A Triumphant Return To Fighting Game Greatness
For those of who mimicked Scorpion’s infamous “GET OVER HERE” and felt slighted by Mortal Kombat 3, this one’s for us.
No more clumsy run button. No more “Heroic Fatalities”. No more saturated roster featuring palette-swapped versions of Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Netherealm studios resurrects one of gaming’s great franchises with a simple, yet robust control scheme, some of the best visuals ever presented in the genre, and enough blood, guts, and gore to turn even Hannibal Lecter’s stomach. In almost every way imaginable, Mortal Kombat is a success.
This is a deft reimagining of the story, blending the familiar with an edgier storyline. Old-school gamers may remember that the first Mortal Kombat game was actually the tenth in the game’s story; Shang Tsung had been victorious in the previous nine tournaments, thanks to Goro (and we all remember the four-armed, what-the-f*ck-is-that monster Goro). In this new story, Shao Kahn, lord of Outworld, has conquered Earthrealm, massacring everyone in the process. Defeated and broken, Rayden, the series’ god of thunder and protector of Earthrealm, sends a message to his past version of himself.
On the eve of Mortal Kombat’s ninth tournament, the younger Rayden receives this warning, along with visions of the future that will pass should Earthrealm’s warriors fail. Galvanized by these visions, Rayden hurriedly assembles Earthrealm’s warriors, along with anyone else who might stand against what’s coming, and leads them into Mortal Kombat.
Netherealm returned Mortal Kombat to its five-button roots (two punches, two kicks, and a block) and revamps the system from Deadly Alliance. Thankfully, you no longer have to switch stances repeatedly to execute certain moves; weapons are drawn automatically throughout the course of battle. While some characters have extra stances from which they can deliver more powerful strikes, they are no longer mandatory, functioning more like add-ins. Sequential button strikes are still the key to success. Interface is tight and responsive. New to the gameplay are a super meter, which allows players to execute Enhanced moves (think Street Fighter’s EX moves), Breakers (think Killer Instinct’s Combo Breaker) and X-Ray moves (think PAIN). Thankfully, all of these moves are simple to execute, usually requiring two button presses to get things going.
This may be one of the best-looking fighting games ever made. Netherealm demonstrates their mastery of Epic’s Unreal engine by presenting characters that register plausible emotional depth along with gut-wrenching broken bones and bloody mutilation. None of it is drastic, or jarring; when your character gets up a bloody mess because Scorpion just stepped on their chest, it’s believable. The X-Ray moves are the game’s visual standout, aside from the fatalities. As a jaded gamer who has lost track of how many foes I’ve digitally decapitated and dismembered over the years, I still winced every time one of these was executed. Cyrax’s is a good example; with the Powerbomb finisher, you actually see the spine contort and the jaw shatter.
The arenas are so well-executed that they’re almost distracting. One scene I couldn’t get enough of featured priests making a human sacrifice during the battle. Arena fatalities, such as our beloved pit, are back.
The fatalities are back, and they are awesome, there is no simpler way to put it. Thankfully, among the two million game modes Netherealm gave us is a fatality tutorial, which is great for practicing button inputs and distance. Plus, if you want to skip all of the action, this is for you. Kung Lao’s saw fatality is most certainly not for the faint of heart—and it never gets old.
Speaking of game modes, Netherealm has assured that you’ll be playing for months; aside from the traditional climb-the-ladder, the game comes complete with a variety of test-your-might modes, including a roulette-like Test Your Luck. The Story mode, while occasionally feeling hurried, raises the bar for storytelling in fighting games. An extensive quest involving every character in the game, this nine-hour mode provides in-depth looks at some of our favorite characters. You’ll see human versions of Cyrax and Sektor, and learn the truth behind the hatred between the doomed Scorpion and Sub-Zero.
Mortal Kombat is a vivid and stellar reimagining of a defining franchise. For those of us who had waited for its return to greatness, it’s worth the asking price. For those of us who enjoy fighting games and want to see what all the old-schoolers are talking about, it’s still worth the asking price. Here’s hoping Netherealm keeps things going, and we get a Mortal Kombat 2 in the same vein.
Note: This game is rated M by the ESRB. This may be one of the most violent video games ever made. Not recommended for children.
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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