Review by Solid Sonic
"GET OVER HERE...and try this game!"
BEST FEATURES: A Mortal Kombat game that actually feels like a fighting game. Excellent story. Varied stage design. Ridiculously gory. Good voice acting.
WORST FEATURES: Fighting engine could still use some refinement. Online mode requires few tweaks.
To me, Mortal Kombat has never been a shining star in the fighting game genre. The series certainly helped put the genre on the map during the early 90s and whipped up a storm of controversy over its unabashed display of blood and brutality but for me...it's never been all "there". With each progressive installment, the flaws of the game were made ever clearer. I often say a fighting game must be more than two people just hitting each other, which is a shadow Mortal Kombat has, in my eyes, always been under. So, after nearly 20 years of unflinching opinion, why am I playing this latest installment?
Mortal Kombat is built on the Unreal Engine 3, the same framework that powered the previous MK game, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Though that game had to scale back its violent content to meet the "T" rating, Mortal Kombat pulls no punches and uses the full range of the Unreal Engine 3 to drape the game in crimson. The visible damage the fighters can sustain in this game is nearly disturbing, with large gaping holes of flesh left behind after a vicious battle. Each fighter (or "kombatant") also has a full skeletal and muscular system modeled, which is painfully fractured whenever they are hit by an X-Ray attack. The animation is smoother and more natural than any previous MK game (where fighters would stiffly swing their limbs in a chop-socky way that did nothing to resemble a death match between two trained fighters). The finishing moves are more visceral and unsettling than ever, which is the way it should be. All of the environments are ornately designed with a beautiful-yet-intimidating aesthetic that harkens back to the first two titles. My only real qualm with the graphics is the injuries on the fighters does not look as good up close (looking like they were pasted onto the model), but this is only possible when viewing the static model.
The crunch of bones and the tearing of flesh...this is definitely Mortal Kombat. The sound effects in this game are harsh but poetic, profoundly conveying the raw unrestrained fury of battle. The voice acting in this game is natural and well-scripted. Netherrealm Studios hired a good batch of actors to fill the personalities behind the cast and it helps with the cinematic storytelling of the Story Mode. The music is very reminiscent of the Mortal Kombat II soundtrack with an Eastern-techno blend that fits the setting of the game well. The music could be a bit more varied (I would have liked more strictly Eastern themes applied to the Mortal Kombat 1-inspired arenas as that game in particular had a very strong kung fu-movie vibe to it and I'd like them to bring that back to the series) but in all it's eclectic and appropriate.
In previous Mortal Kombat games, I felt the control had been very spotty. Rapidly tapping punch would swing your character's arms back and forth with no semblance of dexterity. In later installments, combos were executed by tapping in pre-scripted series of button commands with no variation possible. In addition, maneuverability felt limited and sluggish (the Run button introduced in the third game was supposed to alleviate this but it merely made the game more rushdown heavy). Concepts like pokes or zoning, staples of the fighting genre, were difficult to apply at best and simply nonexistent at worst. But the arrival of this game finally wipes that slate clean. The controls in this game are tight and smooth. Quick movement is possible and the fighters feel responsive in this installment. The more strategic gameplay, rife with pokes and setups, bring to life epic battles that elevate beyond back-and-forth blocking and striking. Long, player-controlled combos are a large focus of this game and without the smoother controls, they simply wouldn't be possible. This is certainly one of the largest areas of improvement over previous efforts in this series and a major point for anyone looking to try the game.
