when it comes to local multiplayer and it easily riles up a room full of people as the punches fly. Online multiplayer is thus far bug free and extremely responsive (knock wood). One aspect of the online multiplayer in which players can create private combat rooms is not yet functional but will be apparently be fixed in an any-minute-now update.
To those who doubted the concept of MKvsDC, doubt no more because Mortal Kombat is back with a vengeance. While the gimmicky single-player minigames are excluded from this title, MKvsDC boasts a formidable story mode and the best multiplayer action the franchise has seen since its tenure in the arcade. Grab this title while it's hot and bring home some hurt for the holidays.