Do you remember your first Mortal Kombat experience? I still remember sitting down with a Genesis controller, picking Scorpion for the first time, and hearing “FINISH HIM!”. Since the birth of Mortal Kombat and gamers’ first taste of digitized blood and acting, the series continued to add not only more fighters to the mix but more gore as well.
The last Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, featured less brutality in favor of having licensed characters in the game. The irony in this situation back in 2007 is that Midway announced they were working on a game in the series that would be dark, gritty and serious. Basically, it was going to be a complete reboot of the series, taking it back to the foundation of what made the original games so great. The project was dropped, though, as a deal with DC Comics came through.
Enter Mortal Kombat. Fittingly so, the game shares the same exact name as the original, and for good reason. The newest iteration of Mortal Kombat is the ninth in the series, but it feels so much like the original. It truly is Mortal Kombat, skinned in HD, and packed with features.
The first obvious feature would be the standard arcade mode. You start by picking a character, and then run the usual gauntlet or battle after battle until you reach the final match; in this case Shao Kahn. The characters are all returning cast from the original trilogy of games, so if you’re a fan of the older games, you are bound to find a favorite. The only new character is exclusive to Playstation 3, Kratos, anti-hero of the ever-popular God of War series. He fits in well, and the barbaric Spartan seems right at home dishing out punishment with the best of them.
All of the characters have been overhauled in cosmetics. Some for the better and others aren’t so fortunate. Sonya now sports a highly-masculine face, and Liu Kang’s muscles have muscles growing out of them. The robots, Cyrax and Sektor, are now 100% robots, and not part-robot, part-human. Except in the story, they are 100% human. Reptile looks more reptilian than the first three games, but Scorpion hasn’t changed much, with the exception of some more detail. It’s an all-star cast from the Mortal Kombat series, and you can’t go wrong with any of the classics.
On top of single arcade ladders, there is a tag team ladder. Tag team matches are exactly what the name implies — two-on-two. You tag your partner in standard fashion, by tapping L1, or you can chain it to the end of a combo for a nice little team move. While it seems to be the genre standard anymore, it didn’t really feel like Mortal Kombat when I was playing the tag team arcade mode. But the “quick tags” as they are called, made it slightly more amusing.
The Story Mode is a great addition. It flows well, and tells the lore of the games with surprisingly good storytelling. It opens up showing the characters of the game as beaten corpses, some barely recognizable. Shao Kahn is fighting Raiden, but the God of Thunder turns back time to the outset of the Mortal Kombat tournament.
Each chapter takes place following a specific character, and usually lasts the span of four cut scenes and fights. The story told in these sequences are not only part of the overall story arch of the game, but also fills in the back story of the character being used. It’s good storytelling, and it really caught me off guard. I expected this mode to last a few hours, tops, but I spent the better part of a few nights playing through the story.
During the cutscenes, you can’t pause the game, or skip the cutscene. So if you want to quit for the night, you have to wait until the next fight begins and exit. If something happens at home, and you have to leave the room for a minute, which happened to me at least once, you miss whatever is going on. When you decide to return the next day and play some more, you have to watch the cutscene again. It may seem like a minimal complaint, but how hard is it to allow you to pause and skip a movie? And the character modeling was generally worse during the movies as well; though I really never care enough for graphics to complain, I have to point that out for those that do care.
The aggravating part about the Story Mode is the handicap matches. I have never really been this frustrated in a fighting game before, but when you are forced to use a character you don’t like to begin with, and have to face two opponents, it gets highly irritating; especially if you are only decent at fighting games. The sound during the cut scenes was also incredibly low compared to the fights. I had my TV twice as loud as I do during most games, and had to rush for the remote when the fight started, or I paid the consequences of having the sound blaring through my TV. Despite the few problems I had with the Story Mode, the story itself was intriguing enough to keep me playing through. Some of the matches had me so flustered I almost did a teenage-style rage-quit, but I was really curious to see how the story played out.
