May 04, 2011
Back in the day, Mortal Kombat was the biggest controversy-baiting game of its time, with its graphic fatalities and buckets of blood getting the panties of concerned parties in a bunch over the game's content, despite what now looks like pretty crude visuals. Who knows what they'd make of the ninth Mortal Kombat game in the series and franchise reboot then, simply entitled Mortal Kombat, which takes the first three MK tournaments as its starting point and goes from there.
Mortal Kombat might just be the ultimate in fan service, returning the series to its roots with every character from MK 1-3 completely re-imagined, with no simple palette swaps - which was the series' signature in the 90s - and unique move sets for each and every kombatant. It seems like a canny move for Mortal Kombat, adopting 2.5D, with 3D characters fighting on a 2D plane a la Street Fighter IV, bringing back everything that made fans fall in love with MK in the first place, while attracting newcomers with its bold, chunky style and unadulterated, unrestrained violence.
Mortal Kombat really doesn't pull any punches whatsoever when it comes to spilling blood and guts, which earned the game a ban in Australia, but will delight the MK faithful and gore hounds alike. It's arguably the first time that a Mortal Kombat game has genuinely had the capacity to make you wince, with every decapitation, spinal tear, severed limb and broken bone rendered in almost pornographic detail. It's pretty grim, but in an overtly cartoon way, so it's hard to see why anyone would find it particularly offensive, as it's so knowingly OTT and inherently ludicrous.
Speaking of which, Mortal Kombat has a few new tricks up its blood-soaked sleeve, in the form of a three-tiered power bar at the foot of the screen. Fill up one cell, and you can enhance one of your special moves; fill up two and you can activate a 'Breaker' to counter an opponent's onslaught with a tap of forward and the right trigger; and finally, if you fill up the bar to capacity, you can unleash a bone-shattering X-ray move, which can completely turn the tide of a fight, even when it seems like you're on the brink of defeat. It's another string to Mortal Kombat's bow, letting you inflict devastating internal damage, again shown in all its close-up medical intricacy, with bits of brain matter, bone and fountains of arterial spray scattering across the screen. Fatalities and Babalities make a return though if you’re just looking for classic MK gore and you have the patience and necessary skills.
Perhaps Mortal Kombat's greatest triumph though, is its generous wealth of game modes and unlockable extras, which puts rival versus fighters to shame. Not only do you have both the solo and tag-team Arcade Ladders to conquer, but there's also a huge Story Mode that will take you between 6 to 8 hours to finish, the Challenge Tower and a bevy of online modes to sink your teeth into. Story Mode is completely silly of course, charting the war between Earthrealm and Outworld across the first three Mortal Kombat tournaments, with hokey cut-scenes factoring in all of the key MK players from games 1-3. Die-hard fans will lap it up, but the MK casual will roll their eyes at a lot of it, and be utterly infuriated by some of the fights you have to endure at the end. The final showdown with Shao Kahn for instance, is quite possibly the most irritating boss encounter in a fighter since Seth reared his ugly stupid blue head in Street Fighter IV.
Mortal Kombat's character selection will delight fans of the series, with every kombatant from MK 1, 2 and 3 all accounted for, and completely redesigned. Old favourites like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Kung Lao, Raiden, Liu Kang, Sonya Blade and Jax still look familiar, while fighters like Noob Saibot, Smoke, Ermac and Reptile are now fully realised with their own moves. Still, there's a distinct air of familiarity to the roster as a whole and some new characters wouldn't have gone amiss. In fact, the complete lack of newcomers to the series seems like a bit of an oversight. Surely NetherRealm could have created at least one new fighter to join the hallowed MK ranks?
