Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance Review
It seems that fighting games are seeing a major resurgence this year. Soul Calibur 2 is in the arcades, and home versions of Tekken 4 and Virtua Fighter 4 are out on the PS2. And now there's a new Mortal Kombat game! MK4 was a disappointment to most fans of the series, even though it was the best looking iteration of MK to date.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is very different this time around. The graphics are much better and are on par with the other fighting games out there. The gameplay has undergone some major changes that might seem foreign to veteran MK players, but they're overall balanced and fun. Each character now has many more unique moves and combos than before, which adds heavily to the replay value - learning a character takes quite a while to do. On top of that, easily switchable fighting styles and tons of unlockable extras make this the best Mortal Kombat game since MK2.
The first thing I'd like to say about the controls is that the PS2 dual shock pad is simply perfect for this game. Midway went a D-pad-only route for the PS2 and GameCube versions (I'm not sure about the Xbox version), and the D-pad on the PS2 is far superior to the GameCube's. Why Midway didn't just allow players to use the analog sticks on all platforms if they wanted to, I have no idea, but the D-pad works great on the PS2 version.
Midway has done a few new things with the controls in MK:DA that are new to the MK series. As before, there are the standard High/Low punch and kick buttons as well as a block button. On top of this, though, Midway has added a button for switching between the three fighting styles that each character has, and a button for doing special moves based on that specific fighting stance (throws, taunts, and dodges).
The ability to dodge sideways in 3D is also here, although it's not as easy to do as it is in other 3D fighting games. It's still very effective when you know what your opponent is going to do. To do these dodges, you simply by press up or down on the D-pad; that means you will have to use the diagonals to jump or duck, but it's easy to get used to.
Wow, Mortal Kombat has changed a lot. Everything here is brand new, including new arenas, complete re-designs of all the original characters, and a whole new blood system. The game's overall look resembles something halfway between realism and a comic book, but it seems that that was the point.
The female characters all have huge breasts that bounce fairly often, which is no surprise to me; it is simply worth taking the heat and having big jiggling boobs (which do generate interest and sales) over making them look realistic.
The frame rate in MK:DA is excellent, which hardly ever dips under 60fps even with tons of stuff flying around. Animations are very fluid, and in most cases flow together well enough. Combine that with the great-looking arenas, and this game becomes very pleasing to the eye.
Once you start playing, you will notice that the trademark MK blood is back and in a grand fashion. Connecting with almost any move will spew out more blood than ever before, and it now gushes out of the bigger wounds and rolls off of the character models' bodies. It looks really good, even if it is also looks totally fake. The other new graphical feature with the character models is that their faces will suffer from bruises and other marks when they are hit, which means that narrowly winning a fight will show on your character's face. I know, it's not exactly a huge deal, but it is a nice touch on top of everything else.
The arenas in MK:DA look fairly impressive, and there are little graphical touches all over the place that make it seem like Midway really took their time with this game. Several of the arenas are somewhat recognizable redos from past MK games or movies, and the mini-games even have a crowd watching and cheering you on.
Here we come to gameplay. The fighting game genre is probably the most sensitive to bad or imbalanced gameplay, which means that developers need to spend more time looking for those little things that could ruin the game. Midway knows this, and it becomes obvious very quickly that they have spent quite a while making sure the gameplay is solid and fun.
MK:DA includes a new combo system that, while at first seems like the much-hated MK3 "dial-a-combo" system, dominates the game far less. The first thing to note is that the combos require better timing than before, which means actually finishing the longer combos is going to be tough.
Even then, the most complicated combo is not likely to do much more than 30% damage, which means the game is more about outsmarting your opponent than it is about rattling off 100% perfect combos on command. The bigger combos are still there, and you will want to learn at least a couple of the basic ones for your favorite characters, but the whole system is more freeform than previous MK games have been.
As well as a training and arcade mode, MK:DA includes a "Konquest" mode that allows you to go through a mission system. On top of the 8 startup missions, there are ten specific ones each character, making for a total of 218 missions. These are mostly easy, although the final ones for each character will require that you do some silly 12-hit combo or something similar. If you fail, well, you can restart right from there, so it's not too bad. Still, there's going to be one or two combos that will take you a while to perform - even if it is just that one time.
One of the most impressive things about Deadly Alliance is that they have packed so many secrets into the game. You earn "Koins" by winning matches or completing Konquest challanges, and then you can go to the "Krypt" and spend them. There are 676 (26 squared) coffins to to buy things from, and these coffins are lettered from AA all the way to ZZ. Some of the coffins obviously have important things in them, as the cost will be far higher than the other coffins. Other coffins will contain some amount of koins, and still others will have hints that point you to the better coffins.