When you get to the bosses in the game, such as Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn, they will randomly glimmer gold and decide to ignore whatever move you are trying to use on them and finish their move; in turn totally decimating you. It’s my biggest complaint in the game, as it feels incredibly unfair. First, the bosses take considerably lower damage than your typical opponent. But now, you have to hope they don’t decide to ignore your move and remove a quarter of your health in return. Shao Kahn has some extremely powerful moves, and rightfully so. He is the final boss, after all. But when you spend 5 seconds dodging him, then jump in for a jump kick, you expect to do a little bit of damage. Sometimes you do, but sometimes you are greeted with a shimmer of light around him, and he smashes you with his hammer. Oh, the frustration I had with him in the Story Mode is something I can’t even put into words. They really made sure you hated the bad guys in this game by making them far more difficult than the average game. To make matters worse, at one point you are fighting a handicap match against two of the bosses.
Another major feature in the game is the Challenge Tower, which are matches with specific goals. These are not only a fun deviation from the bulk of the gameplay that gets rather repetitive, but also a good way to earn Koins (more on that later). Some of the challenges even have a twist of humor to them. At one point, Mileena was trying to give Scorpion a teddy bear. The challenge was called, “I don’t like teddies!”. So you have to fight for your right to hate teddies. The whole match, she has the teddy bear in her hand as well. There are 300 different challenges, including the Test Your Might (the original strength mini game), Test Your Sight (you have to follow an object under a cup as it swaps around, and pick the right one), Test Your Strike (unlike Might, you have to have the power meter at a specific spot before you hit the strike button, to destroy a certain brick), and Test Your Luck (a match between a random opponent with a random disability, such as poison, all of which are chosen by a slot at the beginning of the match) challenges. It is a nice break from the sometimes-aggravating story, or monotonous Arcade Mode. Then, after you have calmed down, go back and tackle what you were escaping from.
One of my personal favorite additions to the series is the Krypt, and it’s back. The Krypt allows you to spend the koins you earn throughout the game, and unlock various things. Gallery art, music, alternate costumes, and access to more finishers are all randomly strewn around a graveyard setting. You walk around from plot to plot, or in some areas torture devices or dead bodies in a marsh, and have free pick on what to spend your precious points on. You get koins from various things, such as at the end of a match in Story Mode, Challenge Tower, or doing combos/fatalities/winning in general in Arcade Mode. It’s a great feature that allows obsessive gamers a magnitude of replayability.
As far as the mechanics in general go, the game now adds a special bar at the bottom of the screen. You fill up the bar by taking damage, hitting kombos, or by having moves blocked. The bar has three stages; “Enhanced”, which allows to hold R2 along with the final button press of a special move to power it up more, “Breaker”, which allows R2 to break a combo, or “X-ray”, which is a fatality-like move with amazing visuals. To do an X-ray attack, you fill the meter, then hit R2 and L2 at the same time. If you are successful and your opponent doesn’t block the initiating attack, the game slows down, and does an incredibly brutal combo, zooming in on the point of contact and showing bones breaking. They all look devastating, and made me cringe each time I saw one for the first time.
The online play is “pay-to-play”, so if you buy the game new, you get a code to play the game, if you rent it or buy it used, you get a two day free trial, and have to pay for an online pass. You have Ranked Play, which supposedly puts you up against a player with a similar skill level as you. How they determined this, I really don’t know, because I was put against someone who had 400+ wins, and 100 losses. I had 4 losses and no wins at that time. You do the math on that one. This is where the game fell apart for me. See, Marvel vs. Capcom 3 did a good job of being “noob” friendly. I could go into a match, and have a 50/50 chance of winning. I like fighting games, but I am not good enough to be competitive at them. With Mortal Kombat, I never even won a round. So while the single player is so much more rich, and there is so much more to do in Mortal Kombat, when it comes to playing online and having fun with friends, Mortal Kombat isn’t so much fun if you aren’t that good at the game.
You can also make custom rooms and play King of the Hill (sadly, I couldn’t get enough people involved in this to really test). Matchmaking wasn’t super fast, but there are still people playing 4 months later. Sometimes it took a minute or two, other times it only took half a minute or so, so the waiting time varied.
Overall, the Story Mode alone is worth picking this game up for. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and despite the aggravations I had with it, it was really worth the time and effort. Easily one of the top five stories I’ve seen in a game this year. And by far the most well done Story Mode to a fighting game I have experienced. With short load times, the action was always right around the corner, and the Krypt will keep people unlocking kontent for quite some time.
4 out of 5