Video game reviews

Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 and Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe are available now. We have a play and see if they're worth the hype.

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Pro Evolution Soccer 2009
4/7
PC/PS2/PS3/Wii/Xbox 360

Most people who are good at Pro Evo hate it when a new instalment of the game comes out. Sure, they might be excited, but they’ve become so attuned to its predecessor that even slight changes in gameplay throw them off kilter. But before long they’ve remastered the nuances and are back to appreciating the sublime mix of skill and tactics that have established the series as the king of football games.

Fans of the series, then, will initially be very happy indeed with Pro Evolution Soccer 2009, as very little has changed for this year’s edition. The core game engine is almost identical and the old faithful ‘master league’, ‘exhibition’ and ‘online’ modes are all where they should be. It’s not long, however, before this familiarity starts to breed contempt. Although the game hasn’t got worse, it also hasn’t got better – it hasn’t, despite its name, evolved.

There are a couple of new additions, sure. Those who like to create sprites in their own image – or that of an eight foot-tall, purple-haired madman – there’s the new ‘becoming a legend’ mode, in which you control only a single player. For long stretches, however, this involves little more than standing around while your barely competent team-mates play frustratingly safe. When the ball eventually gets to you, it’s likely to bounce off your shins. And if you do get the chance to shoot, you’ll do little more than apologetically pass it to the goalkeeper. Presumably this is how the average Scottish footballer feels.

All that fun is also available online, but really the ‘ becoming a legend’ mode is just a gaudy addition – it isn’t really an evolution. Or if it is, it’s the equivalent of evolving a new belly button. ‘Ooh,’ you might say. ‘Look at that.’ But after that initial excitement, you’ll quickly realise that it’s actually a bit dull and essentially pointless.

The same cannot be said, thankfully, for the official Champions League mode, the rights for which Konami has bought for the next four seasons. This neatly packages the best teams into the tried-and-tested format of the world’s greatest club competition. With the improved AI, the highest difficulty setting can also provide a bit of a challenge – something that has been lacking from the franchise for a number of years.

Overall, though, it’s hard to shake a feeling of disappointment. And with such little progress, the fervent fans’ cocksure assumption that Pro Evo will always be superior to FIFA could soon come into doubt.

Available in stores

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe
5/7
PS3, Xbox 360

Girls Aloud and Sugababes; Alien and Predator; the toaster and the bath: all successful ideas individually, but put together they make stupid, dangerous combinations. There’s no real reason to expect unnatural collaborations to work well with computer games either, and when the plans for Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe were announced back in summer, a lot of people groaned. Why subject the withering MK brand to further humiliation, and why run the risk of tarnishing the DC name before next year’s release of the highly anticipated DC Universe Online?

Whatever Midway’s motivation, it’s a good thing they made the effort, because what they have produced is an immediately playable, convincing and wholly worthwhile fighting game.

The animation may be defiantly clunky at times, but what initially started as a technological limitation has now become a stylistic point; MK characters don’t walk, they stalk. Meanwhile, their DC counterparts look just that little bit cleaner, their movements just a little more dramatic, more comic-book.

MK vs DC is wonderfully weighted too; the feel of the moves is just right, whether you’re a skinny dandy superhero like The Flash or a chunky psychopath like Jax. The ‘super moves’ are mostly well judged too, with lots of the original MK sound effects and movements recaptured for the new generation. The interpretations of
the DC contingent’s powers are also satisfying, none more so than The Joker, although even this mischievous jester pales in comparison to the embodiment of relentless malice created by Heath Ledger.

His lengthy list of sneaky tricks does, however, highlight an inconsistency in the game; others, such as the unfortunate Green Lantern, have comparatively few moves choose from. And in his case one of those is a comedy giant fist – rubbish compared to the ever-satisfying chest-harpooning ferocity of MK stalwart Scorpion.

A more serious criticism stemsfrom the gore, or lack thereof. MK traditionalists used to the sticky viscera of previous entries in the series will laugh at the comedy jam featured in this game. And this poses a major problem with Mortal Kombat’s hallowed fatalities (‘heroic brutalities’ for the good guys), which have been sanitised to a point that they hold as much horror as the average tea bag. Even if the gore suffers to hit the ‘teen’ rating, though, that shouldn’t take away from the fact that MK vs DC is a surprisingly rewarding, well-made addition to the genre.

Available in stores

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