"Worlds will collide. The fate of the universe will be decided." And the Internet will explode with indignant fanboy rage. Yes, Mortal Kombat is back, and this time it's teen-rated, which means no spine-ripping fatalities. Blunting the brand's trademark happy endings is inevitably going to unseat a few spleens, but that's the price series creator Ed Boon is prepared to pay for shacking up his "billion dollar fighting franchise" with Warner Bros. to bring the two famous brands together in one star-studded beat-'em-up package.
Officially unveiled at Midway's Gamers Day in Las Vegas last week, in it a "cataclysmic force merges conquerors from two universes", meaning that MK staples such as Sub Zero and Scorpion find themselves facing off against DC superheroes, including Batman and Superman and "other iconic and powerful DC Super Heroes" yet to be confirmed (but known to be another eight from each side, featuring all the favourites). "How can either side prevail when rage blinds them to the dark threat poised to destroy them all?" Bring a coat, maybe.
There's no doubting MK co-creator Ed Boon's assertion that "The DC Universe characters are some of the most popular and enduring characters in the world." This move alone will help sell the brand to a whole new audience, and take Midway's biggest cash cow to a new level of commercial viability - but at what cost to the brand's credibility among its most vocal followers? By chasing the teen market, many fans perceive Midway's "reboot" as a risky one which could totally alienate the very audience that helped make it the "billion dollar fighting franchise" in the first place. Will it be enough to combine the DC characters with the Mortal Kombat mythology to get people excited or will it be written off as a gimmick? Will it even work as a game? With Midway electing to keep the game firmly under wraps for now, so much remained unanswered, with only fleeting glimpses of actual gameplay in the title's teaser trailer.
Still, subsequent mining of all the available information has revealed this to date: comic writers Jimmy Palmiotti (Painkiller Jane, Marvel Nights, Jonah Hex, 21 Down) and Justin Gray (Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, JLA Classified, Punisher Red X-Mas, The Resistance) will be "crafting" a "completely unique storyline" from two opposing perspectives. Meanwhile, Boon and co. have come up with a Freefall Kombat system that takes advantage of the multi-tiered environments. So unlike, say, Dead or Alive, where falling vast distances is just a cosmetic effect, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe will allow you to smack each other around in mid-air as a giant skyscraper speeds past behind you. Another mode briefly touched upon was Klose Kombat, where you'll be able to grab your opponent and enter a boxing-style mode and trade blows in wince-inducing close-up - with one on the offensive and the other on the defensive.
So, switching perspectives and a frantic pace are all but assured, but what about the lack of fatalities and toned-down violence? At this stage, not even Boon seems to know exactly what Midway can get away with these days in terms of blood and gore at a teen-rated level. It seems fair to assume there will be some splatter, but certainly nothing remotely shocking, and a total abandonment of the spine-wrenching, blood-drenched fatalities that caused such a stir back in the brand's mid-'90s heyday.
Boon admits there will be spectacular finishing moves, but, no, you won't see Superman feasting on Scorpion's still-warm organs for fun. DC won't allow it, and certainly the rating bodies like the BBFC and ESRB won't let such scenes pass under the radar. That said, Boon and Midway will be pushing for as much as they can get away with, so it might not be a complete cop-out.
So why do the brand collaboration at all? Apparently Boon and co. have been keen on doing an MK crossover ever since MK4 was released in arcades over ten years ago, but for one reason or another met with resistance. With the brand's evolution into 3D dating back to 2002, the game's creators reasoned that making incremental improvements to the formula didn't warrant full-price status. Bravo to that. With the opportunity to crossover the brand with the likes of Tekken and Street Fighter off-limits, the next logical step was superheroes - something Capcom itself has proven as a viable direction with the hugely admired Marvel vs. Capcom series. Certainly, in that context it feels like a far less controversial step, providing nobody mentions Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects.
One question most people have with the brand crossover is how the hell it's going to work on a gameplay level. Like Mario vs Sonic in a race, matching Superman with Sub Zero seem like a foregone conclusion - until, that is, Midway pulls out the "aha, but we've got magic" card. Boon reminds the assembled that the MK brand has always been based on the supernatural, meaning Superman's weakness to magic can be exploited in some way. Okay, but we're sure balancing the two rosters will be a key bone of contention over the coming months, and something Midway will have to figure out if the game is to satisfy both sides of the camp.
In terms of tech, as with all Midway games currently in development, the game will utilise a customised version of Unreal Engine 3. As you'd expect for the first next-generation iteration of Mortal Kombat, characters benefit from a greater level of detail than before, and much is expected in terms of animation improvements and physics. With acclaimed artist Alex Ross reportedly involved in design direction, DC purists should be kept happy with the overall look of the game. In terms of the environments, we're told to expect a mixture of styles from both brands, with a more lavish attention to detail than has been possible in an MK game to date.
For all the carping going on in the far corners of the Internet, it's a brave move by Boon and Midway to attempt a comprehensive rethink of the Mortal Kombat brand. Eight iterations and 16 years down the line, how boring would it be if Midway simply wheeled out a graphical makeover of the same old gameplay? Some of the hardcore would have been happy, but Midway isn't content to stand still with it, and has spied an opportunity to broaden its appeal - even if the total reinvention of the combat system and the unapologetic removal of the iconic violence puts a lot of noses out of joint in the process.
Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe is due out in the autumn on PS3 and 360.