After the initial disappointment conjured up by the Mortal Kombat demo a month or so back it would seem that director Ed Boon and co have pulled out all the stops in the run up the game’s release. As a long-standing fan, this generation’s Mortal Kombat is unquestionably the best in series yet. While it’s all to easy to argue that such an achievement is fairly simple given the ropey combat of previous offerings, let’s not start flinging mud just yet. Everything – and I mean everything - about this latest edition has been finely tuned, polished and tweaked to the point that if it weren’t for the characters and setting you could almost be playing an entirely different fighting game altogether.
MK’s combat has always been its downfall; a clunky, stunted mess hiding behind buckets of blood and gore, but here it flows and ebbs with energy, delivering a tactile fighting experience unlike anything ever seen in previous Mortal Kombat games. In short, it works. Combos’ chain together effortlessly with ground and air attacks: special moves, combo breakers and throws twist and weave through one another allowing you’re chosen fighter to unleash some truly devastating assaults; the new ‘X-Ray’ moves are punishing and unforgiving, turning the tide of battle in an instance; and fatalities are more brutal than ever.
Perhaps the most pertinent question on everyone’s lips is whether or not the combat as polished as Street Fighter? In all honesty the answer is still no; nevertheless it’s a huge step in the right direction. It’s well balanced and its use of 3D characters and arenas set on a two-dimensional plane allow fights to flow smoothly. The most notable change is that there are now four attack buttons, with each representing a corresponding limb. It’s a concept best known for its existence in the Tekken franchise and, unsurprisingly, it’s one that sits extremely well with MK’s new direction, throwing up genuine moments of combo brilliance. Add to this a ‘super meter’ for doubling up and strengthening special moves and what you have is easily the most accomplished engine in the series to date.
Of course it’s often been sighted that Mortal Kombat’s success can be tied down to its gore factor, and while that’s undeniably true with regards to its first few outings, arguably it’s the richly detailed world and the characters therein that have kept fans coming back for more. Never has this been more prevalent than in 2011, particularly with the rather excellent story mode that encourages players to engage with different characters as they make their way through the tale. What’s interesting is that unlike other fighting game story modes, Mortal Kombat doesn’t actually allow you to ‘choose’ a protagonist; instead you take control of each fighter over the course of 15 or so chapters as they make their way through the tournament, confronting not only other combatants but their own personal demons and pasts that inexorably intertwine each of their fates. This results in players discovering traits and fighting styles in characters they may have normally ignored, and as such it’s entirely possible to discover a whole new favourite character(s) to use when going up against the CPU or online opponents.
As is tradition with NetherRealm Studios, Mortal Kombat is also literally filled to bursting with content. As well as the massive Story Mode and the obligatory Fight, Versus, Training and Online options there’s also a new ‘Tag Battle’ mode as well the ability to Test Your Might/Sight/Strike and Luck through a series of challenges requiring timing, accuracy and nimble finger work. The Krypt has also made a return offering humorous – albeit gruesome – ways in which to spend credits earned via playing through all the various game modes, with concept art stills, music, new costumes, extra fatalities available for purchase. Finally there’s ‘Challenge Tower’. It’s here that players are invited to test their Mortal Kombat prowess in 300 different challenges ranging from the straight forward to the downright bizarre, and on completion there’s a “major reward” to be had; at least according to Ed Boon and the folks at NetherRealm.
There’s a lot to like about this new Mortal Kombat. It looks positively stunning with every aspect of the MK universe oozing bags of character and charm; it plays better than it ever has before; it has a single player that rivals the multi-player for replay value; it comes packed with a frightening amount of content… the list goes on. Most important of all it doesn’t take itself seriously and commands only that you have fun playing it – which you undoubtedly will. The best Mortal Kombat ever? Most definitely. The only thing missing is that 2-Unlimited track.