Sitting down to write this review has been a chore. After spending double-digit hours with both versions of the game, logging countless hours in online battles and playing through every mode the game has to offer, I think I am finally ready. Mortal Kombat has been such a huge influence on me in my gaming lifetime. It is one of my favorite franchises and, ever since it left the arcades, I felt it was lacking something. With this new reboot, newly formed NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. have crafted a love letter to fans. They have also set a new standard for what fighting games can be as far as content. Whether you grew up logging hours and quarters into an arcade machine, or simply enjoy the genre, Mortal Kombat is a must own game.
Being a fan for so long, one of the things I have always loved about the series is the story. NetherRealm has decided to re-tell the original trilogy for a new generation in a unique way. The story begins as Armageddon is ending. Raiden and his Earthrealm warriors have been defeated and Shao Kahn is moments away from taking control. In a last ditch effort, Raiden sends a message to himself in the past in hopes that he can change the outcome. Immediately, we are taken back to the first tournament and the fun begins.
The story mode is broken down into one-on-one encounters broken up by lengthy cut scenes that tell the story of the first three MK games. Some plot holes are filled and new twists are to be found. Fans of the lore will be in for such a treat as they get to see events only previously seen in still panels. If I have one gripe about this mode it is the way it is handled at times. Cut scenes are long and it only saves after each battle. If you watch a cut scene and come back later, you get to watch it again because you cannot skip any of them. This is a poor design choice, but not one that hinders the enjoyment of the lengthy story mode. It is also worth noting that this is definitely the longest and most engaging story mode in a fighting game ever.
Most people know Mortal Kombat for one thing: excessive violence and gore. The last MK game was the first T rated title and fans were up in arms about the changes. It also doesn’t help that Armageddon lacked unique fatalities for each character. With this new imagining of the series, the team has gone all out for what makes MK what it is. Characters all have two unique fatalities and some of them are downright grotesque. Noob, I am looking at you. Finishing your opponent has never been so satisfying and with the inclusion of several stage fatalities, and even a few hidden surprises, the game has plenty of ways to dispatch your foes.
The roster is chock full of familiar faces redesigned for the new generation. There are over twenty characters to choose from at the start with two unlockable fighters and the promise of future DLC characters. Signature moves return as well. Baraka has his chopping blades while Kabal brings the quick spinning death. Fans of the series will be able to pick up a controller and immediately start pulling off their favorite moves.
Speaking of control, the game has been redesigned while still keeping that MK feel. Down and punch still performs an uppercut while holding back in conjunction with a kick unleashes the infamous sweep move. Of course, going back to the 2D plane has helped immensely with retaining the feel of an MK game. The speed has also been dialed back to the arcade days. The run button has been replaced with back and forward dash, and juggle combos are still king. The balance is fantastic when considering how many characters there are to select from, and in typical MK fashion almost all of them are fun to play with.
When designing a fighter in this day and age you have to straddle a line between accessibility for casual players and appeasing the intense tournament crowds. MK handles this nicely by making most moves and combos rather intuitive while still leaving it open for advanced players to really punish their foes. They have also implemented a nice online system that can be adjusted for balance daily if need be, so when exploits are found, they can be attended to with promptness. The biggest addition to the gameplay, though, is the super meter. There are three bars and filling each one results in a different available move. One bar allows you to power up special moves, using two bars unleashes a combo breaker and filling it entirely gives you access to X-Ray moves. These new punishing blows are at times more gruesome than the fatalities and are the ultimate reward for players when they land.
As for the online itself, with this being the first week of release, it is no secret that it has some serious growing pains. The matches suffer from lag in certain instances, and things are not quite up to par as far as getting into matches without issues. Yes, these types of things are common for online fighting games, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing. One of the biggest additions to online is the King of the Hill mode that allows up to eight players into one room with a massive screen in front of them to watch the current match. Arcade gamers call this “quarter mode” and it truly brings back the feel of being in an arcade. On PSN you have selectable avatars and on 360 you can use your actual Avatars for more personality. After each match you can give respect points to the winner for how well they played.
As far as modes are concerned MK is chock full of stuff to keep you occupied. In addition to standard arcade ladder you also have tag ladder, a first for MK games. Adding a second partner to the mix really spices up combos and gameplay. There are also a plethora of training modes including a fatality trainer that gives you free reign to perform the game’s finishing moves. As I mentioned online is great with King of the Hill, but there are also standard ranked and player matches as well as tag team. Test Your Might also returns along with Test Your Sight, Test Your Strike and Test Your Luck. The latter spins a series of tumblers that effect aspects of the game such as disabling blocking or simply removing the head for both players. These matches get crazy and are a blast when played with friends.
The biggest chunk of your time though will likely be spent in the Challenge Tower. This massive mode spans 300 different challenges that reward you with koins that can be spent in the Krypt to unlock artwork, fatalities and even costumes. The Challenge Tower varies things by giving you specific battle conditions such as your opponent only taking damage in certain areas to simply throwing the kitchen sink at you in battle. This Challenge Tower will take normal players months to complete and it gives the game some serious legs as far as single player content is concerned.
As for the visuals, I have to say I am pleased. The game runs on a heavily modified version of the Unreal Engine and it shows. Characters sport some nice detail and clothing movement, but the hair is atrocious at times. It clips in and out of characters and just looks stiff in places. The environments are outstanding, and there sure are plenty of them. New renditions of classic stages such as The Living Forest and The Graveyard are represented with immense attention to detail. I love fighting games with plenty of stages, and MK once again sets the bar for that area.
The sounds are also top-notch, if you are a fan. The voice acting in story mode can be cheesy at times, and the character intros get stale after a while as each combatant only has one, but the rest sounds great. Effects from the classic games return, and the music is reminiscent with remixes for the returning stages, with a few hidden classic tracks to be found in the Krypt.
Mortal Kombat is an incredible package that should appeal to any fighting game fan or anyone who grew up with the series. Ed Boon and his team at NetherRealm have created a love letter to fans that will stand the test of time. I hope they continue to keep the game balanced and offer plenty of new content via DLC over the next few years to keep the game feeling fresh. Still, as it stands, this is one of the best purchases you will make all year. Being such a huge fan of the series, this review is for everyone who grew up hearing the mocking words of Shao Kahn. Mortal Kombat is back and better than ever. Flawless Victory!
Review copy provided by publisher. Both versions played for 20+ hours each.