Mortal Kombat is a legendary fighting game series that rose to prominence in the good old 90s.
What affixed Mortal Kombat in the gamer psyche was not unique fighting mechanics or impeccable story, but insane violence, which claws new heights in Mortal Kombat X.
Are the gimmicks enough to stand up against the might of Killer Instinct and the upcoming Street Fight V? Let's have a look.
Blood and Guts
It's hard to talk about Mortal Kombat without mentioning its signature hyper-violence. Mortal Kombat's approach to gore is comedic and completely beyond the realms of reality, enabling it to pass under the radar of even the most moralist media outlets.
MKX follows from MK9, offering us intrusive x-ray specials that show kombatant's gruesomely detailed giblets being splattered real-time. The victims of these attacks get right on up afterward, even if a blade has travelled through their skulls. NetherRealms saw fit to give every fragment of shattered rib a cross section of bone marrow, every torn tendon snaps with anatomical authenticity. As someone who no longer feels the need to rebel against his parents, it all feels a bit unnecessary, but if you like gorenography it really doesn't get better than this.
Putting innards aside, MKX is a pretty game. The characters are beautifully rendered, and their MKX designs compliment new gen hardware well. The game sports cinematic qualities that aren't present in Killer Instinct or Street Fighter, as challengers often address their opponents by name and offer contextual taunts, often during battle as well.
Combat stages are incredibly detailed; some stages sink far off into the distance, adding life and context to Mortal Kombat's setting. Khotal Khan's stage shows us life in Outworld under his rule, slaves shuffle to build monuments in his honour, great alien beasts toil, and bystanders react to the ensuing duel taking place in front of them.
Despite all the detail the NetherRealm Studios has poured into MKX's presentation, certain aspects fall short. Projectile attacks are flat and uninspiring - a far cry from Killer Instinct's detailed particle physics. Certain special effects are laughably cartoony and present themselves at total odds with the gritty realism enjoyed by MKX's character designs and stages. Scorpion's fireball looks like a garden firework when compared to Jago's from Killer Instinct for example. This lack of realism is certainly an area the team should focus on for improvement in the inevitable MK11.
Overall MKX is bloody gorgeous, with emphasis on bloody. The stages are vibrant, and the character designs are exemplary and there isn't a single instance of slowdown, jagged models or screen tearing. Mortal Kombat continues to be iconic, and the design team should be proud of themselves overall.
Alien worlds, alien ideas
I'm certainly not a hardcore fighting game player. Before the advent of online play, button mashing with friends across Street Fighter, Killer Instinct, Tekken and Bloody Roar was about as far as I ever got. Killer Instinct holds a lot of nostalgia for me and like many others, I was hyped when Microsoft revived it for Xbox One. I haven't played a Mortal Kombat since the 3D sprites of Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the PS1, so if you're looking for commentary from a super technical point of view, I can't offer it. I'll be writing from a newcomer's perspective, whose recent fighting game experience comes purely from the fairly accessible Killer Instinct.
Perhaps the greatest aspect of MKX is its story mode, which is boldly ambitious and miles ahead of other fighting games. Each fight features lengthy cut-scenes in between, which tell the tale of Shinnok's attempt to take over both Earth and Outworld. Throughout, you take control of separate MKX fighters from all sides in an intersecting plot that also features frequent flashbacks. The story is genuinely entertaining and decent in length, albeit with b-movie leanings and a side of cheese.
The story also tries to pass the torch, so to speak, introducing the sons and daughters of various Mortal Kombat staples. Many of these characters lack individuality at first glance but come into their own when shown off in the context of the story. I can't see Jacqui Briggs ever being more popular than her augmented father, Jaxx, but at least Netherrealm are considering the franchise's long-term future.
Sadly, Mortal Kombat X's story mode falls afoul of my most hated design trope, the forever dull quick time event.
Sadly, Mortal Kombat X's story mode falls afoul of my most hated design trope, the forever dull quick time event. I'm not sure if devs introduce QTEs to ensure you're still paying attention or make you feel like you're doing something within the highly choreographed cut-scenes. They're bloody annoying either way. Please stop doing this, developers.
When the story mode isn't annoying you with intrusive quick time events, it's confounding you with numerous and sharp jumps in time. I understand that the developer wanted to introduce as many characters as possible, back stories included, but there's probably scope for NetherRealm to have handled this with a little more finesse.
Overall though, the story mode is great and hits home that Mortal Kombat has a rich and fairly organised lore since its reboot.
