Review by tectactoe

"What a Glorious Resurrection!"

----- Preamble -----
If you grew up, raised kids, or had a pulse during the 90's, then there's a pretty good chance you know what Mortal Kombat is. This hellish spawn of creators Ed Boon and John Tobias first hit video game arcades in 1992, and the realm of the fighting genre was engulfed in a whole new manner. Mortal Kombat took the spotlight over – not for its lustrous gameplay or in depth control scheme – but because of its raw, unique, and (at the time) graphic display of dismantlement. Kids weren't just K.O.'ing their opponent, they were finishing them – which often included heads flying off of bodies, hearts being ripped through chests, and bones being burnt to a crisp. Yes, what Boon and Tobias created was a dramatic showcase of controllable torture and ass-whoopin', and boy did we love it.

But much like myself, I'm sure many of you remember the general coarse that the Mortal Kombat series had run through the subsequent decades. Fans were delighted at the release of Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3, the “Ultimate” Mortal Kombat 3, and Mortal Kombat: Trilogy. However, following this Nintendo 64 gem, many would say the MK series began to nosedive. And it would be hard for me to say I didn't agree. Mortal Kombat 4 was… okay. At best. With a cast made up of few returners and mostly lackluster newcomers, it was hard to get into the game. The added features of being able to side-step into the foreground and background, as well as being able to pick up and throw certain objects lying on the ground, just seemed to add something to the game it didn't really need. The next few releases (Deadly Alliance, Deception, Armageddon) kept the three dimensional dream (or, rather, nightmare) alive while adding “fighting styles” – each character had two fighting styles they could switch between, as well as a dedicated weapon, which would give them different basic movesets. But rather than enhance gameplay, this only seemed to bog it down. They were trying to do too much – the original Mortal Kombat wasn't popular because of its incredibly advanced and deeply involved game mechanics – it was popular because it was simple. Beat the hell out of your opponent with these crazy special moves and then finish them off by uppercutting them into a bed of spikes. That's what people wanted, simply.

So after Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was released in 2008, the first and only Mortal Kombat console game to be given a “Teen” ESRB rating instead of the usual “Mature”, people were convinced that the final nails had been hammered into the Mortal Kombat coffin for good. So now what? Are we just going to live with this crappy ensemble of new-gen games and be forced to dig out the Nintendo 64, PSX, Super Nintendo, or Sega Genesis, just to be able to play a Mortal Kombat game that's actually enjoyable? Alas! – Maybe not! For a new Mortal Kombat game is scheduled for release in Q2, 2011! A game void of any subtitle or clever, story related moniker. A game simply titled, “Mortal Kombat”. Would this game be the rejuvenation of the series that fans have waited for? Would this be the redemption of a great series turned sour by useless gimmicks and overindulgence of new technologies? Would this be the Mortal Kombat game that people talked about and played for years after its release because of how truly amazing it was? Yes, yes, and yes. Mortal Kombat (2011) was the saving grace, and I'm sure for many people – the best game in the series so far.

----- The Review -----
Thanks to me partially living under a rock and my recent indulgence of Tiger Woods golf and Black Ops, I hadn't seen a single gameplay video or pre-release showing of Mortal Kombat. Hell, I didn't even hear about its release until about a week before the due date. I bought the game on a whim, and with slight encouragement from the local GameStop employee who swore by the game, saying that it was the best Mortal Kombat game ever, and that he'd been playing it nearly non-stop since he got his hands on a copy. I shelled out my 60 bucks, when home, and popped Mortal Kombat (2011) into my XBOX 360. After making it past the bone-chilling image of Scorpion uppercutting Sub-Zero and breaking his jaw on the main menu, I was headed for the classic ladder – and went right into the character select screen.

The Characters
Now oftentimes, this is what makes or breaks a Mortal Kombat game. The characters. This (I believe) was one of the many reasons that the new-gen MK games were shunned by longtime fans. Not so much the inclusion of new fighters, but rather, the exclusion of classics that many of us had expected to see. That, and the fact that many of the new characters were boring rehashes with irrelevant stories and not much new to bring to the table. So you can imagine my delight when I loaded up the character select screen and saw a load of familiar faces. Everyone, in fact (besides Rain) from the original UMK3/MK:T cast, with the addition of Quan Chi from the post 2-D series. Who, might I add, was probably the most innovative and noteworthy character from those new-gen games. Us hardcore MK fans can breathe: all of the classics are here. Baraka, Reptile, Ermac, Sub-Zero, Smoke, Kitana, Mileena, Cyrax – yeah, yeah I could go on and name all of them, but you get the idea. Mortal Kombat (2011) had finally brought back the characters that we grew accustomed to in the first place, and it had been so long since we'd seen some of them, that it almost felt brand new.

