Review by VaporFox

Reviewed: 10/13/04 | Updated: 10/13/04

Don't be deceived; Deception is just Dark Alliance 2.0.

No one can deny that the Mortal Kombat series has been an iconic part of modern culture for gamers and non-gamers alike (thanks to the duo of live action MK movies) for over a decade now. Midway's latest foray attempts to breathe more life into the series by bringing back some "classic" characters who were fan favorites, along with a handful of new fighters thrown into the mix. Did they succeed? Read on to find out.

Story - Rating: 6
I think it's safe to say most people who enjoy fighting games don't play them for the "gripping" stories, and Deception doesn't take any steps to change that for the fans. To put it simply, the story in MK:D is like living next to a dormant volcano; sure, you know it's there, but you really don't think about it except in the rare moments it shows flashes of life.

As usual for the series, you get a basic (and sometimes vague or confusing) ending for each character upon completing the Arcade Mode with them. These endings include a couple of still pictures of the fighter(s), along with a bit of voiced dialogue by a narrator. It's nothing special, but it's more than some brawlers give you.

Konquest Mode:
Other than that, the Midway team "attempted" to broaden the storyline by giving Mortal Kombat: Dark Alliance's (the previous entry in the series) "Konquest Mode" a major facelift.

In this mode, you play the role of Shujinko -- the "next generation Lui Kang," as one developer called him -- who starts as a young upstart fighter at a village in earth realm. After getting a bit of training from his master Bo' Rai Cho, Shujinko ventures out into the world and soon encounters a "mysterious entity" that asks for his help in collecting some strange and powerful artifacts called the Kamidogu. This "lifelong quest" takes our protagonist through a handful of different realms, and we get to see him go through several stages of his life (actually SEEING HIM get older at key points of the story).

Sounds compelling in theory, right? I thought so, at least. However, Konquest Mode really isn't much more than a cleverly disguised Practice Mode which has Shujinko "training" with all the other fighters in Deception and learning their fighting styles (IE: changing into said fighters, ala Shang Tsung).

Konquest Mode basically breaks down like this: Shujinko talks to all the people he encounters in towns/realms; most of whom give him (often) mundane tasks he must complete to earn "koins" or other rewards. In other words, Konquest Mode is also used to gain currency to buy all the unlockable content (hidden characters, arenas, etc) in the "Krypt," which also makes its return from MK: Dark Alliance.

Overall, the experience can be amusing at first, but by the time I neared the end of the story, I was just happy it was all over, having gotten tired of (Shujinko) being a glorified errand boy.

Graphics - Rating: 8
If you've played Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, then you pretty much already know what you're getting graphics-wise.

Character Models:
There are |some| obvious improvements in the fighter models over last year's game, but MK:D doesn't make any big leaps or bounds over MK:DA's models. Animations were fluent as a whole, though it did seem a bit "off" at times, especially during some of the fatalities. There were some nice touches that made up for this, however. For example, almost every character had their own unique (and often cool) "get-up" animations after losing the first round of a fight -- something I wish more fighting games would have.

The majority of backgrounds in the actual fights were solid as well. There were one or two of them that seemed halfheartedly thrown in at the last second, but nearly every stage has a distinct theme to it that made them fun to fight in.

On the other hand, don't expect to be blown away by the graphics in the Konquest Mode. Most of the character models (save the main character and a few of others) were basic and un-detailed as they come. The environments were often just as bland or comical to look at, but considering this isn't an RPG or legit action/adventure game, I wasn't too fixated on either of these things; they certainly could have been worse.

Sound - Rating: 7
Simple: Not bad, but nothing extraordinary either. Many of the in-game fighting sounds are just recycled or revamped noises from previous MK games, and you can only listen to so many different moans and screams of the fighters before they all start to seem the same. Overall, it's standard fare stuff for a game in this genre, but as I said, it doesn't really do anything badly either.

Voice Acting:
The voice acting ... well ... I inwardly have to fight the urge to giggle anytime I call it "acting." Play Konquest Mode, and you'll likely be giggling too. It's hard to tell whether Midway was TRYING to be over-the-top-cheesy with the dialogue -- like in those old school kung-fu flicks -- or if it was just truly that bad. Either way, most people probably aren't going to be drawn in by the (many) conversations poor Shujinko is forced to endure during the game.

There's at least a few amusing moments in the fighting portion of the game though. My personal favorite involves Bo' Rai Cho saying "Oooh, that was a wet one, hahaha!" during one of his fatalities. Comedy gold.

The one saving grace in the sound area is the music. Like everything else, it's nothing spectacular, but it's appropriate and varied enough to keep a lot of people into the fights without them wanting to turn the volume down. There are even a few "remastered" old school MK themes in some stages, like the Living Forest and the Dead Pool from MKII.

Gameplay - Rating: 7
Alright, anyone who's been with the MK series since the original like I have will know that Mortal Kombat has always been about special moves and fast and furious fun instead of technical depth. If you're new to MK and are hoping for fighters with massive move lists or an extremely deep fighting engine, you're going to be disappointed.

Sure, things have come a long way since the original MK, but it's still no Soul Calibur or Virtua Fighter in depth by a long shot. This, however, shouldn't be a problem for anyone who knows what to expect from the series. So, much like how it is with the graphics, if you've played any of the other recent MK's, you know what you're getting already with the gameplay.

Core Gameplay Info:
There are 24 characters (25 if you count the Noob-Smoke fusion) to choose from. Each fighter has from 3 to 6 "special moves" at max. Everyone has at least 1 throw (Kenshi has a couple more). Like in Deadly Alliance, all combatants have 3 different fighting styles/stances -- 2 hand-to-hand styles, and 1 weapon stance.