The general sentiment from around the net is that Street Fighter is the fighter to beat, as it is widely regarded as the king of tournament play. I'm by no means the kind of person who will spend hours studying the amount of animation frames in every attack, but if you are, Mortal Kombat X has stepped up its game.
Like NetheRealms' Injustice before it, Mortal Kombat X's move lists offer more data than ever before, such as block damage, frame data, etc, and NetherRealms has improved the combat over earlier versions as well. Combos are still canned, (kanned?), as opposed to Killer Instinct's dynamic create-a-combo system, which means you have to pretty much trawl for hours through move sets, committing combos and specials to muscle memory. As someone who doesn't have a lot of free time, I find Killer Instinct's dynamic system much more appealing. It provides you with a baseline ability to play most characters (besides combo/character traits and some of the unique characters). I found MKX was far less accessible on this basis, but some will welcome the variety.
You block by holding the right trigger, meaning your character auto blocks attacks from any direction. As such, MKX features a lot of teleportation moves, which some may find spammy and annoying. While we're talking about spam, there's already some rumblings in the community about spammable attacks. The DLC character Jason Vorhees features a punishing combo that can lock you into losing 30% damage with fairly little effort. There are combo breakers, which use a third of your special meter. But considering both Jacqui Briggs and Kenshi also possess some controversial abilities, it makes me wonder how much attention NetherRealms has committed when it comes to balance.
The first time you see an x-ray attack it might seem pretty cool, but after the 20th some will find it gets tedious.
Speaking of abilities, MKX has a special meter that can be used in various ways. One of them is for combo breakers, as mentioned earlier. Another provides more advanced techniques, like adding additional properties to special attacks or the ability to cancel out of grabs so you can buffer up a potentially more damaging combo. Some of these advanced techniques may require a lot of effort to learn, but the 3-bar x-ray attacks ask only that you hit both the right and left trigger, and carry devastating effects. Each x-ray attack does around 30% damage, and each essentially amounts to being a really long unskippable grab sequence. The first time you see an x-ray attack it might seem pretty cool, but after the 20th some will find it gets tedious.
The net code isn't particularly great either. When connecting to people close by with fully open NAT, all ports open, dedicated IP etc., latency became an issue at times. Coming in from Killer Instinct made me appreciate the efforts Double Helix and Iron Galaxy and have gone to in this regard.
Stage interactions have made their way across from Injustice, adding another dimension to gameplay. You can lift objects from the arena to slam into your opponents face, or leapfrog over them by utilizing objects in a close vicinity. It's a nice addition that brings the stages themselves into the battle, rather than them being just a necessary backdrop.
MKX is a great fighting game, which seems to have a theme of abrupt interruptions. The x-ray specials are by far the most annoying aspect of fighting in NetherRealm's maturing franchise, but they hardly ruin the experience. The hundreds, maybe thousands of button combinations to memorise will keep staunch fighting fans on their toes for many moons but may leave some of us with time constraints out in the kold.
From the hammy dialogue to the intentionally misspelled c-words and gallons of gore sequences, MKX is like a rebellious teenager demanding attention in an increasingly competitive space. With Street Fighter V and Killer Instinct's platform exclusivity, the multi-platform space is left wide open for Tekken, SoulCalibur and Mortal Kombat. Like it or not, MKX probably has the strongest identity of the three.
The combat is solid overall, and the presentation is among the best in any genre. MKX's abundance of features outstrips Killer Instinct by a landslide, but unless you have a lot of free time on your hands, be wary of MKX's accessibility. You will be spending a lot of time on those move-lists, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for those looking for something they can really get their teeth into. As a more casual fighting fan, I find the systems of Killer Instinct far more welcoming.
- Looks incredible
- Vast array of modes and features
- Entertaining story mode
- Not as accessible as other fighting games
- Spammable attacks and tedious x-rays can frustrate
The crown jewels of Mortal Kombat X are its various modes and story, which squashes the competition into a bloody paste like one of its infamous fatalities. If you enjoy intentionally ridiculous horror and action movies, MKX combines the best of both and knows it well. Jason Vorhees and Predator are on the cards as DLC (in addition to the ability to pay to do easy fatalities, ahem), which says to me that Netherrealm knows who it caters for. Gore fans will delight at MKXs high-def hyper- violence, but I'm not sure if the gimmicks will keep anyone who no longer strives to rebel against their parents invested for too long.
Mortal Kombat X is available now on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and PC.