Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: Xbox 360 (PS3)
Released: 21 April (Europe), 19 April (US)
The long-awaited homecoming of Mortal Kombat is upon us, marked by the return of the Fatality and more new modes than you can shake a stick at. It’s a rebound to bloody origins after the more tame Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, with the developers NetherRealm Studios and kingpin Ed Boon promising a pleasing game for the fans in the run up to release.
The story behind the game is a retelling of the original storylines of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat 2 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, melding together to give a more complete overlook of the plot of Mortal Kombat with some alterations thrown in. While fighting games aren’t renowned for their narrative, this time round Mortal Kombat takes a surprising new focus on the story behind the fights, with smooth transitions from cut scenes to fights and fights to cut scenes. Likewise, the Arcade mode flows nicely from character to character as you assume control of a new combatant for the next chapter as part of the story.
The story opens to the scene of an absolute massacre, leaving only Raiden and Shao Kahn standing. Fearing for the future of the Earthrealm, Raiden uses his last ounce of strength to send a message using his amulet to his past self warning of the bleak future if something isn’t done. From here, you revert to the current day, and the story unfolds with the guiding hand of Raiden who, with the help of some of the other contestants, tries to avoid this fate. Seeing as it starts from the beginning, the plot is just as accessible for newcomers as it is nostalgic for veterans. Each character’s back-story is gradually introduced and explained, detailing how they came to be involved with the deadly tournament, from Johnny Cage, an actor who doesn’t quite realise what he’s gotten himself into, Raiden, a thunder god trying to save the Earthrealm, to Scorpion who’s looking to exact vengeance on arch nemesis Sub Zero.
As well as Arcade mode (which includes the option of co-op play), there’s a wealth of other modes, most of which come to the franchise for the first time. Challenge Tower is one of the big additions, which presents you with a list of challenges to work your way through, each with its own different completion conditions, earning in-game ‘Kurrency’ in the process. The challenges are varied, with some relating directly to the gameplay, whereas others go off on a tangent, offering mini-games instead of the traditional gameplay. Kurrency accumulated can be spent on unlocking content and secrets in the ‘Krypt’ in the extras menu. Also in the extras menu is ‘Nekropolis’, a place to view character bios to further expand your knowledge of the characters. Even the presentation of these goes a step further, with interactive areas to explore the content offered by these extras, showing how well-furnished the game is.
In addition to the challenge mode mini-games, there are 4 other mini-games, all able to be accessed from the main menu, rather than searching them out in Challenge Tower. These are: ‘Test Your Might’, ‘Test Your Sight’, ‘Test Your Strike’ and ‘Test Your Luck’. Test Your Might and Test Your Strike see you pressing buttons rapidly or in combinations to smash blocks. Test Your Sight involves watching a cup and ball trick and selecting the cup you think the ball is under, only the cups and ball are replaced with decapitated heads and an eyeball. Test Your Luck is probably the most interesting of the lot, providing a completely randomised match based on the outcome of the spin of some fruit machine-like roulettes. With plenty of different combinations of options like an infinite timer, flaming floor, blocking disabled and more, the possibilities are endless.
The other large new feature is King of the Hill mode, in which the developers have attempted to recreate the feeling of competition in an arcade. It’s an online mode where up to 8 players can all sit in on the same match as spectators until it is their turn to fight and challenge the current King of the Hill to become the leader themselves. In layman’s terms, it’s winner stays on. Whilst sitting in the theatre-like zone viewing the battle, players can also make use their own Xbox Live Avatar that is representing them by giving the fight a rating, throwing tomatoes, or cheering and booing the current competitors.
The series has always been known for its ghastly practices, and this game is no different with the shocking level of gore taken up a notch by well-polished visuals. It almost goes without saying; this game is not for the squeamish, and the revival of the fatality means that this game isn’t going the win the game any new fans on that front. However, for those of us with slightly psychopathic tendencies, Mortal Kombat in its gory entirety bodes well. The fatalities have always been about rubbing your victory in your opponent’s big fat face, upping the humiliation to new levels. When the words ‘Finish Him!’ are uttered, you’ve already won, but provided you can pull off the necessary combo, you can win in style. New players mustn’t fret though, because the developers were keen to make the game playable for newcomers on top of being satisfying for hardcore supporters, with enough depth to perform extended combos, but simple enough for less skilled players to pick up and handful of combos, still keeping fights interesting. As such, there’s a tutorial mode both to learn the basics of the game, and a separate fatality tutorial to learn the button combinations behind these brutal finisher moves.
Overall, the game is simply very well polished with plenty of examples cropping up as you play. For example, depending on the stage you are on, finisher moves can vary relative the your surrounding environment, like on The Pit, where defeating you opponent can lead to them being hurled, and consequently impaled, on the spikes below. Stages also feature detailed touches all round, not only on the textures but events happening in the background, such as other fights going on in the background or other detailed scenes happening simultaneously. The carefully crafted animations pre-fight and post-fight further reiterate this point. Gameplay-wise, new developments come in the form of X-ray special moves and the option of tag-team battles. Much like fatalities, X-ray special moves provide a similar type of experience by allowing you to see the extent of the damage on your opponent’s organs and bones in X-ray slow-mo/fast-mo sequences. On the other hand, the tag-team battles are a first for Mortal Kombat, and add a new element of depth to fighting by having you try to put out a balanced pairing, and also breaking down or extending combos – depending on whether you are receiving or delivering the damage – by switching out.
In conclusion, I could have done a review swapping all the ‘c’s with ‘k’s, but it’s not klever, it is just klichéd. Instead, I’ve spoken about a game which has clearly had a lot of work put into it, with intricate smaller details and a deep fighting system at its core. It’s the game the fans were hoping for, with the return of the bloody fatalities, the brand new X-ray attacks, plenty of new modes, and a roster of over 25 of your favourite characters with a couple more on the way via DLC. Somehow Mortal Kombat manages to claim the title of goriest game on the Xbox 360 – no small feat considering that the likes of Gears of War and Dead Space also reside on the console – and if your stomach can handle it, you’re in for an entertaining, well-polished fighter.
- Fan-pleasing story with cut scenes and voice-acting
- Incredibly well-polished
- Lots of new features
- Gallons of blood if you’re into that kind of thing
- Excessive amounts of gore could be repelling for some
- Minor niggles such as the introduction of an online pass, prolonged loading times, and occasionally finickity user interface