MK vs. DCU Updated Hands-On: Story and New Character Impressions

Midway stops by to take the final wraps off its upcoming fighter.

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Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
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We've been keeping tabs on Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe since the game was announced earlier this year amid a healthy dose of skepticism from MK and comics fans alike. The ensuing months have seen those fans won over as more information on the roster and fighting mechanics have trickled out. With just a few weeks left before release, Midway is finally taking the wraps off the final piece of the game's puzzle: the story. Ed Boon and crew stopped by our offices earlier today to let us check out a near-final version of the game, which featured the entire roster. Most importantly, we got to see how the game's narrative is going to sell anyone surviving a punch to the face from Superman.

Our first order of business was to scope out the story mode, so skip down a ways if you're concerned about spoilers. Aside from offering up the basic premise--the MK and DC universes are being mashed together due to some cataclysmic magical event--until now Midway has been dead silent on what's going on. The game will offer two story experiences: the MK side and the DC side. We started with the DC story, which caught up to Superman in Metropolis as he was in the process of mopping the floor with Darkseid. The game's introductory cinematic is narrated by the Man of Steel as he brings you up to speed on what's been going on. Following Darkseid's beatdown, Lex Luthor popped up and bantered with the Son of Krypton. In true comic fashion, the stone-faced and ill-tempered ruler of Apokolips began to escape via one of his boom tubes when Superman zapped him with some heat vision, creating a mysterious disruption to the portal and causing Darkseid to awkwardly warp away.

With the power of Shazam, I just blasted your face into meat stew.
With the power of Shazam, I just blasted your face into meat stew.

With that sorted out, Supes grabbed Luthor and carted him off to prison, leaving the action to focus on Flash, who was called out as the star of this first chapter of the story. The action followed the Scarlet Speedster as he set out to battle Deathstroke, which segued into the mode's first battle. Once Deathstroke was vanquished, Flash was sent to Gotham by Wonder Woman, where he battled Catwoman and Kano. During the short story cinematics between fights, it was clear something was wrong, because energy began to overwhelm the speedy hero. Things came to a head when, after beating Kano, Flash was about to kill the cybernetically enhanced mercenary. Thankfully, since they were in Gotham, Batman popped out of the shadows and tried to stop him.

Once the Dark Knight took Flash out, the game shifted to chapter two, which follows Batman into his first fight with the Joker. The storytelling on both the MK and DC sides will break down into chapters that follow specific characters. Once we started up the Mortal Kombat plotline, we found Shao Kahn and Quan Chi being confronted by Raiden for their poor behavior. (Note for MK continuity geeks: Boon pointed out that the game takes place in the early part of the series around MKII and III.) During the battle, Raiden disrupted the mystic portal Shao Kahn was trying to use to escape, resulting in a weird teleportation that looked a lot like Flash's. The scene then shifted to the MK story's first chapter, Liu Kang. The skilled fighter was hanging out with Kitana at first but set out to do some investigating, which led him into conflict with Sub-Zero.

After we clocked in some time with the story modes for each side, we checked out the offline multiplayer mode and the Kombo Challenge mode. Multiplayer versus mode is a standard punchfest that offers just what you'd expect, while the Kombo Challenge mode tests your skills by challenging you to follow increasingly complicated combo strings that appear across the top of the screen. There looks to be at least 10 per character, which will earn you achievement points if you pull them off.

The game's fighting system, both the proper melee and special moves, along with the various klose kombat and freefall kombat mehanics, felt good. The simple attack layout made combat manageable and allowed for some impressive combo chains, while the different in-close and free-falling modes didn't seem as obtrusive as we expected. In addition, the game's finishing move system, which mixes traditional fatalities with new brutalities for the heroic DC characters, seems to work fine and didn't bog down the pacing.

The freefall combat moves are just as slick as we'd hoped.
The freefall combat moves are just as slick as we'd hoped.

The visuals have come together really well. The character models are very sharp and feature a smart array of impressive details. We're fans of little touches like Baraka's flecks of spit as he fights, which, while gross, are what you'd expect from someone with chompers that big. The environments are equally well done and feature some unique touches courtesy of the magical influences at play. There are a number of creepy-looking Outworld stages that touch on some of the iconic locales from MK. The DC stages feature some notable landmarks, such as the Daily Planet's globe and the Justice League's watchtower satellite. In addition, there are some neat mixes, such as the hybrid Themiscrya/Outworld stage, which is a nice juxtaposition of the different worlds. The stages and characters are further enhanced by the various lighting and special effects used during battle. Character animation is solid but retains the deliberate movement we've seen before, which should keep the action from being totally fluid. Overall, though, the visuals left a good impression.

Based on what we played, MK vs. DC Universe is shaping up to be one of the strongest entries in the MK series in a good while. The revamped fighting system feels familiar but freshened up. Although we'll reserve proper judgment until we've spent some time with the final game, we're definitely pleased by where it's going. As far as story goes, the game has got a solid, interesting premise. The arcade, two-player, and Kombo Challenge modes are looking like nice complements to the story mode. Our big question now hovers around how the game will play online and what the downloadable content plans are, since we can think of a good dozen DC and MK characters we'd like to see in the game. Stay tuned for those answers and our final word on the game after its release on November 16.

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