Review: Mortal Kombat

I have to confess, I already had a review of Mortal Kombat written in my head before I even put the disc in the machine. I was going to enjoy it initially, laugh at the new HD fatalities (but probably only twice at the most), become disillusioned with its lack of depth, compare it unfavourably with Street Fighter, and then give it a 7 out of 10. But that would have been a review of the Old Mortal Kombat. This is the New Mortal Kombat. And its good. Its very good.

MK has gone back to its roots as 2D fighter, and like Street Fighter 4 before it, this “2.5D” graphical style suits it nicely. The refined fighting system still plays pretty much like you’d expect from the franchise, but now has an added depth and complexity that is certainly the best that any MK has seen so far. The meter system is practically identical to the SF4 model, with wincingly violent X-ray attacks awaiting a full bar, and improved specials or combo-breakers available for a third or two thirds of your bar. Its very familiar and works predictably well, although the X-ray attacks are ridiculously easy to pull off and land considering the damage they do. It felt annoying to combo your way to a comfortable lead, only for your opponent to push 2 buttons together and take off a huge chunk of life. It says a lot that the game is already seeing lot of tournament play, with many big name fighting game professionals picking up the game, especially as it has been included in EVO championships in Las Vegas. Combining this new found sophistication with the over-the-top blood based shenanigans we all know and love helps MK rise above the shallow novelty accusations it used to be accused of. It still lacks the patient tactical flow of SF4 or the insane speed and freedom of MVC3, but you can’t help fell that Mk has finally found its feet and a secure place at the fighting game top table.

Graphically, its a little hit and miss. Some characters like Scorpian or Kabal look great, but the more human characters like Lui Kang or good old Johnny Cage look a little bland. Similarly, the bigger monster characters like Sheeva or Goro don’t really have any impact and are about as threatening as the clay models they used to be. The range of stages is impressive, with some being more effective than others, but it was nice to see most of the classics reimagined in all their acidy/bloody/spooky-foresty glory. Sound effects make a big difference here with each bone broken, organ pureed and pool of vomit induced feeling satisfyingly crunchy, squelchy or splattery. Just listening to Noob Saibot and his shadowy buddy splitting you in half by the legs is enough to make you keep your legs crossed for a week. Play this game with the sound cranked up to 11.

MK is a big game. You get a lot of content for your money and, unusually for a fighting game, there is loads to do here even if you’re not playing online. The Story mode is by far the best I have come across in any fighting game because it is just that, a proper story. To cut a pretty long and convoluted story short (deep breath), things have all gone very wrong in Mortal Kombat world, and Lord Raiden, the protector of Earthrealm, has resorted to sending messages back in time to himself just before the start of the original tournament to try and change the course of events in order to change the future. What follows is a re-telling and playing out of the events of the original trilogy, with characters showing up and disappearing in the right order and various details you may have forgotten about being explained (“Oh, so THAT’S why Jax has got metal arms in MK3!” and so on). It’s pretty cheesy and its annoying that you can’t skip or pause any of the many cutscenes, but its certainly better than any of the movies based upon the franchise and should please anyone who has followed MK from the early games.

As well as the Story Mode, there is the obvious Arcade mode, a useful training mode with a nicely judged difficulty curve, and of course a versus mode. Within this versus mode is one of the most interesting features of MK, and something that also provides the online mode with something different from the Street Fighter, Marvel, Tekken, Blazblue crowd. The Tag mode, although nothing new in principal, actually offers 2 players the chance to team up together, online and off to challenge other pairs in the same match. Plenty of games feature Tag styles or options to include tag features, but the opportunity for 2 mates to play as a team, swapping in and out or providing assists, is a nice twist and opens up all kinds of possibilities for tournament play. Sadly though, I find it far harder to find these games online and so usually went back to playing one on one, which is fine, but I hoped more people would embrace such an interesting new feature that Netherealm should be applauded for including.

We’re still not done yet though. The Challenge Tower is a fun side quest, taking you through 300 varying challenges to move you up the ladder. The Test your might/sight/luck/strike challenges are also interesting distractions, and although you won’t spend a whole bunch of time with them, its nice to know they’re there. The Krypt mode is where you use your hard earned credits to buy new costumes, artwork, fatalities and other such paraphernalia. Its a nice idea, but you have no idea what you are unlocking and the price of each item, seems pretty random and inconsistent.

Mortal Kombat 9 has successfully revived a seemingly dead franchise and has provided a package above and beyond what it needed to be. A deep but easily accessible fighting system, all the fun and gore of the originals and a sound online mode see MK finally deliver the game fighting fans hoped it would. Only time will tell if it has the longevity and long term competitive possibilities of its rivals, but for the moment, Mortal Kombat is more alive than its ever been.

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