Several fighting game franchises have experienced revivals in the last three years, so isnt it Mortal Kombats turn? Although Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe delivered an HD-era MK experience, it also suffered from rather uninspired brawling and lacked the sinew and sanguinity expected by its core fanbase. Now the team has a new name and a new publisher, and is taking the opportunity to make a fresh start. Though not without some hiccups, Mortal Kombat regains its footing after years of less-than-exemplary sequels.
MK excels beyond its most recent predecessor thanks to some fine-tuned tweaks to the formula that add an extra layer of depth alongside the rather simplistic attacks. Theres a triple-tiered meter la Street Fighter that allows you to either add more muscle to special moves (level one), break a flurried combo (level two), or break out a devastating X-Ray Attack, which combines a devastatingand sometimes wildly imbalancedthat inflicts CSI-esque damage to both bones and vital organs.
The dial-a-kombo style that dominated the series for years is gone, and in its place is a vastly improved and more organic system that resembles that of the first two games. And of course its loaded with gruesome fatalities designed to test your threshold for cartoonishly gory violence. NetherRealm has even seen fit to provide a Fatality Tutorial Mode that allows you to practice before diving into Arcade or Versus.
MK uses Unreal Engine 3 visuals to add an extra sense of hyperrealism to its characters, and while some of them look oddly drawnmany of the women characters feel a little overdonekudos to the team for improving some wince-worthy designs from the PS2-era games. Its also laudable that in comparison to the bloated MK: Armageddon, the roster for this new game is leaner and tighter. It effectively bridges the gap between fan service and attracting players who mightve dropped the series after the 16-bit era.
Not unlike MK vs. DCU, the new game boasts a story mode that revamps the lore of the first three games into a palatable form. There are plenty of nostalgia-evoking moments, from recreated classic stages to plot points that explain, say, how Jax loses his original arms or how Cyrax and Sektor became cyber-ninjas. The dialogue isnt great, and the contrivances that start fights induce eye-rolling, but it does a passable job of reworking the lore. Once youve cracked that and all of the Arcade Mode endings, theres a Challenge Tower that bursts with formula variations as well as minigame spins on Test Your Might and Test Your Sight.
MK has some balancing issues, and it becomes nakedly apparent after a few cheap boss battles that spamming the same attack pattern, no matter how unrewarding it feels as a fighting game fan, is key to beating some of the annoying challengessay, battling three characters in a row on one life barthat the game throws at you. Also, it feels as though some of the later difficulty curve comes not from more skilled computer AI as much as it does from putting you in the shoes of a less-favored character to take on ultra-cheap Shao Khan.
But against another person it feels great. The team wanted to focus its energy on the online experience and creating an arcade-like feel. King of the Hill Mode does an effective job of setting up online matches with a hierarchy that allows the top player to continue winning streaks while others watch via spectator mode. It uses a rating system to allow victors to collect performance based points after winning. It evokes the glory days of both arcades and 16-bit MK2 XBAND sessions. The only caveat to it all is that MK uses an Online Pass system, not unlike the systems set up by EA and THQ. Id have rather it not been included.
Mortal Kombat marks a return to form. Its not always gracefulstory modes stone-faced execution of some ridiculous plot points elicit more than a few chuckles, and the CPU AI feels regressive at timesbut the revamped fighting engine and fancy aesthetics combine to create a fun retro update. Its leaner, its tighter, and most importantly, its downright disgusting. Mortal Kombat is back.
Good: Great combination of vintage MK fighting and deeper tactical approach
Bad: AI still dumb as rocks but cheap as hell, online pass integration
Ugly: Mileenas Leeloo impersonation
Developer: NetherRealm Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Players: Single, two offline, 2-8 multiplayer