The main theme of this installment of Mortal Kombat is "mending the past" and to that end, it has succeeded on virtually every front. The main modes of play in Mortal Kombat are the Arcade Ladder, Story Mode, and the Challenge Tower. Arcade Ladder can be played alone or, for the first time, with another character in a tag team 2v2 mode. Challenge Tower presents players with a 300-tier assortment of special-condition fights, minigames, and other tasks. Story Mode, however, is the main attraction of the single-player experience. The story is played similarly to Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe wherein players will use every character, dedicating a chapter to each playable cast member. The Story Mode seamlessly integrates cutscene and gameplay where conversations with characters will move from a full-motion video to in-game rendering and straight into the next battle. The story in Mortal Kombat has always been one of the few attractive aspects of the franchise for me and once again they deliver a solid narrative. Raiden, having been defeated at the end of Mortal Kombat Armageddon, realizes that he must avert the terrible disaster and sends a telepathic message to his past self in order to set things right. The story plays out between the original Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 3 but with an altered course of events due to Raiden's premonition. The roster features every fighter that participated in these events (though minus Rain or Motaro; Motaro has some brief cameos during Story Mode cutscenes but is absent as a participant) with revamped and expanded movelists. Moving away from the gameplay modes, the in-game experience is likewise tightened down. Unlike the last few series outings, which have been fully 3D games, the fights are firmly rooted in the 2D plane (which is my favorite way to fight). The button layout is no longer High/Low punches and kicks but limb-assigned Front and Back. Rather than "dial-a-combos" that can't be broken down into individual hits, characters have unique move strings similar to Tekken that they can freely break to link to other moves. Characters can now dash back and forth, removing the need for a dedicated Run button and allowing for advanced mobility with smarter defense. A major new feature for this game is the Super meter; a three-segmented bar that can power up your fighter in several ways. With one stock, your fighter can exchange it for an enhanced special move that can take on additional properties over the normal version. Two stocks will grant the ability to break out of one combo and three stocks unlock the almighty "X-Ray"; a literal bone-shattering attack that does considerable damage while showcasing the internal damage your victim is suffering. The brutal X-Ray attacks were root of this game's notoriety leading up to its release and are both violent and tactical, with no two having the exact same application. Moving into the tag mode introduces partner commands (such as calling in assists) that encourage strategic and effective team-ups with characters who can work well together and accentuate strengths. Mortal Kombat has never felt this deep and I must applaud Netherrealm Studios for paying attention to the "hardcore" players when crafting this game. Of course, one of the hallmarks of the series is the violent "Fatality" finishing moves and they are more gruesome than ever. Ever since Mortal Kombat 3, I felt the game's cold-blooded and brutal atmosphere has been lost to spectacle and flashiness (something that was even starting to appear as far back as II) but this game has at least returned the harsh brutality to the series. The fighting gameplay isn't without its faults (the flow of the fight favors being defensive due to a lot of attacks having heavy recovery times and a couple moves are difficult to outrun; some combos are overly damaging as well) but the more up-tempo mechanics ensure that Mortal Kombat is no longer just "that game with the Fatalities".
Replay Value: 8
Something Mortal Kombat is known for (aside from its violence) is the vast array of secret and hidden features. From hidden battles to minigames, there is always a reason to put another quarter in the machine if you know what you're looking for. This game has a wealth of extra activities to keep you busy when not working on your technique (which is inevitably the ultimate value for a good fighting game). Story Mode is a good six to eight hour experience with a captivating cinematic experience. The Challenge Tower and its 300 levels will alone provide many hours for dedicated players (with a sexy surprise waiting at the top). Throughout the game you can earn "Koins", which are spent in the Krypt for extra content (such as artwork and music). This alone will eat up much of your time as there are miles and miles of unlockable content. If you have a group of friends over, up to four players can participate in 2v2 tag battles. When you're ready to take your skills online, you can participate in ranked and unranked battles. Single and tag matches are available as well as a "King of the Hill" mode, which attempts to replicate the experience of being at the arcade with a spectator rating system to boo or cheer the fighters. The online mode could use some improvement (such as being able to see an opponent's connection strength and to decline matches if the connection is not good enough) but the competition has been capable. The game does use an Online Pass system, though, which is something I personally do not agree with (I don't really like anything that might interfere with online play, though it's not a big reason to not purchase this game). In the end, a fighting game's replay value is always best judged by how worthwhile it is to improve your talent and in that regard, Mortal Kombat finally has earned its keep.
If I was rating the effort the developers put forth in this game, I'd be more than willing to award an 11. There is no way anyone can refute that Netherrealm Studios have taken Mortal Kombat to a new place with this installment. Both in terms of fighting depth and absurd violence, Mortal Kombat not only puts the series back on track but finally has the solid gameplay foundation to go with it. The developers learned what worked and what didn't in previous entries and have refined the formula as a result. They have not yet reached the ceiling yet so I won't call it a "flawless victory" but what has been established gives the series a fantastic new beginning. Graphics are sharp, animation is smooth, and most importantly; the control is better than ever. Since the series is now owned by Warner Bros. I expect to see follow-ups in the future and if they can build on what was introduced in this game, there is no doubt that Mortal Kombat will be a heated contender in the fighting genre. I highly recommend looking into Mortal Kombat, provided you aren't put off by the heavy violence. There was a time that I scoffed at the idea a western-developed fighting game could ever run shoulder-to-shoulder with games like Street Fighter or The King of Fighters but the times, they are a changin'.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/11, Updated 04/27/11
Game Release: Mortal Kombat (US, 04/19/11)
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