The Gameplay and Engine
So I pick my character, Johnny Cage, the classic of all classics, the original prankster, and I begin my journey through the arcade ladder. The arcade ladder is a revamped version of the classic ladder from older games – you fight your way through a series of seven random combatants, then face the “Final 3” which remain the same for every ladder: Shang Tsung, Kintaro/Goro, and the emperor Shao Khan. After seeing the nostalgic loading screen where the characters take stance and grimace at each other from either side, I hear the classic, “Round one… FIGHT!” and I'm off – I'm playing Mortal Kombat (2011).

The first thing I notice is that I cannot sidestep into the foreground or the background. The game has three-dimensional looking characters, but the gameplay takes place on a two-dimensional plane. You can move left or right, but not into or out of the screen. Good thing? Absolutely. I understand why the creators had previously tried to implement another dimension into the game, but it just wasn't necessary. It didn't make the game better – it made it cumbersome, and nobody wants that. I'm sure there are people who enjoy the ability to run circles around their opponent but I know a majority of the gen pop didn't like this change, and so it was great to see MK back tracked to their two dimensional roots. And by stepping backwards, they definitely moved forward.

The control scheme is just like I remember – the same as ever. This is one thing that even went mostly untouched throughout the new-gen games. Six main buttons: high kick, low kick, high punch, low punch, block, and throw. Along with the ability to jump and crouch, this was the formula for fun, fighting-game success – an easy to grasp control set-up. Mortal Kombat (2011), like all the others, includes “special moves” for each fighter, which are executed by a three or four button input. Many of the characters retain specials they had back in the 90's – Scorpion's spear (still accompanied by the “get over here!” and “com'ere!”), Johnny Cage's shadow kick, Sektor's teleport punch – once again, the list goes on. But along with many of these vintage moves, some characters are given completely new maneuvers, such as Sub-Zero's ground freeze, where he covers the floor with ice, capturing still any opponent who's not in the air – even if they're blocking.

Combos are done just as they are in the other games – a fast series of button presses. Many of them will send your opponent airborne (launchers) allowing you to dash forward and hit them with another combo, special move, or perhaps both. I'm sure you all recognize this as “juggling”, something that MK really made famous back in the 90's. Many of the long combo strings are difficult to pull off and have small timing windows in which the buttons must be pressed – making them all the more glorious and satisfying when you finally pull them off. But don't fret, Mortal Kombat (2011) now includes a Practice mode, where you can fight continuously versus an opponent who either stands still like a dummy, fights back, or sits and blocks, either high or low.

Mortal Kombat (2011) features a variety of new (and vintage) game modes. As already mentioned, the arcade ladder is back (seriously, what would a Mortal Kombat game be without this?). Also featured is the “Tag Ladder” where you pick two combatants and face off each match again another two fighters. In this mode, you can freely switch between the two fighters, as well as performing combos that seamlessly swap between characters while continuing to punish your opponent.

Story Mode is the first game that I'm sure many people will opt to play. Erasing nearly everything you've learned from Mortal Kombat games past, Mortal Kombat (2011) does what it can to re-tell the tales told by the first three installments of the game, with a few hidden twists and turns thrown in. Story Mode has you going from character to character, following them through a part of the story. You watch a video clip, and then you fight a match. As you progress, the battles get tougher and the story opens up until everything begins to come together near the finish. I won't spoil anything for you – but I will say that the Story was well written… for a Mortal Kombat story, that is. We all know they've never been good at keeping the Story straight and making complete and coherent sense, but Mortal Kombat (2011) does what it can and will keep you fairly interested from the beginning to the end.

The old “Test Your….” games are back. There's Test Your Might, Sight, Strike, and Luck. Test Your Might, just like the it's decade-old counterpart, has you mashing buttons to pump a meter up past a certain point, and then smashing whatever's in front of you. Test Your Strike is similar, although it requires that you be more precise – rather than just get the meter above a certain line, you must maintain the meter between two points and strike when the game tells you. Test Your Sight is a familiar game of cup swapping and picking the cup which holds the “prize” underneath. Test Your Luck is the most intuitive of all. A series of slots come up and your opponent is randomly selected. Not only that, but three (or sometimes more) battle conditions are also chosen, and they may affect you, your opponent, or both. The battle conditions range from falling ice blocks which freeze on impact to players being poisoned and having their health slowly drain. It's interesting to say the least, and adds an exciting new element to how you play the game.