That may sound like a lot of potential moves, but in reality the stances aren't much more than a gimmick. Each stance has a handful of tailor made combos (usually 3 to 7 hits max), but to me it just felt like the different fighting styles were too similar. In other words, there really wasn't a clear-cut advantage to picking one stance over the other (except maybe the weapons at times of desperation). So chances are you're just going to pick the style that has the longest combos or the most damaging moves and stick with those for most of a fight.

Here's who you can expect to see (as playable characters) in the game: Ashrah, Baraka, Bo' Rai Cho, Dairou, Darrius, Ermac, Havik, Hotaru, Jade, Kabal, Kenshi, Kira, Kobra, Li Mei, Lui Kang, Mileena, Nightwolf, Raiden, Scorpion, Shujinko, Sindel, Smoke-Noob, Sub-Zero, Tanya

New Gameplay Additions:
A "combo breaker" move has been incorporated to try adding some depth into the mix. However, the fact that you can only pull these combo breakers off |3| times a fight, teamed with how little actual damage they do makes their usefulness questionable at best. They're also ridiculously easy to execute; half the time I was performing combo breakers without even meaning to. You simply tap "forward" on the control pad or stick while blocking to disrupt whatever combo your opponent is unleashing on you.

Character Fatalities:
One thing I was happy about in Deception is Midway addressed the "1 fatality" complaint many people had concerning Deadly Alliance. Now each fighter technically has |3| fatalities -- 2 to finish off your opponent, and 1 "hara-kiri" move that's used to kill YOURSELF, instead of letting your rival get the satisfaction of doing a fatality on you (if you can enter the hara-kiri command before they can finish their move).

I was mostly pleased with the assortment of fatalities offered this time around. Some were over-the-top and comical, others were just downright sadistic, and virtually all of them were bloody as ever. So if you're easily squicked by gore, then MK probably isn't for you.

Stage Fatalities:
Unlike previous entries into the MK universe, in Deception, you can end a fight almost immediately by knocking your opponent into a number of deadly "hazards" that are found on many of the stages this time around.

If you remember the Pit or Dead Pool stages from MK2, then you're either going to be delighted or disgruntled to know they're back, among a number of new (and creative) death traps. Kick your foes into huge metal grinders, or knock them off the edge of a platform and send them plummeting to their deaths below in laser webs. The number of death traps far exceeds any other game in this series. My only complaint about this feature is it seemed too easy to fall (or be knocked into) into these traps from distances that seemed "safe."

Gameplay Flaws:
Instead of making this a full-fledged rant, I'll just list key things that I felt held this game back from getting a higher score.

1) Blocking - I can't speak for anyone else, but I felt the blocking in Deception was just too inconsistent, even flaky. It seemed like the AI opponents could often "break through" a clean block at will (especially as you're getting back up from a fall). Overall I just didn't feel comfortable with it like past games.

2) Delayed Moves - Most people will likely agree with me on this one; the "delay" (IE: the time your fighter is frozen/vulnerable) after performing a special move or certain combos was atrocious. Sometimes even when you'd CONNECT with a move, the delay from it was so horrid that your opponent would have time to get in a quick counter, or at least avoid any continued onslaught on your part. It just made the gameplay feel sluggish compared to most other fighting games out there. Some people may enjoy the slow pace though.

3) Unbalanced Characters - Much as I hate to say this, a handful of the characters in MK:D are insanely overpowered compared to the others. I realize some fighters are SUPPOSED to be stronger, but when you can abuse a SINGLE move or combo one character has to consistently wipe the floor with ANY other opponent, it makes things unbalanced and not as much fun.

Okay, if there's one thing Mortal Kombat: Deception has a butt-load of, it's these. The amount of content you can unlock in the Krypt (via "koins" you collect through various gameplay modes) is staggering. Hidden characters, their alternate costumes and bios, behind the scenes movies, pictures of the design team (like anyone really cares about those, heh) -- there's enough here to keep the casual gamer busy for at least a couple weeks with unlocking.

There are also two "mini-games" to provide distraction from all the fighting: Puzzle Kombat, which is a mishmash of games like Tetris and Puzzle Fighter, and Chess Kombat, which is basically a nod the old PC classic Battle Chess (though Chess Kombat doesn't really play a thing like "real" chess, alas). You can earn koins by playing these two modes as well, but after I'd unlocked everything in the Krypt, I found my interest in both mini-games waning, since neither one is really deep enough to keep most gamers entranced for long. Still, it's a nice bonus you're not often going to find in this genre.

Replay Value - Rating: 7
As always, the replay value in a fighting game is only going to be as good as the fighting engine itself is. MK:D is no exception. I doubt very many gamers are going to find the Konquest Mode fun enough to play through more than once. So it's mostly on the shoulders of the two-player mode to keep you coming back for more. Of course, the ability to play this online with Xbox Live is a major boost in the replay department. I myself haven't played it online, but I've heard from numerous sources it's one of the most lag-free and smooth-running games on Live to date.

Final Rating: 7
Fighting purists who like depth and expansive moves-sets may label Deception as a "newbie-friendly" or "soft-core" fighting game, and I pretty much fall into that crowd. Even if I WAS a "Mortal Kombat fanatic" I'd have a hard time giving this game a higher score than I did. Other MK lovers might find themselves more entranced with MK:D than I was. But overall, it's just slightly above average when stacked up against most of the other 3D fighters out there right now.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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