We're playing Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Batman screams and drops to the floor, burnt to a crisp by iconic undead ninja Scorpion's firery breath. Flash speeds past Sonya, stunning her for a few seconds in a crippling daze. And Superman frantically smashes his fists onto the head of Sub Zero, pounding him into the ground until there's almost nothing left. It's absolutely savage, and feels so very weird.
And also very, very exciting. Exciting because, lest we forget, this is a brand new Mortal Kombat game, playable for the first time at E3 2008 in LA, a series that has been going for years and continues to sell tremendously well. All gamers know MK. And most have played it. And it's exciting because, well, Superman and Batman are in a beat em up that's got a great chance of being pretty good.
So we're excited. But, if we're being honest, we're also a little worried. The trailers released for the game up to this point have suggested a somewhat rigid, clunky and constrained fighter. Time to find out if the interesting new ideas Ed Boon and co have come up with are coming together to form a fluid, enjoyable fighter.
MKVSDCU is an attempt to bring back that old school 2D fighter feel. To that end, the d-pad is used for all 2D style movement, crouching, jumping and moving forwards and backwards. But Ed hasn't totally ditched the 3D vibe from recent titles in the series. The left thumb stick controls 3D movement, so you'll be able to move in and out of the area just like before.
'Midway has built in a new Pro-Move system which rewards players who know their charge attacks from their cross-ups.'
And here lies one of our concerns with the game - it's impossible to use the d-pad and the left thumb stick at the same time, since both require your left thumb. We found that we completely ignored the left thumb stick, not deliberately, but naturally. We couldn't exactly go without jumping now could we?
So, using just the d-pad, we jump, sweep, special move and combo just like we used to back in the day. It feels very early 90s. And then Superman grabs Sub Zero, the camera zooms in, the two heavy weights start snapping limbs in Klose Kombat and we're reminded that, actually, this is 2008 and things have come on a long way since then.
Klose Kombat, triggered by landing an interactive throw, uses a new set of face button controls and feels somewhat like a mini-game. There are five different attacks to cause damage with. As the defender you don't have to sit there and take it though. There's a small window of opportunity where one of your own face buttons flashes and you can counter. Some of the close combat attacks are painfully brutal. The knee to the spine and the arm breaker are particular highlights. It's simple, accessible and not particularly sophisticated. Once you get used to the timing countering becomes fairly easy, which begs the question: why would you go for an interactive throw if you know there's a good chance your every attack is going to be countered?
Better than Klose Kombat is the new Free-Fall Kombat feature, which sees you blast your opponent through the level wall and jump straight after them, pummelling each other as you both fall out of the sky. The aim during this transition is to max out the super meter. Once done you'll be able to trigger a super combo attack that smashes your falling foe into the ground below, doing massive damage. The risk, however, is in being countered so that the defender now becomes the attacker and takes control of the super meter.
Each arena will have a unique transition. The Metropolis arena, which sees both fighters smash through wall after wall of the media building until both fighters end up on the other side, triggers a 'Test Your Might' button mash competition, ala Gears of War 2's chainsaw duels (in another link with Epic's third person shooter, Midway is using Unreal Engine 3 to build the game).
Midway is well aware that these new gameplay features are, well, a bit simple. So it's built in a new Pro-Move system which rewards players who know their charge attacks from their cross-ups. Every special move has a Pro level. Take, for example, Sonya Blade's Energy Rings projectile. After you've performed the motion (charge back then forward and punch) there's a small window of opportunity to repeat the move and have a second ring fire out straight after the first. Another example is Superman's Eye Laser. By timing a press of all four face buttons after performing the special move Superman will continue the Eye Laser for longer and cause more damage. It's a mechanic that's designed to provide depth for more advanced players. We picked it up pretty quickly (being the fighting game gods that we are), and, eventually, used them to mix up attacks and make our play less predictable.