The krypt is back – a landfill littered with coffins, dead bodies, and mutants which all contain goodies for you to unlock. It could be an alternate outfit, a design concept of a battle stage, or the combination for a certain character's second fatality. The krypt items are unlocked with “koins” which you earn as you venture through the game – each win nets you coins, as well as performing high damage combos.

Perhaps the freshest addition to Mortal Kombat (2011) is the “Challenge Tower” where you flip-flop between the entire cast and work your way up a ladder of 300 different challenges. Some of the challenges are simple, and some of them will have you whipping your controller against the ground and violently yelling at your television after the 30th time of failure. Sometimes you'll be forced to fight against an opponent with super speed, or you'll fight off a zombie hoard with Stryker's gun, or you'll have to go head-to-head with THREE (yes, three) Goro's in a row – all with the same bar of health. The challenges are rewarding and you do get a prize for completing the tower (hell, you can even skip the challenges by paying with koins and you'll still get the prize). I won't say what it is… but those of you with a lewd sense of humor will certainly enjoy it.

And lastly, as I'm sure you all were dying to hear about – fatalities are back. Each character has two unique fatalities, along with the ability to perform classic “stage” fatalities on specific levels. So be prepared to see lots of blood being spilled, limbs being torn off, and bodies being ripped apart. Sadly, animalities and brutalities will not find their way into this game, but Mortal Kombat (2011) does include babalities – the ability to turn your opponent into an infant. Gory? No. Hilarious? Yes. Mortal Kombat at its finest.

So What's New?
Despite traversing back to what made the series famous in the first place, Mortal Kombat (2011) adds one, new, simple yet major thing to the game – a “super meter”. The super meter is at the bottom of the screen and is constructed of three separate “bars”. You begin each match with one bar. Landing the first unblocked hit nets you another bar. As the battle wages on, your super meter will fill up three different ways: (1) getting hit, (2) having your attacks blocked, and (3) using your special moves. Once you have three bars, the super meter is full and flashes with a big “X”. Now, what can we do with this meter?

Every character now has what are known as “enhanced specials”. Simply put, they are enhanced versions of their current special moves. To execute, you must press the block button along with the last button of the special move. For example, “back, back, Y” would become “back, back, Y + block”. This will make the move either more powerful, or give it a characteristic that the regular version does not have. Johnny Cage's enhanced Shadow Kick, for instance, goes across the entire screen rather than only half, and it contains “armor”, which means he can get hit with a projectile attack or even a punch and it will not interrupt his attack (he will, however, still take the damage). These enhanced specials require one bar of the super meter, and they are one way to spend your meter.

Another tactic that only uses one bar are the new Tag Assists. When playing a tag match, you can press either “down, forward, LB” or “down, back, LB” (this is the same for every character) and your tag partner will appear on screen and either perform a move to help you out, or perform an aggressive “tag in”, rather than the traditional swap. So let's say I'm playing as Baraka and my partner is Sub-Zero. As Baraka, I get one bar of super and I press “down, back, LB” – Sub-Zero appears on my side and sends out a beam of ice which will freeze any opponent whom is not blocking, allowing Baraka to move ahead and have a free combo. Pressing “down, forward, LB” would cause Baraka to step back as Sub-Zero slides in, hurting any opponent in the way, as he remains in the field of battle.

For two bars of super, you may now perform a “Breaker”, which is probably exactly what you think it is – it will halt any opponent performing a combo on you (as long as they are physically touching you – projectiles cannot be broken) and knock them back. Though it does no damage to them, Breakers can certainly save your behind, especially against someone who knows a list of deadly combos. I've seen plenty of matches where Breakers have prevented a combo that would've otherwise sealed the deal. In fact, at higher levels of play, many people would argue that Breakers make the best use of the super meter – if you get caught in a combo without two bars of super, it could be game over for you!

Lastly, you can choose to blow the whole wad – all three bars of super – on the all-new “X-Ray” attacks. Each fighter has his or her own X-Ray attack which “hits” the opponent in a specific way. Jax and Kano have X-Ray attacks that “grab” nearby opponents and are unblockable (though they can be evaded by simple jumping at the precise moment). Lui Kang's X-Ray causes him to flip kick into an overhead hit against the victim, Sektor blasts a missile across the screen, and Noob Saibot sends a shadow running across in the opposite direction. If you get hit by the opening attack from the X-Ray (meaning, you were within the attack range and weren't blocking properly), then you'll be hit by the full out X-Ray attack – a slow motion, unbreakable sequence of attacks that zoom in and show bones being broken and organs being smashed. These X-Ray attacks deal a large amount of damage (anywhere between 28-41% depending on the character) and can greatly turn the tables of a close match. Some of the X-Rays can even be linked into regular combos, oftentimes dealing a hefty amount of damage.

