Mortal Kombat – Review

Release Date: Out now!
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes
PEGI: 18+

In many respects the original Mortal Kombat was something of a revelation to me: I enjoyed Street Fighter at the time, but I was never that heavily addicted to it. But along came Mortal Kombat with its free-flowing combo system and its ludicrous amount of blood and guts. And those beautiful, spine chilling Fatalities that demonstrated so many ways to end a video-game character’s life. Poor little sods. Mortal Kombat sparked the love of fighting games for me, and acted as a stress reliever and anger management system, all rolled into one.

However, after Mortal Kombat 3 things started to go downhill. Later games would take away the free-flowing combat and replace it with a list of combos you had to memorize to win. Even the awesome special moves of the characters took a back-seat to this fascination with premade combinations. It hurt me. It burned a hole in my soul to see my beloved franchise withering away.

But it’s now 2011, and my beloved franchise is back. And it is badass.

But NetherRealm Studios had a bit of a problem when it came to crafting a sequel: at the end of  Mortal Kombat Armageddon they had wiped everyone out and the evil Shao Khan was standing triumphant. So a cunning plan was hatched to reboot the series: just as Shao Khan was about to deliver the fatal blow to Raiden, the Thunder God, Raiden sends a message back in time to himself, warning him of what is to come. It’s a good excuse to reboot a franchise, and the result was NetherRealm Studios being able to go back and let us play through the story of the first three games, albeit with plenty of differences. It has also allowed them to craft of the most enjoyable story modes seen in a fighting game, and the best story that Mortal Kombat has ever seen. It’s still not going to be competing with Mass Effect or Red Dead Redemption, but for a Mortal Kombat game this is intense and dramatic stuff.

The story does a good job of getting you proficient with a range of characters as well. Every few fights you’ll be forced to take on the role of a new character and quickly learn the basics of that characters fighting style, otherwise you’ll be a mass of blood and guts in no time at all.

The biggest flaw in the story mode comes from a fascination with cheap boss battles and difficulty spikes. Most of these irritating bosses can be beaten purely through skill, but at a certain points in the game you need to face down the main baddie, Shao Khan, and it’s at these points that some gamers may just quit altogether as Shao Khan is akin to God, except he’s much cooler, far more evil and God would presumably be sportsmanlike enough not to spam the same move over and over. Shao Khan is able to instantly become impervious to attacks, has several sequences of moves than can pin you down and pound the crap out of you and some seriously beefed up health. And so, to beat his ass, you have to resort so spamming attacks of your own leading to a seriously unsatisfying win. Unfair boss fights: they weren’t fun back then, and they sure as hell ain’t fun now.

Still, unless Shao Khan pisses you off so much that you rage quit and throw your copy of the game in the bin, the fighting mechanics that power Mortal Kombat should keep you grinning like a lunatic. Gone is the clunky combo system that newer incarnations of the franchise loved, and back in the is the freeform combo system that made me fall in love with the series. The controllers face buttons now control your characters four limbs and can combined into combos on their own or with characters special moves for some real pain. And what a range of special moves are on offer: you can free people, teleport, slice people, stab people, steal the powers of people and generally beat the holy shit out of them with an array of cool moves. Each is simply to execute – none of Super Street Fighter IV’s tight timing, here. Instead the art of them comes from weaving them into intricate combos with which to smash your opponents brain out. Knowledge of when and how to use them is vital to winning.

For all the grace and fun that is inherent in the combat system there is flaws to be found, and most stem from certain characters being over-powered and others having combos and moves that can be spammed to lock your opponent into a never-ending cycle of pain. This will certainly harm the game in the eyes of the hardcore fighting fanatics who demand precision balancing of characters, but for the rest of the gamers out there these problems will be overshadowed by the fact you just ripped a guys spine out.

Speaking of which, fatalities return in all of their bloody gory. The series previous out, Mortal Kombat vs DC, was light on these brutal moves thanks to licensing issues that kept them from allowing the Mortal Kombat characters to rip Supermans head off and use his body as a decorational ornament. But things are different now as there is no DC licensing to hold them back, and Mortal Kombat revels in that fact: limbs will be torn off, blood will flow and all manner of intricate death awaits those unfortunate enough to be on the wrong end of the legendary “FINISH HIM”. The bad news is each characters second fatality must be unlocked by purchasing it in the Krypt, a giant land of unlockables, where nothing is marked.

Other gameplay changes have been made, most noticeable among them is the bar that now sits at the bottom of your screen which builds up as you dish out the punishment. In a move to allow fighters getting dominated during a game, the meter builds up even quicker if you’re the one getting the snot kicked out of you. The bar is divided into three distinct parts with the first allowing you to increase the power of a single special move, the second allows you to break a combo in mid-flow, and the third allows the use of the awesometacular X-Ray moves. As the name suggests this lovingly brutal move shows you a slow motion X-Ray shot of your opponent as you smash bones and destroy internal organs. Not only do they do utter carnage to your opponents health bar, but they also bring a huge smile to your face, even if you did just watch your blades slide through someones eye sockets and are now wondering how the hell they can still be fighting. That’s the real definition of badass: when you can get stabbed in the eyes and still beat the crap out of someone.

