Mortal Kombat Review
After many years and half a dozen mediocre-to-middling attempts to rekindle one of the biggest franchises of the 90s, Mortal Kombat is finally really back. Under the watchful eye of series co-creator Ed Boon, NetherRealm Studios has delivered the ninth game in this long-running fighting series, this time just named Mortal Kombat, and it's the best game we've seen in a good fifteen years of the series' history.
Mortal Kombat serves a reboot, essentially re-telling and mashing up the events of the first three games all in one. The Story Mode is broken up into chapters, each dedicated to playing as one specific character, and you'll get lots of cutscenes mixed in. It's not obvious every time, but most of these cutscenes are taking place in the actual arenas you fight in, so once some characters square off to fight, the transition to the side-scrolling fighting is seamless. Within a matter of two seconds, the camera has swung around, and the announcer delivers the familiar "Round 1... FIGHT!" without a single hitch, pause, or gap in transitioning from the story to the fight. It's more impressive than it probably sounds, and it's likely that NetherRealm put a lot of work into making such smooth transitions between cutscenes and gameplay. It was worth it.
Despite the sometimes-goofy voice acting and strange (but familiar) plot, this is one of the best single player modes you'll see in recent fighting games. That being said, the ambitious Story mode has a few issues. One of them is that it's quite a long campaign, so you'll see (and fight.. or fight as) many of the characters multiple times. You'll probably be sick of beating the crap out of Baraka by the end, but also it'd be silly to have Fatalities in this mode, as there would be no one left to fight after two hours. So fatalities are pretty much disabled in the story mode, and even though you'll have access to all of the game's bone-crunching special, enhanced, combo-breaker, and X-Ray moves, much of the resulting persistent gore depicted on fighters' bodies has been disabled for story mode as well - presumably because it'd look a little weird to have characters bleeding profusely when starting up serious conversations directly after a fight.
The plot often becomes silly, where fights are often picked just for the fight's sake, despite a dire Earth-threatening situation. Raiden also makes a lot of strange decisions, especially revolving around the fighters in the Lin Kuei clan (Sub-Zero, Smoke, Cyrax, and more), continually reminding you that this universe was always kind of ridiculous to start with - and the storytelling doesn't really fare better than, say, that first MK movie in the mid-90s. Or, in some cases, that awful second movie.
Once you get out of Story mode, you'll find the Mortal Kombat that the developers intended, with the complete roster of characters and the full power of its gore and fatalities. This is more of the game you were meant to play from the start, and the challenge mode and more basic arcade-style "ladder" modes are probably a better choice anyway. You can do the ladder mode with either one or two players, too, as you can enable a tag-team system and fight together. Three or four players are supported in 2-on-2 versus tag matches, which are a blast to play, especially online - and they're a nice change from the basic 1v1 support you find in most fighting games.
On top of all this, you'll find quite a few amusing mini-games and special fighting scenarious to go through in the hours-long Challenge mode, and there is a ton of stuff to unlock over in the Krypt - including second Fatality moves for each character, tons of concept art, music, costumes, and more. Finally, the PS3 version of the game includes God of War's Kratos as an additional playable character, while the 360 version has no exclusives; for this reason, I'd suggest you buy the PS3 version of the game if you have no other reason to buy one over another, but if you've got a good arcade-style controller on one system, then that platform should probably be what you choose - regardless of K exclusive fighters.
If there's one thing I'm disappointed in, it's the creativity of the fatalities. Most of them involve some cut or chop to the body, taking arms and heads off in various ways that aren't really terribly original after all of these years. There are a few gems here and there, but most fatalities lack that quality that really surprises you, or that makes you squirm with how sick and twisted they are. Simply put, veterans of violent games are just a little too desensitized to decapitations and split-down-the-middle kills. Much like the recent backlash against the torture-porn variety of horror movies, I think we should be looking for something a little more cerebral and a little less visceral - even out of our fatalities.
While Mortal Kombat may not completely overwhelm you with features, it does offer more replayability than recent offerings from other fighting game developers - Capcom included. This game may not quite have tournament-level gameplay depth and that's mostly due to some minor issues with hit detection and the combo system, but this is still the most polished and pro-gamer-worthy MK we've seen in the last decade. The amount of on-screen chaos lies somewhere between the relatively plodding Street Fighter IV titles and the utter mayhem of Marvel vs. Capcom 3, so casual players might appreciate the balance that has been struck here. Either way, if you're nostalgic for some old-school fighting action and were disappointed in the lack of blood and guts in the Teen-rated MK vs DC, then this one's definitely going to be worth your time. Mileage varies otherwise, but as fighting games go, I think it's probably tough for casual fans to go wrong here.