In NetherRealm’s latest entry Mortal Kombat returns to your screen to slice, dice and entice players back into its uniquely gruesome brand of brawling. With every bone-crunching blow it’s easy to realise that this over-the-top arcade style fighting extravaganza is exactly what has been missing from the latest generation of consoles.
As the tenth instalment in the Mortal Kombat series there is a lot to build on and Mortal Kombat X does it well, using the now commonplace energy bar from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, Injustice’s interactive arenas and even the sprint bar from Mortal Kombat 4, longtime Kombatants will be met with a wave of nostalgia in an updated combat system. There is plenty here for existing fans but not so much that it feels inaccessible to new players. If this is your first Mortal Kombat experience it will be hard to be disappointed, and harder not to laugh maniacally when you perform your first fatality.
When it comes to returning characters, the game offers plenty of familiar faces to choose from, including classic Kombatants Scorpion and Sub-Zero as well as favourites from previous instalments like Kenshi. Not only does the game rely on past glories, but there are eight new characters introduced. Many of these characters have ties to previous MVP’s and some, like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs, mimic their parents’ fighting styles with some changes just subtle enough to warrant a new character. Kenshi’s son Takeda and Shaolin Archer Kung Jin on the other hand feel unique with their incredibly diverse set of attacks, including dual chain-whips, energy swords, bow-staffs and throwing knives. The new additions who aren’t taking their style from a previous fighter are something to be marvelled at. These newcomers come with a massive range of combat styles complimented by the game’s new variation options. Each character has three unique variations that allow fans to change-up their favourite fighter or simply explore the enormous number of fighting styles at their disposal.
In terms of combat the controls are responsive and the range of attacks should please even the most sadistic of gamers. The combos require rapid and precise execution and the fatalities even more so, but in the single player mode learning the ropes doesn’t feel punishing. Returning to the series are the graphic but often delightfully violent X-Ray special moves, area attacks and evasions and the block breaker option can turn the tide in your favour, making for a fast-paced, brutal, but ultimately rewarding experience. The fatalities are as gruesome as ever and are sure to bring about the usual feelings of shock, disgust and complete awe in true Mortal Kombat fashion.
The story mode takes a leaf out of fellow Warner Bros game Injustice, creating a grand interlocking narrative featuring all of the playable characters. It does an excellent job of weaving together old characters and feuds and giving new fighters a place in their world. Cassie, Jacqui, Takeda and Kung Jin are placed as an elite team under the command of Johnny Cage and they are plunged into a world filled with menace, betrayal and magic. At times the plot itself seems a little sickly sweet for the limb-shattering action that Mortal Kombat is known for, with an emotional focus on parents Jax, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade’s family relationships and a budding romance between Jacqui and Takeda. Whilst these scenes can be at odds with the high level of violence, the inclusion of emotional themes widens the scope. Kung Jin’s discussion with Raiden about who his heart desires highlights Jin as the series’ first gay character, and this is nothing short of a definitive step forward for fighting games, and is an example to the gaming industry as a whole. All in all, the dialogue can be sharp-witted, the voice acting is solid and the cutscenes themselves are nothing short of stunning. The result is completely charming and whilst the skin and bones of the fantastical story are not easy to follow, it ends up feeling like a classic fantasy action movie with a heart (although one that might not stay in its chest for long).
The story is only just the beginning, as Mortal Kombat X boasts a wealth of online content from player vs player, survivor and king of the hill modes. In a world where split-screen gameplay is dwindling, fighting games remain a multiplayer-friendly experience, and there is nothing better than taking it to the sofa, battling it out with friends and gawping together at the hyper-violent finishers that you’ll fight to land on each other. Faction wars are also introduced to the mix. All players must join one of five factions and will earn points for their chosen allies in every fight, gaining faction-exclusive abilities, unique fatalities, and becoming able to fight in faction battles. Your faction’s world-ranking can be viewed in real time and also gives daily challenges that can boost your alliance’s status. The Living Tower feature also makes its debut, a set of three player vs computer tournaments that are refreshed hourly, daily and weekly and are set to provide a huge amount of additional content with the promise of rewards if you meet the challenging points targets. In these themed towers unique effects will be active, whether it’s randomly generating tornados to catch both Kombatants off-guard, or added effects like vampirism, there will be much to explore for persistent players.
Since Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance the Krypt has been a staple for the series, developing into a good old-fashioned treasure hunt in which players use their in-game coins to open coffins, corpses and the like to unlock goodies such as concept art, finishing moves and character skins. The exploration is made more interesting by the addition of item-controlled shortcuts and attacks by the areas beasts to invoke a real time event. The Krypt adds an element of light dungeon crawling to the game and offers an enjoyable way to take a break from tearing people apart.
As much as there is to do in Mortal Kombat X, there is also plenty more that is available to purchase as DLC, something which the player is made aware of fairly often. In the character select screen the original Mortal Kombat boss Goro is included, but only as an available to buy icon. Whilst there are more intrusive ways to promote your DLC (I’m looking at you Assassins Creed Unity), it sours your experience when you run out of coins in the Krypt and must grind to find more or pay out in actual currency (£15.99) to unlock all of the game’s pricey Kontent. Skipping levels and easy fatalities are also purchasable options, allowing for simple ways to execute the most complex of death-inducing special moves, or simply the ability to skip an essential fight altogether. Whilst this is nothing new, it’s a shame to see features that punishes the less-skilled players through in-game purchases in a game that takes such a light-hearted approach to its hyper-violent, larger than life gameplay.
Whilst the in game purchases are a disappointing sign of AAA gaming, the rest of Mortal Kombat X offers a stunning action experience and an incredibly satisfying fighting game. It combines the levity of retro arcade fighters, the multiplayer couch-gaming of previous console generations and the sharpness of modern AAA titles to produce a truly special fighting game experience. With so much to accomplish throughout, a unique style in its storytelling, a gore-factor like no other and a multitude of fighting styles to choose from, the latest Mortal Kombat is the definitive all out brawler of its generation and an absolute joy to play.