For your bloody pleasure there’s also a substantial roster of characters to pick from thanks to the time travelling shenanigans. All the favorites like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Smoke and Noob Saibot are here and ready to get fighting. All of them are rendered in loving detail and take convincing damage to costumes and their bodies as fights progress.

And for that matter, the rest of the game also looks great. The backdrops to your bone-shattering fights are varied and interesting, giving you something to look while your opponent juggles you in the air in an attempt to find even more interesting and inventive ways of inflicting pain upon you. From monsters obliterating a city to dark dungeons this game has plenty of different locations in which to fight. And having great looking scenery is always important when you’re fighting for your life.

And NetherReal haven’t just delivered a good-looking game, either. The game also shines in the audio department with some brutal effects when you’re pounding away. Bones crack and snap with such realism that it’s hard not to wince, and the beautiful metallic ping that presents itself whenever you hit one of the robotic characters is incredibly satisfying. The music on offer is the fairly typical Mortal Kombat fair, but it’s still enjoyable and suits the action perfectly. And yes, the dude that screams “FINISH HIM” is as awesome as ever.

Should you get bored with the story mode, or simply got sick of that cheating bastard Shao Khan, there’s plenty of other things to entertain and amuse you. The game comes with a Challenge Tower that has a total of 300 levels to get through, and most of them provide completely different takes on the normal fights or odd challenges such as finding the object among three skulls, testing your might by breaking through concrete or other barmy things. Variations on fights are the most interesting, ranging from fighting while invisible to being upside-down.

If you’re feeling like just getting quickly into the action you can jump into the Ladder mode which challenges you with a series of fights and rewards you with your chosen character’s ending story, told via still screens and text which is a bit disappointing.

A new Tag-Team mode has also been added to the game where you can tag your AI or human partner in at will and perform two-person combos. That’s twice the blood and twice the kick-assery for your effort. Take it online with a friend and prove to the world that you’re the King of Mortal Kombat by bashing other people’s heads in.

Mortal Kombats best multiplayer mode brings back that nostalgic feeling of waiting in line at the Arcade to go up against the top player of the day: the feeling of all eyes being upon you as you slid your money into the machine and grasp the controls with your sweaty hands. The mode is called King of Hill and follows the classic Arcade rule: he who wins stays on. The current Kings Avatar will jeer and taunt you from his podium as your Avatar steps up and you get read to fight. Every other player in the room gets to watch your dance of death and then gets to rate the match afterwards. And on those days when it all comes together and you beat the holy hell out of the player who hasn’t lost for twenty matches in a row, the experience is unmatched as the other players acknowledge your skills and hold up that beautiful ten out of ten score. And then the fight is back on.

Mortal Kombat has its flaws: balancing issues, multiplayer can get laggy and it has Shao Khan. But despite these problems, despite that son of a bitch, when ever I put down my controller and walk away from Mortal Kombat, I walk away with a grin on my face. Welcome back Mortal Kombat, I’ve missed you.

The Good:
+ Fast, fluid combat.
+ Story mode is good!
+ King of the Hill!

The Bad:
– Shao Sodding Khan.
– Balancing issues may put off the hardcore.
– Multiplayer can get laggy.

The Scores:

Graphics: 8.5
The animations don’t always smoothly link together, but otherwise this is a fine-looking game with plenty of blood.

Sound: 9
A stellar job has been done to bring the sound of fists hitting flesh to life.

Story: 7
For a fighting game it’s very good, and for Mortal Kombat it’s superb. By any other games standards it’s pretty cheesey.

Gameplay: 9
It’s fast, fluid and brutal. There are balancing issues and some irritating boss fights, but this is a damn fun game with a surprisingly deep combat system.

Lifespan: 8
The story mode offers a good amount of gameplay, as does the challenge tower and Ladder modes. Plus a fun online mode.

Overall: 9
Summary: The return of the blood thirst franchise is both a welcome one and hugely successful one. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s brutal and it’s bloody. And I’ve fallen in love with it all over again.

Categories: Reviews

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4 replies »

  1. The moment I first saw Mortal Kombat (9) being announced and seeing some footage, I was very skeptical. Considering the previous Mortal Kombat games have been less than stellar, me along with many others would be somewhat worried if this would do well.

    To our surprise, it’s doing very well. So well that now we have big tournaments for this game and a huge following of players. I like how Netherrealm Studios approached patching with this game to get around random red tape that Microsoft has put forth. The game is being patched very often because they do on-the-fly patching. This also becomes a bit of a double edged sword because with all the constant patching, so many things are changing and it feels like there’s no real solid ground as to where the balance stands.

    I should also note that second fatalities (the “locked” ones) aren’t really locked. They’re just not displayed in the movelist and you can do them as long as you know how to do it.

    Otherwise, pretty great review. 😀

    • Ah, thanks for pointing that out about the secondary fatalities. That’s a bit of a mis-print by myself that shouldn’t have occured 🙂

      I was very much like you; sceptical about the rebirth of my beloved series, but (borrowing a term from my review) it turned out to be badass.

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