Video Game Reviews – February 2009

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Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
Midway Amusement Games
Street: 11.16.08
PS3 / Xbox 360 - Fighting
Even for the convoluted storylines in today’s video games, a fight between Batman and Sub Zero is a big fucking stretch. But no one plays fighting games for examples of reality or lessons on logic, right? So let the absurdity run rampant! And it does.
If I were a video game developer in charge of making this game a reality, I would avoid scripting a story entirely - who the fuck wants to hear me try to explain the circumstances that cause Superman and Jax to go three rounds? So it came as quite a surprise to me how very story-driven the single player campaigns in MK/DCU really are. No one’s up for an Oscar in these cut scenes (except maybe Captain Marvel. Shazam!) but it’s actually quite nice to have a little discussion between these well known intellectual properties, before they beat the skin-tight onesies off each other. Some of the DC characters, like Superman, are entirely too powerful in their own mythology to even be hurt by conventional means, which the story attempts to explain through a mysterious condition affecting all the characters as a result of the chaotic merging of the MK and DC realms. This condition, dubbed “The Rage”, levels every character’s power so that each pairing is more or less equal. The Rage is also used to justify match-ups like Superman versus Batman - wherein one of the two is under the influence of The Rage, and the other is the unwilling defender.
The game makes as much sense as it can, given the circumstances, and for that I give it props. The cut scenes are numerous and amusing to watch. No games stand on the strength of their cut scenes, fighting games least of all. Here is where we begin to reveal the unfortunate truth. MK/DCU has all the problems that have caused the Mortal Kombat franchise to lose its status over the past 20 years. Set next to Soul Caliber or DOA4, MK/DCU’s fighting engine is almost unbearably clunky. Combat is a series of static, singular moves - never a flowing progression of combos. In fact, I would go as far as to say there are literally no improvements in playability between this and, say, Mortal Kombat Annihilation (the last MK game I played). To top it off, fatalities and overall violence have been eased way down to reach a T-for-teen rating. There’s still plenty of blood, but when I have the urge to rip of my enemy’s leg and beat him to death with it, I’m left with an empty feeling inside because I’m denied my right to do so. - Jesse Hawlish
3 disappointed Noob Saibot fans out of 5

Midnight Club: L.A.
Street: 10.20.08
Xbox 360 - Racing
A favorite among casual and serious gamers alike, the Midnight Club franchise has finally come to current-gen consoles. The overall result is, to be professional and objective about it, a fricken blast. Pimpin’ out the Cobra Concept with dubs, metallic baby-blue paint, and those classic dual-white racing stripes, made my inner gear-head poop a little out of sheer excitement. It’s a solid racing title full of all the goodies you remember from previous Midnight Clubs, all tricked-out and expanded for the Xbox 360.
The game boasts “no load times!” on the back cover, which is a dirty, dirty lie, but there are very few and each is brief. The persistent game world of L.A. is impressively detailed and receives no complaints from me. The map is presented in a sweet way too. Rather than a picture in the start menu with lines representing real roads, the camera simply zooms way out when you press the map button, allowing you to view the actual model of the city from a distance in order to navigate. The soundtrack is extensive, probably the best I’ve heard in a racing game, though I still muted the music after a few hours. Although there aren’t enough bikes, there are plenty of cars and the customization interface is huge and nearly perfect. I say nearly because players who attempt high levels of vehicle customization are going to run into some awkward camera-control issues when placing their decals. It’s no biggie for most, but if you spend two red-eyed hours pimpin’ out your rx8 like me, you’ll find the placement controls are a bitch.
If you’re on the fence about renting or buying this title, the difficulty level may help you decide. If MC:LA fails in any way, it is because it’s simply too challenging for casual gamers. Gamers who enjoyed and were challenged by previous MC titles may very well find this iteration frustratingly difficult. From half-way through the game onward, crashing in the second half of the race almost guarantees you’ll be too far behind to catch up and overtake your competitors before the finish line. By the end of the game, the Lamborghinis and Saleens race with robotic precision - a challenge for even the most battle-scarred racers.
MC:LA is also impressively long. My bet is the average game renter is going to tire of this title before he runs out of challenges and missions. Couple this with the high level of difficulty, and while it’s not exactly a well-rounded experience, MC:LA from a racing gamer’s perspective is an absolute must-buy. -Jesse Hawlish
4.2 chumps in my rear-view out of 5