Review by bhamv

"An average game, which doesn't try to pretend to be great"

The fourth installment of the Mortal Kombat series was the first venture into polygonal 3-dimensional graphics. This innovation, along with several others such as weapons and ''max damage'', led to widespread anticipation among fans of the series. Does Mortal Kombat 4 live up to expectations? Sadly, no - although this is not necessarily a fatal flaw.

Graphics: 6/10

The supposed 3-d graphics of Mortal Kombat 4 are, unfortunately, sub-par. The polygon count is low, leading to blocky characters and jagged edges, where limbs resemble cardboard boxes. In addition, occasional bugs crop up, such as one or both fighters being hidden behind a wall, or a fighter unexpectedly turning invisible (at first I thought Scorpion had somehow received Reptile's moves). These bugs are rare, but they do turn up enough to cause a feeling of irritation.

Backgrounds are fairly imaginative and atmospheric, while the visual effects from special moves are all passable - blood flies, limbs twist, and gore splatters. The visuals were merely average when the game was released, however, and now shows its age even further. In other words, the graphics get the job done, but no more.

One side benefit from these graphics is that your computer will not be overtaxed. The vast majority of PC's nowadays will be able to run Mortal Kombat 4 with few problems.

Controls: 7/10

Well, you can hardly go wrong, can you? The most common form of control will be the keyboard, and the game is nice and responsive to your input. This is a crucial, fundamental feature of any beat-em-up, your on-screen character must react to split-second commands from you, the player, and happily Mortal Kombat 4 meets this requirement. The arrow keys control movement, ducking and jumping, while there are four attack buttons; two kicks and two punches. The final two buttons are blocking and running, both making a return from Mortal Kombat 3. In addition, the game has a useful ''keyboard friendly'' fatality option, where you don't have to hold down as many keys to perform a move. This is a blessing for many gamers playing on keyboards that don't recognize more than three or four buttons held at once.

Sound and music: 7/10

As you would no doubt expect from a Mortal Kombat game, the most common sound effect is the agonizing scream, followed closely by the bone-crunching sound bites. Character voices and screams are fair, once again they get the job done without being exceptional. Other sound effects are slightly better, providing a realistic sense of beatings. The background sounds also provide welcome variety - thunder and rain in one outdoor level, the spinning whoosh of a giant fan in another.

Music is, again, what you'd expect from Mortal Kombat. Atmospheric, dark, but hardly Mozart.

Gameplay: 6/10

The most important feature of any game is where Mortal Kombat 4 falls down the heaviest. First, the good: Beating the living daylights out of an on-screen character before ripping his head off is still as incredibly fun and satisfying as it was in previous incarnations of Mortal Kombat. Each character has two ''fatality'' moves, brutal and dramatic actions that can be taken at the end of a bout to end your opponent's life. Certain levels also have ''level fatalities'', where you can throw your reeling enemy into a giant fan, for example. Disappointingly, there are no other finishing moves available, not even the traditional ''pit'' level.

The gameplay of Mortal Kombat 4 features three main innovations from its predecessors. The first and most obvious is weapons; each character has a unique armament he or she can pull out in a fight, and weapons generally do more damage per blow than hands or feet. Weapons can also be thrown or dropped, and it's possible to retrieve and wield your enemy's weapon. Are these good things? Well... kind of. Weapons do add another facet of the game to explore, but it's not as big an improvement as it might immediately seem. Weapons are knocked down far too easily, and cheesy combos are far too easy with them. Ultimately it isn't fun to use a weapon, and players find themselves ignoring them.

A second innovation are throwable objects that are scattered around some arenas. This one was just a bad idea altogether, since whoever got their hands on such a projectile is pretty much guaranteed a win. When a stone or a skull is picked up and thrown, the target is knocked down and backwards, while the thrown projectile bounces in the opposite direction, landing pretty much right at the feet of the original thrower. And when said projectile is thrown immediately again, it inevitably catches the target a second time, just as he or she is standing back up and unable to react. And then it's thrown a third time. By the time a fourth hit lands, the round is over, as each impact does an incredible amount of damage. Having a match only involve four cheese hits is simply not fun.

The third and final major addition is the ''max damage'' system. Again, this is not necessarily a good thing. The way max damage works is simple: If the damage dealt by a combo reaches 40%, the attacker is knocked back and the combo halted while a big flashy MAX DAMAGE sign appears on screen. The intention was to prevent cheesy multi-hit fighting, such as the original version of Mortal Kombat 3 allowing combos that did up to 60% damage. Well, that's the theory anyway, in actual practice the max damage system falls short. Firstly, for some unknown reason certain combos circumvent the limit and are not halted when they exceed 40% in damage. I've had the helpful message on the side of the screen inform me I've dealt 8 hits, for a total of 55% damage, and I used one of the cheesiest combos in the book. Secondly, certain combos do more than 40% damage because the player is skilled, and the max damage limit prevents this skill from being shown.

Fortunately, there's an option to turn off this buggy thing in newer versions of the game, I believe.

Other new additions include a new throw for every character(called a ''bonebreaker throw'') and the expected new special moves and characters.

Well, I've gone through the good and the new, time for the bad. Firstly, although the game LOOKS like it's in 3-d, it doesn't PLAY like it's in 3-d. Yes, there are sidestep buttons available, but their usefulness is limited at best. When you sidestep an attack your opponent will immediately turn to face you, not missing a beat and continuing to pulverize your unfortunate body.

Button combos, which made their debut in Mortal Kombat 3, are carried over into Mortal Kombat 4, although for some reason the game developers decided to make everyone have near-identical combos. The most reliable source of damage is a 5-hit combo involving two buttons (three if you're going for the high kick at the end) which works for every character, doing approximately 20% damage. In other words, after getting the hang of this game, you will find yourself using only characters with ''stun'' moves, (Scorpion's spear, Sub Zero's freeze etc) and then pulling off this combo, and then repeating. The computer AI of this game is very poor, and even on the hardest settings very little skill is required to defeat the computer. All you need is a stun move and five hits. This is fun for all of thirty minutes, sixty minutes if you're easily amused. In that time-span you can probably beat the game twice.

Since this is a review for the PC version, I have to say multiplayer is not an option. Two people playing on one keyboard just is simply unfeasible, while there is no network or modem play available. So basically, playing this game involves pulling off the same string of moves against a dumb computer opponent, ripping his heart out, and then repeating for the next guy. This is fun... for a bit.

Mortal Kombat 4 screams ''average'' from every aspect of the game, as if the developers knew they didn't have a winner on their hands, and thus decided that average was acceptable. The graphics are passable without looking excellent, the controls and sound get the job done, and the gameplay involves zombie-like button-bashing until boredom sets in. For the first hour or so you spend playing this game, you will enjoy exploring the variety of mean things you can do. Particularly dedicated gamers might even spend a few hours figuring out moves for each character. Ultimately, this game is good for a few hours of mindless entertainment, and that's all.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/21/03, Updated 04/21/03

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