Review by Tarrun

"Nothing that we haven't seen before."

The Mortal Kombat games have never been considered the best fighters around, and usually play second fiddle to a series like Street Fighter. But even without the most solid gameplay, the Kombat series has always remained successful by trying to keep everything reminiscent of the original arcade game. Unfortunately, this also means that there's minimal variety and the games become extremely redundant. Mortal Kombat 4, being the last game in the series to follow the traditional style, is a prime example of this.

As with every other game, Mortal Kombat 4 has a very loose story, allowing every character to play a leading role depending on the ending. Thousands of years ago, Raiden banished Shinnok, a corrupt Elder God, to the Netherealm for plotting to conquer Earthrealm. However, a sorcerer by the name of Quan Chi has obtained Shinnok's amulet, and is able to aid in the fallen god's return to power. Raiden, the wind god Fujin, and a group of mortals gather to challenge Shinnok and Quan Chi in Mortal Kombat to protect the Earthrealm.

Like before, each character is driven by a different set of goals, which is explained during their ending cinematic. These endings vary in how connected they are to the main story, and some are developed more than others. But then again, you don't play a fighting game for the plot, right?

The game also features fully three-dimensional computer generated characters, which is a first for the series. While some of them could be much cleaner, it's not worth complaining about as, for the most part, the characters are very appealing. The backgrounds are also 3-D, but it hardly shows and aren't quite as impressive. The obligatory excessive blood is back, of course, and Midway's gone all out to keep it constantly running down the screen – both literally and metaphorically. Ironically, though, it gets to the point where there's so much blood that it loses its shock value.

In terms of sounds, Mortal Kombat 4 definitely suffers. The background tunes are barely noticeable, and quite frankly I probably wouldn't even notice if they weren't included in the game at all. The sound effects are average at best, and the voices are repetitive and annoying. Although, the game's “narrator”, who announces fighters and begins each match, is very nostalgic, which is appreciated and is perhaps the only part of the sounds department that worked. All in all, the sounds in Mortal Kombat are perhaps its weakest aspect.

The gameplay is nothing new if you've ever played another game in the series. In fact, despite being three-dimensional, Mortal Kombat 4 retains its classic two-dimensional gameplay. One of Ed Boon's biggest concerns during the game's development was whether or not the faster-paced two-dimensional fighting would be possible in motion captured animations. The development team eventually went back to using the unrealistic 2-D animations imposed on the three-dimensional polygons to keep the game reminiscent of the previous titles.

Most of the main characters have made their return, including Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Raiden, Liu Kang, Reptile, Sonya Blade, and Johnny Cage, and very little has changed in their fighting styles and special attacks. Jax makes his second appearance as well; and for the first time, the game's final boss – in this case, Shinnok – is available as a playable character and replaces Shang Tsung as the shape-shifting sorcerer. Other newcomers include Jerec, a member of the Black Dragons that borrows many of Kano's abilities, Kai, a Shaolin monk, Reiko, a general in Shinnok's army, Fujin the wind god, and Quan Chi.

And while the characters themselves are unique, unfortunately their fighting styles are not. It's a rare occurrence that they effectively use their moves beyond throwing projectiles, which nearly every fighter has anyway. They either blindly run at you and perform a combo or stand around blocking while you attack. In fact, more often than not you can follow the exact same patterns to complete the entire tournament. My personal favorite is Scorpion's Teleport Punch; after it's blocked, remain crouched and the enemy tries to uppercut you, leaving themselves open for your own attack. Again, this is not an exaggeration; this strategy was utterly devastating to every opponent I faced with the exception of Goro, against whom it only worked about fifty percent of the time. Of course, there is a limit to how many combos you can perform at one time, which prevents some of those unavoidable kills if you or your opponent gets backed into a corner. Still, the AI isn't very intelligent, as described above, so performing the same combo multiple times is actually quite easy.

But what Mortal Kombat review would be complete without mentioning the fatalities? The finishing moves are a hit or miss this time around and can be categorized into one of three groups: the classics, the good, and the so-so. Classic fatalities are the ones that have appeared in every Mortal Kombat game before and will for every one after, like Sub-Zero's spine rip or Scorpion's Toasty fatalities. Beyond that, there are a few new additions that actually work very well; my personal favorite being Quan Chi's, which involves amputating your opponent's leg and beating them to death with it. Sure, it's absurd, but it seems plain old gore just isn't as entertaining as it used to be. The rest of the fatalities are the majority, and consist of the aforementioned brutal slaughter. However, since most of characters play the same, it isn't too much of a chore to switch characters if you don't like your current fighter's finishing move.

However, the two main additions to the series in Mortal Kombat 4 were weapons and the inclusion of the third-dimension. Unfortunately, neither really work out as well as I'm sure the developers hoped they would. For starters, fighting in three dimensions is pointless; besides sweeps or roundhouse kicks sending your opponent off at an angle, it serves absolutely no purpose. In fact, the only time it ever comes into play is side-stepping to avoid a projectile, which can be accomplished just as easily by crouching.

As for weapons, the main flaw is that you drop your weapon after being hit. And more often than not, in the time it takes you to take it out, your opponent walks over and throws a punch or two. To make matters worse, if you actually take advantage of all three dimensions, any weapon left on the ground is basically lost for the rest of the match. Just like three-dimensional fighting, weapons simply aren't useful enough to actually use.

And to top it off, Mortal Kombat 4 just isn't much of a challenge, mostly due to the lack of an AI that reacts even partially intelligently – even on the highest difficulty. The only character that might have to be replayed a few times is Goro, who, like in the previous games, deals out massive amounts of damage and takes twice as long to KO. Most of his attacks are the same as in the previous titles, which means that it's nearly impossible to use normal combos at close-quarters.

Because of the lack of a challenge, there's really no reason to ever replay the game after watching all of the character's ending cinematics. There are Tournament and Endurance modes, but that should hold your attention for all of ten minutes each. Noob Saibot and Goro are playable as secret characters, but without a proper ending to go along with them, even they aren't worth replaying the game for. And if you want to play with a partner, there are countless other fighters worth playing over this.

And that's the problem. Mortal Kombat 4 simply doesn't offer anything new that hasn't been done better by another fighter. Luckily, this was the last main game to follow this pattern; the release of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance offered a new style of gameplay with more variety over the aging 2-D fighters. If you're interested in playing a “classic” Mortal Kombat, go with Mortal Kombat II. Otherwise, the newer games are actually fairly competent and worth picking up.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/14/06


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