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Mortal Kombat Deception Review

By Jeff Buckland, 10/31/2004

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Most gamers out there have probably played a Mortal Kombat game one time or another. It's universally known for its gruesome fighting and grisly fatalities. Of course, that gimmick still goes on today, but clearly Midway hasn't been able to rely on it since day one. While they continue to try and innovate in the comparatively dull fighting game genre, do their efforts with MK: Deception actually pay off?

The feature list for Deception has plenty of stuff that fighting game fans have either been asking for for years, or probably never thought could be put into a game like this. First, there are the "mini" games Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat, both of which are great additions in their own right. Then, there's the smooth online play over Xbox Live!, where most of the gameplay modes are playable over the internet.

MK Deadly Alliance introduced an unlocking system where you'd collect "Koins" and use them to open up "Koffins" - this would reward you with various bits and pieces, as well as characters and costumes. That system is back, and it's now augmented with a full on Konquest mode that plays out like an action-adventure game.

A legendary fighting game can be reduced to utter trash if the controls aren't as good as everything else, but Midway has made sure that everything is tight and responsive. Get comfortable with the Xbox controller's D-pad, though, as it's much better in my opinion for getting the right moves out on time.

There are a ton of new characters, most of whom are playable, going into MK Deception. The real problem I'm having here is that I just can't make myself actually like most of them. Some of these characters are modifications of past ones, which at a high level makes them completely different, but initially they feel like clones of existing ones. On top of that, there are simply too many characters in the series now, and it dilutes what could have been a simple, effective story into this huge mish-mash of bad plot elements.

The MK series is known very well for its fatality moves, and last year's title was a bit disappointing with only one per character. Of course, fatalities are hardly the epitome of what a fighting game is all about, but Midway should have known last year that people would be disappointed when the series' most unique feature was left somewhat by the wayside. That's why there are two fatalities per character this time, as well as a new "suicide" move that you can do when you are defeated.

Experienced players probably don't care a whole lot for these bits of fluff, though, and serious fighting game fans are going to look to the bread and butter - the actual fighting mechanics - to see if this game's worth bothering with. Last year's game was hailed as being great for its three-stance system where every character had three unique fighting styles that they could switch to. The real problem was that there were very few mid-combo links that would allow you to switch stances on the fly. On top of that, the number of total moves each character can do isn't much more than other fighting games; in my opinion, the stance system just made it harder to get access to all of those moves at any one time.

And that part has seen little change here; the stances still feel restricting in a way. All of this would have been fine if I could mix and match moves up to make my own combos. But I can't. I am stuck with dial-a-combos once again. Yes, the combos that were introduced way back in MK3 are back, and it means that any high-damage combo simply requires you to get it started and just tap out the memorized sequence of buttons until it's finished. Of course, a new combo breaker system has been added, but even it feels too gimmicky. It works, but I don't want to have to hinge my fighting around having the reactions to stop the enemy's 40% combo. Basically, you can't make the game conform to your style of play - you have to conform to its arbitrary rules and mechanics. And personally, I don't like those mechanics.

I just spent two paragraphs complaining about the fighting in a fighting game. Does that make the whole game bad? In most cases it would, but MK Deception includes so much extra stuff that it's actually worth dealing with the fighting system to see most of what's in the game. First, the online play works perfectly, and the general low latency of the Live! network ensure that most matches are only minimally affected by lag. To put in other terms, I never thought that I lost a match because of lag, and I never thought that I got a lucky win based on the lag.

Chess Kombat is a tribute to the classic action/strategy game Archon, and the fighting game formula does a pretty good job replacing the original run-and-shoot action. While this is a slower style of game, being a turn-based strategy match with the odd fight, you won't have to think for five minutes to figure out your strategy because it's just not that complicated of a game. That means you can get through even a slow Chess Kombat match in well under an hour.

Puzzle Kombat can basically be summed up as a MK-themed version of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. You drop gems into a pit, and then must activate those gems with specifically-colored MK-dragon-logo gems. You can even put together combos and the like in Puzzle Kombat, and going up against an opponent can be really frantic and fast-paced which is exactly how the normal game's fighting feels. The best part is that little deformed versions of your characters will duke it out in the bottom of the screen in a way according to how the puzzle match is going - it's kind of fun to watch and makes for a decent distraction.

The graphics have been somewhat beefed up for Mortal Kombat: Deception, although they were already pretty good with last year's title. The frame rate during just about all of the fighting is locked at a generous 60fps or so, and the game ships with a large number of arenas to fight in. The nice part is that these are much more like what we've seen in the classic MK games. Some stages are multi-tiered and will allow you to knock your opponents into other parts of the level; others have death traps you can send your opponent into, which will instantly win the round for you. Some of them have both, and it's a great way to add a little spice to the game's already large number of fatalities and gruesome deaths.

Konquest is the only part of the game that looks really, truly ugly. The funny part is that it kind of matches the mode's gameplay - dull, thrown together in a rush, and a chore to experience. This mode has you taking on the role of a young warrior named Shujinko in his quest to retrieve major artifacts to save Earthrealm. The story might have been good if the voice acting for Konquest mode wasn't some of the worst I've heard in a game; actually, it's so bad it's almost good. Almost. Other than that, the game forces you to run through one boring, slow tutorial after another for each fighting character, and the huge number of Fedex quests you'll have to do really drag Konquest down.

So just skip even bothering to play Konquest, right? The problem is that while you can still gain Koins from the other gameplay modes to unlock stuff in the Krypt, half of the 24-character cast starts out locked - and you can only unlock them by searching for their keys in Konquest mode. This means spending a ton of time checking nooks and crannies in Konquest, and it won't be long before you just find a FAQ online that has all the character keys' locations.

Just about every MK game so far has had great sound effects, excellent, moody music, and some sort of great announcer that really sounds mean. Those who have come to expect this from MK will not be disappointed here - while many of the sound effects were borrowed from Deadly Alliance, there are also a ton of new ones that work great.

The MK series has always had a fairly functional AI that gets downright cheap as it ramps up in difficulty. That hasn't changed here at all, as Deception has the same AI that in my opinion is usually either a bit too easy or way too hard. Generally I have this complaint about a lot of fighting games, nowadays, though, and at least here you can go online to find human opponents.

Those who liked Deadly Alliance's general style - its fighting system, story mode, collecting Koins and unlocking Koffins - will certainly enjoy Mortal Kombat: Deception. Many of the older characters have new fighting styles, turning them into almost new characters altogether, and the online play allows for some real competition over the internet. I found the fighting system completely not to my tastes, though, and in the end that reduces my enjoyment of the game quite a bit. It might be different for you, though, so I suggest that any fighting game fan give Deception a try.

Overall: 84%



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