Mortal Kombat
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 1-2
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It’s not a huge surprise to see a new version of Mortal Kombat arrive on 360 and PS3. The public’s interest in the beat-em-up genre is once again on the rise thanks in no small part to Capcom’s reinvention of their own beloved Street Fighter franchise. Gamers have again begun investing their hard-earned cash on fight pads and sticks in the vain hope of conquering increasingly complex move combinations. NetherRealm Studio’s Mortal Kombat arrives somewhat late to the party hoping it can offer a fresh take on the genre which will coax gamers away from Ryu et al.

Back in the ’90s the situation was largely the same; Street Fighter ruled the roost both in the arcades (remember those?) and in the homes when Midway released their blood soaked brawler to the world. Showcasing state-of-the-art visuals, gruesome characters and X-rated content, Mortal Kombat delighted gamers and outraged parents in almost equal measure. Rather than focusing on tightly-knit moves and combinations, the game relied more on inflicting the most damage on your opponent through devastating attacks via an array of fearsome weapons. You could never call it subtle, but it had an identity of its own and was above all fun to play by experts and newcomers alike.

Over the years and through numerous console generations, the Mortal Kombat brand has somewhat waned. Barring Mortal Kombat 2 (which many consider the peak of the franchise), the follow ups have generally failed to take the series forward in any noticeable way preferring instead to increase the levels of gore and deliver ever more ridiculous finishing moves – “Babalities” anyone?

Upon sitting down with this latest version, it’s perhaps a little difficult to muster up much enthusiasm. But fear not, because surprisingly, this is a rather splendid little fighter that can rightly hold its own against Capcom’s finest.

Graphically, this is easily the most attractive Mortal Kombat has ever looked. Fights take place on a single two dimensional plane with the characters modelled in three dimensions. All have a realistic and chunky aesthetic that nicely recalls the visual splendour of the original arcade game.

Chances are that if you’ve played a Mortal Kombat game in the past, your favourite character is here. There are 27 in total including Johnny Cage, Lui Kang, Sonia and of course Scorpion (whose name I seem unable to say without following up with his catchphrase “get over here”). The characters really show the wear and tear of battle, so if your health bar is low they generally look bloodied and beaten. It’s a startling effect which adds to the gruesome atmosphere, with blood soaking into their clothes and bruises appearing before your eyes. Equally impressive are the arenas which, rather than recreate real-world settings, opt instead for fantasy environments taking in the most exotic locations of the netherworlds. These are not static backgrounds, the worlds are alive with all manner of creatures and tortured souls watching the action unfold before their eyes. As with previous instalments, the arenas often double as weapons themselves allowing you to terminate your victim with the aid of the scenery - it’s amazing how spikes can miraculously appear when you need them!

Once into the fight you immediately notice how fast and responsive it all feels. Punches and kicks carry an incredible amount of weight and you can almost feel the impact of the infamous uppercut as it connects. The four buttons on the control pad control a different limb (a-la Tekken), so players new to series will have some adjustments to make. Slightly disappointing is the fact that there’s very little difference in style or feel of each character. Although each possesses their own range of special moves, there’s very little to separate them in terms of weight and movement.

Even though the combat is fast, it’s perhaps not as smooth or fluid as Street Fighter 4. Stringing combinations together is possible, but because special moves are generally based on multiple forward and backward motions, it never feels as natural as a charge or circular move. It’s more often easier to stick to hitting special moves, or waiting for your opponent to mis-time a strike and then coming in with an uppercut. Practice obviously improves your rhythm and capability of stringing moves together, but it doesn’t always come naturally.

New to the series this year is the introduction of the ‘Super Meter.’ Divided into three segments, you can fill it up during bouts through attacking the opponent. Once segment one is full, your character is awarded a number of enhanced moves giving you greater options to inflict damage. Segment two awards a high-impact counter strike while filling up the third meter unleashes an X-ray move. Pressing both trigger buttons activates X-ray, an almost un-blockable, high impact attack causing massive damage to your opponent.

It’s called an X-ray move because when inflicted you get a visually impressive close-up of the damage you are causing internally to the other fighter (see screenshot above, right). Bones break, daggers penetrate eyes and all manner of limbs shatter in a horribly gruesome manner. It will genuinely make you wince at the violence on display and while it’s a short-term fun diversion, I can’t pretend it adds a different dimension to the gameplay.

So what we basically have is a competent, good-looking fighter with a fast pace but somewhat lacking in fluidity. Thankfully Mortal Kombat has an ace up its sleeve which trumps pretty much any fighter I’ve ever played.

The single-player mode is not only an absolute joy to play through, but also one of the most comprehensive packages I’ve seen. The story mode takes you through the history of the first three Mortal Kombat games as you battle your way through the characters on the way to a showdown with the boss Shao Kahn. The approach to the story mode is a fresh one, interweaving cut-scenes that progress the story after each bout. Smartly the developers chose to allow you play as multiple characters throughout. This serves to keep the players on their toes by forcing them to learn numerous move sets if they hope to progress.

The actual plot is ludicrous in a “straight-to-DVD” action movie way. You’ll frequently find yourself amused at the cheesy dialogue, played straight by the characters. Sure it’s bad, but it fits the general atmosphere of the game perfectly.

In addition to story mode is the Challenge Tower. Encompassing 300 individual challenges there are hours of game-time to be enjoyed testing your skills against trials that gradually increase in difficulty. Again the focus here is not on selecting a single character and fighting your way through a series of one-on-one battles. Instead Challenge Tower will ask you to complete a small set of challenges with one or more characters (as a tag team) before moving on to another. Most challenges come complete with a condition or handicap to add a little spice. For example, you might be asked to win a fight without using throws or special moves, or more bizarrely you’ll need to win a fight with the screen upside down. Occasionally fighters with projectile moves will be tasked with fighting off a series of zombie-like attacks from afar.

As if that wasn’t enough variation, there are also ‘Test your Might’ challenges (button mashing to smash blocks), ‘Test your Sight’ challenges (a variation on the old ball and cups magic trick) and finally ‘Test your Luck’ which picks a handicap at random for a forthcoming bout.

Stuck on one of the challenges? Don’t fear, winning events earns the player coins which can either be traded for extras in the store or a bye to the next round.

As you can see, the single player component is deep and satisfying, offering the player hours of enjoyment but also encouraging experimentation with multiple characters. Cleverly many of the challenges require you to learn and perform one of the vicious fatalities. Having completed Challenge Tower, you’ll have a great sense of having seen every asset of the game.

Multiplayer fans also have plenty to keep them occupied. In addition to standard versus mode there’s ‘online King of the Hill’, ranked and private matches to keep the player occupied.

As a fighter, Mortal Kombat is competent without quite hitting the heights of its long-term competitor. There is a crunching satisfaction to be taken from the combat but it does lack fluidity due mainly to NetherRealm’s decision to stick largely to the control method of previous instalments. Indeed, fight fans who love to learn long, intricate combinations may feel a sense of frustration.

As a complete gaming package however, Mortal Kombat is streets ahead of every other fighter on the market. It offers a tremendous amount of value for the single player and brings a number of new and innovative ideas to the genre which we can only hope will be replicated in generations to come.

Best Bits

- Looks amazing.
- Vast array of characters.
- Single-player mode has incredible depth.
Worst Bits

- Gameplay lacks fluidity.
- Stringing combinations together doesn't feel natural.
- X-ray mode is a little gimmicky.

by: Blakey

Copyright © Gamecell 2011