The addition of the super meter is, without exaggeration, perfect. The creators wanted to add SOMETHING new to Mortal Kombat (2011), and instead of an overbearing three dimensional system or a useless assortment of fighting styles, they went with the super meter, and they hit the nail right on the head. The concept is extremely simple, and yet it can be used and mastered in so many different ways, greatly impacting the way each game is played. Will you use a steady stream of enhanced specials? Save it for a breaker? Or perhaps unleash it all on a devastating X-Ray attack? How you chose to use your meter adds a beautiful element to gameplay without being a hindrance. Well done, MK, very well done.

How About Online Play?
Online play is here, and it lets you battle against people from all over the world. You can take them on head to head, in a two-on-two tag match, or join a game of “King of the Hill”. In King of the Hill, someone is crowned the king. Up to seven people can join a KotH room – one of them will fight the current king. If he/she wins, then he/she becomes the new king. If the king wins, well then obviously he/she remains king, while the next player in line faces off and attempts to dethrone. It's a very intriguing game mode and it's a ton of fun if you can manage to get a room full of your friends. Hell, it's fun even if you don't know the people – you can talk smack as a spectator all you want, but be ready to prove yourself when it's your turn to face the king.

Well, online mode is dandy and all, but there's one severe problem. LAG. Now, you may be one of the lucky people who doesn't experience much lag in online play, and that's wonderful. However, most of the people playing will suffer from extremely prevalent lag issues. Lag throughout the whole match, disconnecting before the match even beings – all sorts of nonsense. And while you must understand that any game involving internet connections holds the potential for lag, based on the strength of the players' connections - Mortal Kombat (2011) has no good excuses for the amount of bogged down online play that you're bound to experience. Even people with great connections may suffer from it, and the guys at MK have admitted, there is a problem with the “netcode”. I'm not going to get into all that technical jargon (mostly because I don't know what it all means), but in terms that everyone can understand: the online is buggy, bogged down, and laggy… for MOST of the people who play. If you are one of the fortunate people who doesn't have these problems, then go out and buy a lottery ticket. The rest of us will continue to sift through numerous matches, occasionally fighting someone with minimal amounts of lag, until NeatherRealm Studios resolves this issue with some sort of patch or hotfix. And since Mortal Kombat (2011) relies on nailing combos by pressing buttons in precise timing windows, every bit of lag is noticeable and must be fixed, ASAP. Other than that, online mode delivers, and the new KotH mode can provide for a new style of fun involving larger groups of friends.

The DLC support has been good since the April release. Four downloadable characters have been released at a cost of $5 (400msp) apiece. Also available are costume packs (many of them are free) which include two alternate costumes for two select combatants. Hotfixes and patches are release regularly to phase out any unfair game tactics that were overlooked during the game's testing period. By this, I mean glitches that allow characters to perform 100% damage combos are removed once they are discovers, and characters have received buffs/nerfs in order to make the game more balanced. You'll hear many people complain about the buffs/nerfs, but you have to realize that it's impossible to please everybody, and at least NRS is making an effort to listen to the community and make Mortal Kombat (2011) as balanced as any fighter could be. However, I still wish they'd focus a little more on the net code issues! I guess we'll have to wait and see what the future holds.

The Bottom Line…
Well, the bottom line is that this game is great. When you break it down, you might think that this game is nothing more than an updated, revamped, and rejuiced version of the Mortal Kombat games that caught everybody's attention back in the 90's. And, in one way, you might be right. But rather than throwing in features that nobody wants, or trying to add depth to gameplay while really just complicating it - Mortal Kombat (2011) just sets out to improve the simpler things that made the games so groundbreaking in the first place. The formula remains simple, and the addition of the super meter gives us just enough variety to twist gameplay without burdening us with a whole new game engine or style of play. Mortal Kombat (2011) hits nearly every goal it was put out to achieve, and as a die-hard fan of the series, I can say that it will be quite a while before this game leaves my Xbox 360.

This game gets a 9/10, due to the online lag issues. If that ever gets fixed (hopefully it does, and soon), then consider this a 10/10 from me. Superb.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/08/11, Updated 08/09/11

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

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