The game starts you off with 12 selectable characters, and another nine are unlocked by buying them from the Krypt. There are also two secret characters you can unlock by completing the whole "Konquest" mode. Unlike older fighting games, these are all unique characters with full sets of moves, even the unlockable ones. As far as other extras go, the Krypt includes one alternate costume for each character, a few unlockable arenas, concept sketches, fan art, MK history, a few extra videos, and more.
One of the most infuriating things about previous MK games was the computer opponent AI. On the higher settings, the computer demonstrated impeccable timing and would even cheat by doing some things the player wasn't allowed to. Things have changed, though; MK:DA has a nice AI system this time that knows the combos, can defend itself in multiple ways, and mixes up attacks. At the same time, it also makes human-like mistakes, which seems to be one of the hardest things to program for fighting game AI. Either way, this is probably the best AI in any Mortal Kombat game, and getting beaten by it is not anywhere near as frustrating as the older games in the series.
Despite that, even medium difficulty will put up a good challenge for at least a while (until you learn how to beat it). While any fighting game fan knows that AI is never a substitute for challenging another person in versus mode, MK:DA does exactly what fighting game AI is supposed to: it gets you good enough at the basics so that you can start off playing against another person at a higher level.
The fighting styles are a major part of MK:DA, which allows players to easily mix up their attacks - this adds depth on all levels, as you will need to learn how to defend against multiple fighting styles from each character. Other games have done this, but no one has explored this idea as deeply as Deadly Alliance. Also, the number and variety of fighting styles here is wide open; movie favorites like Jeet Kune Do and drunken boxing are here, as well as other hybrids and a few strange styles.
Since you only need to tap a button to switch styles, you can adapt to a specific type of defender or attacker easily; on top of that, certain defensive moves are only available to you in one stance or another. This means that you will likely have a favorite stance, and an alternate just for staying unpredictable.
Every character has two hand-to-hand styles as well as a third weapon stance; the weapon styles are unique in that their attacks are more powerful, but combos are shorter. Unlike MK4, pulling out weapons is just another style, and no special moves are needed to get into it - this means that everyone can enjoy using weapons, not just the players who memorize all the special moves. Players take more damage when in the weapon stance, which means going on the offensive is riskier. Throws also cannot be done when players are holding weapons, which balances out these stances very well.
Special moves are nowhere near as big of a focus this time, and while they're about as flashy as the older Mortal Kombat games they aren't nearly as useful as before. The focus here is on close-combat fighting, and while a few of them are still very useful, there is a smaller focus on special moves.
The high-low game is something that could use addressing; characters now have certain low attacks for each fighting stance, which allow you to keep your opponent guessing. Unlike other fighting games, though, these are only meant to do a little damage and throw an opponent off of his or her concentration. There are very few combos that start with low attacks, so players won't have to worry about taking 30% damage because they failed to block low.
Previous MK games have gotten a little silly with the finishing moves; each character had a couple of fatalities, a Friendship, and a Babality. Well, it's back to roots this time, as each character only has a single fatality now, and they're all very easy to do. It is a bit disappointing overall, as most players will just not bother doing fatalities after a while. Once you've seen the same fatality a few times, it's hardly worth the bother after that.
Sometimes the fun part with the old games was that the Friendships and such could only be done if you beat your opponent in a humiliating way - the alternate finishing moves could add insult to injury. With just one finishing move per character, it seems that Midway spent far more time on the actual graphics and fighting in MK:DA than the trademark finishers. I would like to have seen at least a couple of serious fatalities for each character, maybe with one that could only be done if you beat your opponent with big combos or if you still had a lot of health remaining.
MK fans will not be disappointed with the sounds and music in Deadly Alliance. The weapon and hit effects are great, the screams of pain are convincing, and the arenas have unique ambient sounds. Generally, sound is not a major focus in a lot of fighting games, but everything here was done well. The announcer is also as mean as ever, which is a good change from many of the weak-sounding announcer voices in other fighting games.
The music in MK:DA is pretty good, although somewhat nondescript. It follows the Mortal Kombat formula, and while it serves its purpose, it might get on one's nerves after a while. Most of the time it will be somewhat hard to notice, though, which shows that Midway wanted to make the sound effects be the major part of this game's audio. And in that, they've done well.
Personally, I didn't enjoy Mortal Kombat 3 much, and MK4 was only an interesting diversion. These games made many players lose faith in the MK series, but Deadly Alliance is definitely worth a look for any ex-fan. Sure, the series has changed quite a bit and MK:DA implemented some stuff seen in previous fighting games, but there is some great innovation here as well as a nicely balanced fighting system.
It seems that the place to be for fighting games is on the PS2, and the competition is pretty fierce right now. This game can definitely hang with the best of them, though, which may come as a big surprise to those who thought that Mortal Kombat was dead. MK:DA has enough for both old MK fans and more "modern" fighting game players to keep most everyone entertained for quite a while.