Review by Dear_Watson

"FIGHT!"

To me, the Mortal Kombat series has always been the B-Movie equivalent of the fighting game genre. It prides itself on it's over-the-top violence, characters, and wacky storyline rather than being hailed as a deep fighter with an incredibly in-depth combat system. This is by no means a bad thing in my eyes, being a huge fan since its initial release at the tender age of five, I can safely say it's to blame for me enjoying a healthy amount of blood and guts in my entertainment. Hardcore fighting gamers usually scoff at the very mention of the series due to most of its combatants' fighting styles being carbon copies of each other, with only their special moves to differentiate and create various strategies between them. That being said, the reboot to the series has finally been released and I'll try to be as unbiased as possible and not let my borderline homoerotic tendencies towards Sub-Zero get in the way. I promise... Wait, what?

So, the story picks up where the total mess that was Armageddon's leaves off: The all out brawl among the forces of good, evil and everything in between for unsurpassable power has left the realm in ruin and most of the warriors, well, dead. All but two have perished, the two being the Elder God, Raiden and the emperor of Outworld, Shao Khan, not surprisingly. Omnipotent beings and giant viking/samurai conquerors of realms tend to come out on top. Khan, clearly having the upper hand in the fight, prepares to deliver the finishing blow to the God of Thunder and destroy all of existence. Before meeting his ultimate fate, however, Raiden sends an incredibly cryptic message back through time to himself at the beginning of the first Mortal Kombat tournament, warning himself of the forthcoming events. With this it puts into motion the rest of the game to take place during the first three entrees of the series, except with Raiden aware of future events and trying to decode his own few vague words. This is a setup for various (in)famous moments that took place during the initial timeline to result in different outcomes for character arches and creating crazy twists that start off slow at the get-go of story mode, but pick up later on, and is also the first of countless nostalgic moments for longtime MK fans.

The story mode itself is probably the game's main shining beacon that makes it stand out among others of this genre. A tonne of production value, fully developed cutscenes and first-rate voice acting in between and flowing smoothly into fights really immerses you into the thick of the plot and is a humongous step above the text narrative styles, and isn't a jarring experience or as immiscible with the rest of the game as the “Konquest” modes of past titles. This adds new layers onto the already boisterous personalities that the characters are known for and gives players, old and new, proper introductions and further insight into their rivalries and motivations. The frequent switching amongst the various fighters during this mode also helps this out, but on the other hand, can cause frustration with repeatedly having to grow accustomed to a new character as Mortal Kombat is identified as the type of fighter where one aspires to master a single or maybe two characters alone. Anyone familiar with storytelling is going to be quick to point out some of the holes and flawed plot devices used, but should also be quick to remind themselves of the hundreds of retcons already made well before this game, and not to mention the fact that once you sit back and count how many ninjas are thrown in there, these things are easily forgiven. The story played out also contradicts most of the separate character endings in the ladder mode, which kind of takes away from the guessing and mystery made present in older titles of the series with what is or isn't canon. That's with logically assuming that the story mode is, in fact, canon. But this dev team isn't shy to changing it up, what with the retcons and such mentioned beforehand.

Ladder mode? Oh yeah, there's actual gameplay. Sorry, I get caught up in discussing the story sometimes. The single player ladder mode is comprised of the traditional 1 vs 1 matches and the newly revamped 2 vs 2 tag team battles, both of which takes you through a series of fights in an ascending tower that varies in size (depending on difficulty level) which, after a small number of sub-bosses, at long last matches you up with Shao Khan himself. Now, I know his fighting style is probably in tribute to the fear he struck in hearts of gamers at the arcades due to his sheer difficulty, and in that respect they nailed it. But once you figure out a cheap strategy of spamming projectiles or teleports, he becomes a joke. At that point, it detracts from his originally fearsome presence, is not skill anymore, and in this day and age is, frankly, bad game design. But besides Khan, the kombat between the regular fighters is responsive, easy to pick up and get into, and is made even more fluid by the motion capture technology used. Not being very familiar with the game from it's launch date due to technical issues plaguing my PlayStation (YLOD), I can only speak of the character balance after a few patches were made available, and aside from only a few exploitable glitches that will inevitably get patched as well, the kombatants seem to be equal and unique in their own respects. The Kombos and special moves present look fantastic and are easy to pull off, even for beginners, due to the extensive and straightforward lists in the pause menu – Although having to skim through these menus every time you play as someone you're new with can breakup the action considerably, especially during multiplayer.

As is expected, there's plenty of ridiculous violence and blood flying around during fights, with character models taking damage depending on what parts are hit as the rounds go on making the fights themselves all the more visceral. The brutality is increased even more so by the implementation of the super moves known as “x-ray” attacks, where the focus is zoomed in on the character while their bones are broken and shattered, and organs are ruptured in sadistically gruesome fashion. All of the cracks, screams, splats, and plain old impact sound effects are all satisfying in a delightfully morbid sense, even if they do drown out the game's barely audible soundtrack. And don't forget about fatalities! They're back, and arguably the most ridiculous the series has ever seen. The majority of them are immensely cringe-worthy and the perfect, humiliating cherry on top at the end of a match. They come in a somewhat diverse selection with everyone having their classic, go-to, straight-up death finishers, babalities have been comically resurrected, and stage fatalities make a comeback as well.

An interesting addition is the secondary play mode dubbed “Challenge Tower”, where the player climbs a tower much akin to the ones in ladder mode, that includes a total of 300 diverse challenges that range from Test Your Might/Sight/Luck to defeat the opponent with no arms, while rainbow blood spouts from you and ice balls fall from the sky... Needless to say, this mode provides an intriguing change of pace and is easy to get sucked into for long periods of time, or small intervals and is likely to keep you coming back for more long after you have grown weary of other normal single player matches. This and the story mode will net you the most koins, with other minor achievements gaining you minor amounts. Koins being the currency within the game used to purchase unlockables in the krypt: a dark, expansive wasteland of tombstones, swamps and unmentionable horrors; It's awesome. The major drag about the krypt is while it's always gratifying to find the occasional fatality or alternate costume, with literally hundreds of unlockables the majority of them are concept arts. Sifting through endless concept art to get to the good stuff? Not fun. This is even more of a bummer if you were one of those weird people (me) who bought the big, ridiculous super special edition that comes with a book full of the same concept art. At least the bookends were pretty sweet.

All of this content and I haven't even touched on the online mode. As is common with fighting games going online, there are some issues with lag here and there. But with 1 vs 1 and tag team available for both on and offline, the online exclusive “king of the hill” mode, coupled with the already over abundance of single player content, there's the potential for indefinite playtime here. To go even further, you can also keep track of your character records (Number of fatalities/x-ray moves used, total play-time, etc.). With some questionable directions taken in the past by the dev team and some clearly unfinished products that were rushed to meet a deadline, even as a fan I had to admit the quality of the series had become sub-par. But this entree blows everything else out of the water. It sticks to the basics with the 2D gameplay, is filled to the brim with homages intent on pleasing the old school fans, and at the same time has enough new to it to bring people who were already skeptical of the games in. Mortal Kombat has gone from being the “B-movie” style fighting game to a AAA title, and a possible game of the year contender in its own respective genre. To put it bluntly, Midway going under is the best thing to happen to NetherRealm studios and the series as a whole since its inception, and I can't wait to see where they go with it from here.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/01/11

Game Release: Mortal Kombat (US, 04/19/11)


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