For purists, the Arcade Ladder represents old-school MK at its finest, letting you simply progress from fight to fight, with no frills like story to get in the way. Challenge Tower offers 300 bitesize challenges to tackle, from the weird (fight by throwing your limbs at your opponent) to the wonderful (Test Your Luck, Might, Sight and Strike) and the pointless (firing missiles using Sektor by hammering buttons). There's a nice mix of objectives and it'll keep you coming back for more in between proper sessions in the Story and Arcade Ladder modes. Then there's the online modes, which range from the simple 1v1 fights to tag-team battles and the excellent King of the Hill mode that includes a winner stays on lobby where your Xbox Live Avatar can gesture at the fight unfolding on the screen in the theatre view.
However, connecting to a game can be a real pain and we experienced some pretty nasty lag. Lag in a versus fighter is poison and can be the difference between winning and losing a fight, so here's hoping that NetherRealm gets around to patching this issue as soon as possible. That aside, the fighting mechanics work perfectly well and each character seems well-balanced. Button mashing is a fruitless exercise and will open you up to some serious punishment if you're not quick to block with the right trigger, so there's a degree of skill involved, which is good. Spamming certain moves is possible, and for example, we found jumping in with an aerial punch and quickly following up with a heavy uppercut on the Y button worked as an underhand tactic.
Take this cheesy strategy online though, and you'll be berated for your lack of skill, especially in King of the Hill, where other players award 'respect points' with a mark out of 10. Be prepared to meet some sore losers in this mode too, with scores of zero being handed out by the bitterest opponents. It might be a slow plod to reach some of the achievements then, as two rely on accumulating respect points and others demand winning consecutive fights online or winning 100 matches in total. That's a lot of online play, right there. Overall, there's a nice balance of achievements spread across each of MK's modes, including unlocking secret fighters and performing all the fatalities on offer, so you'll probably want to keep playing to discover every achievement.
Mortal Kombat is a great return to form for the franchise though and a veritable gore-laden treat for fans. A joy to play in any mode, MK simply needs its multiplayer refining to make the experience smoother and more gratifying to play. Its roster could have used a new character or two, but the 25 on the disc and two unlockable pugilists will keep the hardcore players happy. The addition of tag fighting is also welcome and the Challenge Tower is also utterly fantastic. That said, it's not really the leap forward for Mortal Kombat that you might have been hoping for, but it is an immensely enjoyable and gloriously violent guilty pleasure nonetheless.
Raargh! Graargh! Crunch! Smack! Pow! Mortal Kombat sounds exactly as it should, with lots of cringe-inducing effects that sound like a cooked chicken full of walnuts being smacked with a baseball bat and lots of macho voice work to go with the story.
Mortal Kombat looks pleasingly chunky and solid, with detailed backdrops and fighters. There's not a whole lot in the way of style or flair like Street Fighter IV's signature visuals though, but all in all, MK 2011 is in fine form.
This is still the same MK that you know and love, but it somehow feels more fluid and intuitive to play. Stringing together combos is great fun and as always, performing fatalities is an absolute joy. The X-ray moves, Breakers and Enhanced specials are also welcome additions to the game and bring an extra layer of depth to fights.
You'll be playing for hours on end with the Story Mode, Arcade Ladder, Tag Team, Challenge Tower and online modes to indulge in. Unlockables provide ample incentive to return too, with alternate costumes and fatalities as well as concept art aplenty awaiting in the Krypt, where you can trade your earned koins from each mode for extras. This is exemplary stuff, especially for a fighting game.
MK's achievement list is a fairly decent one that will encourage you to play for hours on end, pulling off every fatality and unlocking every hidden extra. The list's downfall is having far too many grinding online achievements to work through and a frankly ridiculous achievement that requires mastery of every fighter, which means performing over 100 fatalities, X-ray moves and spilling thousands of pints of blood with every character. You'll likely be reaching pensionable age by the time you grab that one.
Mortal Kombat is back with a vengeance, unapologetically savage, eminently playable and massive fun. It's the greatest love letter to MK fans that you could ever hope for. You'll be shouting “Moooooorttaaaaalllll Koooooommmmmbbbaaaaaattttt!!!!” in the streets like it's 1992, all over again.