Review by Tublet
"All the bells and whistles in the world can't help me from feeling disappointed with Mortal Kombat: Deception."
Every Mortal Kombat game without Johnny Cage has sucked.
That's not to say that Johnny Cage is my favorite character (in fact, I'm not too fond of him), simply that without his presence, an MK game seems under the usual imaginary line of quality. The only exception I can think of to this rule is MK4, which was abysmal even with Johnny.
So what happens when Johnny Cage is only available in a sub-game of an MK title, with the same character model as he had last game, and not even available for play? (thanks to a GameFAQs staff member for pointing out the fact that Cage technically is in the game)
You get an unfortunately mediocre entry that mars the memory of the excellent game that was MKII, and will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many gamers wanting more for ages to come.
Allow me to elaborate. I waited for several months for Deception to come out. I am a huge MK fan, playing many of the games in the series since the first hit arcades. And for the most part, I have loved the games, regardless of their faults. So when I finally got my grubby mitts on a copy of the latest MK game, I was more than a bit disappointed with how it played. If I could put into words my reaction after a few minutes of playtime, I believe those words would be "That's it?"
At first glance, there seems to be a lot to do here, with an improved Krypt, an RPG-like Konquest mode, a puzzle game, and a MK-themed game of chess, along with the usual core fighting game. But when you actually start to delve into these new features, you realize how gimmicky they feel. The Krypt, though smaller now (thank God) probably should have been omitted entirely, with the more interesting extras available off the bat, along with, well, everything else.
Repeat after me, Midway. "Unlocking characters and arenas is not fun." "Unlocking characters and arenas is not fun."
I don't care how the developers say it adds more replay value to the game. I don't want to hear their talk about how if you want to play your favorite characters, you'll have to work for them. Of course, they didn't actually say the latter - at least, I hope not - but I digress. If the game is a steaming turd, I don't want to have to slug through it, amassing virtual currency (oops, "Kurrency" - my bad) just to play as Liu Kang, Raiden, Jade, or any of the other hidden-at-first characters. Same goes for arenas. The rest of the stuff in the Krypt is "krap", with concept art, photos of the developers (why?) and pictures of the arcade games, with a little bit of info on them. Sadly, you can't play the older games. Doing so would have given the Krypt quite a bit more credit, but we are deprived of this feature. Shame, too, because I don't think it would have required much effort on Midway's part to take the old games, revamp their speed so as not to make them ludicrously fast (like the MKII and MK3 on Midway's Arcade Classics 2) and make them available for play for Deception. I would have even preferred Test Your Might (which, I might add, is a very amusing game) to the knock-offs - er, subgames also included in Deception.
For instance, Puzzle Kombat. I'm waiting to see how long it takes for Midway to get their pants sued off for this. If you have ever played Capcom's Puzzle Fighter, then you'll know exactly what to expect from this, because it is the exact same game. Aside from character models with deformed craniums and stubby limbs (which, I suppose, is Midway's version of the chibi characters in Puzzle Fighter, but should have been dropped) - and darkened pictures of ingame backgrounds as a static backdrop, there is almost no change whatsoever from Puzzle Fighter, except for a nice touch known as a "Super Meter", which, when filled, will allow your character to either change their screen or their opponent's in a way that benefits themselves. However, I wouldn't be surprised if the latest incarnations of Puzzle Fighter had something very similar to this as well.
Then we have one of our other subgames, Chess Kombat. In theory, this game sounds interesting. It is similar to real-life chess, except you have a spell list with a wide array of useful things, like bringing a fallen warrior from the dead, or simply killing one of your opponent's units. Also, the movement abilities for each unit differs from their chess equivalent, and there are "power cells" that you can control by sending a unit to said cell's square, giving a bonus to the health of each of your units.
Health, you say? The units in chess don't have health!
Well, they do in Chess Kombat. Why? Because when you engage an enemy (which would kill them in regular old chess) both units appear in a match of Mortal Kombat, slugging it out for control of the defender's square. This really kills any strategy element the game would have had, because if you rule the fighting game aspect, you will destroy any comers and not need to have a strategic bone in your body. In fact, I'm not sure why Midway called this subgame "Chess Kombat", for it bears no semblance to real life chess at all.
Then at last we come to our final, most fleshed-out subgame: Konquest mode. In this game, you control the young student Shujinko, who is called from his studies by the Elder God's messenger, and told to retrieve the six Kamidogu throughout the realms of the MK universe. Throughout the course of the game, Shujinko gets older and older and wiser and wiser, until at last when he has recovered the last Kamidogu, the messenger appears, turning into his true form - the Dragon King, Onaga, and going into his cliched monologue - a prerequisite for all self-respecting bad guys, it seems - explaining how he played Shujinko for a fool so he could come back to power. Then Shujinko runs, and the game ends. Whee. It's actually a cool twist, and being able to play the backstory for the fighting game is a nice touch, although the ending is somewhat anticlimactic. In practice, the game is terrible. The dialogue is cheesy, the voice acting horrendous (I actually winced), the graphics awful, and the actual thing repetitive. You run to a highlighted character, perform their task, rinse, and repeat, until you have the Kamidogu for that realm. Then you do it over again, until you beat it. It's very, very linear. You can't, say, help the Resistance in Orderrealm (yes, there is actually an Orderrealm and a Chaosrealm), you have to stamp them out, regardless of how much more sense it would make to have multiple paths and how much more enjoyable it would be. Wait, that's not the best part. The best part is that if you want to unlock about 95% of the hidden characters in the game, you have to find their "Krypt keys", hidden in - you guessed it - Konquest mode. It's adding insult to injury. Unlocking characters with virtual currency is bad enough, but when you have to play a godawful subgame to unlock said characters, it's going a bit too far.
The only redeeming feature of this game is the part Midway should have focused on the fighting game. The fighting engine is pretty much unchanged from Deadly Alliance. You still have two fighting styles and a weapon, and the gameplay still relies on combos, which is a bad idea considering how unpolished the engine is. Although DA's fighting system was very interesting, I really would have preferred to see something new. Every MK game has had a fighting system different than the last. It's just lazy to break the tradition now, and it looks bad on this already half-assed game. The graphics are nothing special. The bare skin on some of the characters has a weird sheen to it, making it seem almost plastic and artificial. The damage modeling on the characters' faces is back, but it would have been cooler to have it on the rest of their body and clothing as well. Most of the effects look nice, except for the blood effects that have been ported straight from DA. Blood still moves around aimlessly on a character's body until it hits an ambiguous point, and then drops to the ground. If it was done better, it would have looked very cool, but it looks fairly unrealistic in its current state.
The arenas, however, are very nice. Some of the arenas are multi-leveled, and most of them have "death traps", areas where either player can be hit into to be killed in some imaginative and gory way. It's a pretty cool implement, and it's nice to be able to turn the tables on a near-victorious opponent like that. The only bad thing I can think of about this feature is that death by falling onto spikes is used too often, and the lava deaths in the Kuatan Palace aren't animated very well. The fighting game is still the best part of the package, but it's far too similar to the last game's version.
Online play is available in Deception. I never play online since my Xbox isn't hooked up to my router, nor do I want to pay for Xbox Live, so I won't rate the actual feature, but I will give the game extra points for including an online mode.
But all the extra features and gimmicks should have been dropped in favor of the core fighting engine that is or at least, should be the real meat of the product. It's a shame that Ed Boon would rather attach a ton of bells and whistles to a clearly unpolished product than love it, nurture it, and tighten it up until it was a true title worthy of the MK license. I don't like the direction in which Mortal Kombat is headed. For the sake of fighting games, I hope it is set right soon.
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 01/03/05
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