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Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
Graphics: 8.4
Gameplay: 8.5
Sound: 7.5
Control: 8.5
Replay Value: 8.5
Rating: 8.4

As a gamer, nothing makes me happier than to see old franchises getting revived either in the form of remakes, updates, or all new games that are infused with their old-school heritage. This generation has, so far, been about that. Street Fighter is getting two huge releases, in the form of a remake and a new entry, as is the case for Bionic Commando, and a few others. Mortal Kombat is one of those franchise, and while this particular MK may seem like a radical departure from its past games, the differences aren't as skin deep as you might assume.

What's immediately welcoming about MKDC is how much it feels like Mortal Kombat 3 at times, without question my favorite entry of the franchise. As you'd expect, special moves remain largely identical with each and every MK character, on top of gaining some new and very cool abilities. But even the DC characters are easy to get a grasp of once you fiddle around with them and familiarize yourself with their move-sets by checking out the in-game move list. More importantly, it's the combo system that makes the game feel more like MK3 than any other game in the series, and I took a liking to that.

You see, unlike the last few Mortal Kombat games, which were often confusing and clunky with their various fighting styles and weapon movesets, this MK game feels a lot smoother. But most importantly, it felt a lot more fun to play. It, like Street Fighter IV, reminded me of the good ol' days of dropping quarter after quarter into an MK cabinet. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe manages to recapture that old-school formula that made the franchise so extremely popular in the first place...and it's done it for the first time in a very long time.

Gameplay is very much pick-up-and-play, but at the same time, depth exists in the form of combos. Sub-Zero's combo in MKDC is reminiscent of his well known six-hit combo from MK3. With juggling also in place, it creates some additional room for a bit of extra damage while you're opponent approached the ground below. Speaking of the ground below, land a hard enough blow to your opponent in a stage with multiple levels, and you'll send your opponent flying. As your opponent descends, you have the ability to attack him in mid-air, building up a gauge that will allow you to unleash a final devastating attack. But if your opponent parries your attack he/she will take the reins and turn the tables on you.

In addition to falling hundreds of feet downwards, certain one-level stages, such as Gotham City and Metropolis, allow you to pummel your opponent through a plethora of walls as you run through a building until arriving at the opposite side - this is called "Test Your Might". In order to minimize damage from this, you simply have to mash your buttons as fast as possible. So the stages don't just boast upper and lower sections, but also additional sections on the same level.

As far as the DC characters, they've all been given the Mortal Kombat treatment, as each and every one of them boast the infamous MK uppercut, on top of a fatality. Yes, fatalities are still very much a part of the game, they cannot be done in the story mode for obvious reasons, but all bets are off when you're playing the game's arcade mode. In addition to uppercuts and fatalities, all of the DC fighters also boast their unique signature attacks straight out of the comic books, and while their fighting styles are more Mortal Kombat than anything else, it helps to seamlessly blend them with the MK fighters. Lastly, all fighters gain the ability to trigger "Rage Mode", a temporary state of invulnerability that can be activated when your Rage bars fill up.

After you're done practicing and playing the arcade mode, the story mode of the game is really what you should experience. It's a fun little romp that's complete with unique cut-scenes for both MK and DC characters. You have the choice of picking a side, and watch the game's story unravel through their eyes. Story mode will have you play through the chapters as a number of different characters, so you don't just stick to one here. Each journey is about two hours long, or so, and their are two separate endings to be seen (one for each side).

When you're done with the Story mode, head back to the arcade mode and you can stroll through the tournament in order to unlock the endings for each individual fighter. I will warn you, though, do not expect to see drawn-out cut-scenes. In classic MK fashion, the endings just have an image of your fighter and a narrator explaining your fighter's future, that's it. And even when you're done with that, you should still find some enjoyment out of the online mode.

Despite not being overly laden with unexplored depth, I appreciate this Mortal Kombat game for its simplicity and its back-to-basics approach. There may be some clever little grappling mechanics, but all of that is second to the overall experience, which is quite fun. I do have some complaints with the game, though; at times the controls can still feel a bit clunky, as I wish some combos flowed better. But I do like the ability to move two dimensionally and three dimensionally simply by switching between the D-pad and analog stick, or holding L2 with the D-pad. Second, I'd like to have seen better endings. Third, a slightly longer, more interactive story mode would've been nice too.

Visually, there's no question that the art-direction of this MK is leagues better than the last few. I quite liked the look of the fighters, even if the DC folk look a bit too Mortal Kombat-ish. The fighters were large and boasted solid texture details that are even more evident when seen through the cut-scenes. Large and solid fighters are definitely a good plus for the game's visuals. I also liked the stages, especially the multi-level stuff, and the backgrounds. But I would have liked to see something in those backgrounds besides the barren scenery. There are no framerate complaints, the resolution is 720p native with 1080i and 1080p upscaling, and the presence of a smooth picture makes MKDC a good looking game.

The audio for Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is largely driven by the voice acting in the Story mode. Surprisingly, the voice acting isn't that bad, it's rather passable, in fact. There may be some cheese in the dialogue here and there, but it's simply the nature of the beast. The soundtrack is very much true to the Mortal Kombat style, so there's nothing new to report here. Although, some might find the tunes a bit on the boring side; writing this review, I can't say I remember any of them - they're not bad, just forgettable. But my one big complaint is the awful narrator who does the endings; it sounds so amateurish and out of place. You've got this game that's all about blood, death, sorcery, and evil...and then instead of hearing this powerful baritone voice, you hear blandness with absolutely no emotion and a voice that is absolutely not fitting for the franchise.

All in all, I'm happy to say that this round of Mortal Kombat, while unconventional in concept, may be the best one we've had in over a decade. Don't let the DC Universe mash-up fool you, because at the core of this game is the very essence that made Mortal Kombat 3 so great over a decade ago.

11/17/2008   Arnold Katayev