NetherRealm Studios come to their tenth canon Mortal Kombat release after the rather excellent Injustice: Gods Among Us. Working on the superhero title seems to have strengthened their resolve to come up with one of the best games we've seen in the long-running, face pummelling series.
The Story mode is a good place to start for any rusty brawler fans. You'll control a set character for four fights before being put in the shoes of a new combatant. By the end of the story you'll have played as most of the 24 strong cast and you should have an idea of which characters you'd like to develop your skills with and those you never want to see again.
The plot won't win any awards, but it's suitably fun and violent. The dialogue is a bit cheesy and the violence is suitably gross with heads and limbs flying around and every punch sounding like it's smashing meat and bone with a hammer. There's a powerful Talisman that everyone seems to be fighting over and the regular flashbacks make it hard to keep events in order. Dead people keep popping back into the story throughout, alliances swap back and forth and when Sub Zero and Scorpion sat down for a cup of tea, I had to admit it had all got away from me a bit.
NetherRealm have been brave by shifting most of the story forwards twenty years and giving the the majority of the limelight to the wave of new characters. It does a solid job of introducing them and it's certainly handy that most of them are related to existing characters and share some combat styles -but with their own unique twist too. Cassie Cage, daughter of Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, is a great addition to the roster as she leads a team of fellow newbies through the plot and firmly into the Mortal Kombat roster for the future.
Right, onto the brawling itself. Mortal Kombat's chunky four-point D-pad inputs have always felt rather stiff next to the flamboyant moves of Capcom's Street Fighter. But MKX is a slicker affair than before as many base combos flow smoothly into each other. The special moves are simple to trigger and are displayed on the main pause menu, making it easy to double check moves when playing through the story, or against friends in local multiplayer.
Combos can be interrupted with players sacrificing their special meter, but it's worth saving it until full to unleash the X-Ray attacks. These lengthy combos can swing a match in your favour or feel like a cheap way to lose a third of your health with no chance of reply once they get the first hit in. They're often just as violent as the infamous Fatalities and saved me in many a match. They're undeniably overpowered though.
Much has been said of the new Easy Fatality options and their ill-judged paid DLC options, but in all honesty, the proper ones have never been easier to pull off thanks their inclusion on the moves list in the pause menus. Additional fatalities can be unlocked in the Krypt too.
The environments you fight in are highly detailed and feature some excellent interactions; you'll smack opponents with exhaust pipes, swing at them from jungle vines, smash them into pillars and even throw members of the crowd at them! There's a lack of extended arenas though, which is incredibly disappointing. You won't smash opponents through walls into new rooms, or pound them through the floor. This is surprising seeing as environmental design is usually so good in NetherRealm's fighters, especially their last game, Injustice.
Each fighter now has three variations to choose from before the fight. For example, Scorpion's Ninjitsu style gives him some powerful sword attacks at the cost of fewer special moves. The other options include summoning demons to root your opponent to the ground, kick them in the back or attack them from above. The third stance empowers Scorpion with fire attacks like fireballs, flaming punches and the like. The additional special moves both have the same inputs, so it's easy to remember the controls for one character. As you can imagine, having three variations for each character massively extends the longevity of the game for those of you wanting to experiment with multiple characters. Not so much for anyone with Ken syndrome (it's ok, he is the best).
Training options are very disappointing though. A tutorial goes over the basics like throws, dashing and a couple of basic combos, but that's it. The practice mode lets you set options for your opponent and pop a few combos lists onto the screen to memorise or practise, but there are no helpful hints ('too early' or 'too soon') for the tougher sequences. Even those only involving three face button presses can be difficult to time correctly. A Trials mode would have helped instruct players on chaining combos too.
So, if you want to get your act together after playing through the story and settle on a few characters, you're either going to have get online and learn the incredibly tough way 'oh look, you can juggle opponents in Mortal Kombat.' Or head to the Towers for a while. These random challenges put you against a line of opponents with optional challenges (land five front punches in a round, perform two throws etc) for additional Koins to buy items in the Krypt (come on, spellchecker, let's get through this together).
The best thing about the Tower challenges though is the random match modifiers. These really add variety to the game with crazy environmental effects, like mines, freezing ice-blasts, tilting levels, random blackouts or my personal favourite, super speed, which is hilarious and insane in equal measure. These random features are well-balanced and just as likely to screw over your AI opponent as they are you. But obviously, you'll have even more laughs when playing with mates.
The Factions mode sees you choose one of the warring MK factions and earn points for overall leaderboards. These challenges may include taking on certain Towers or opponents. There are even Invasion Boss events where a nigh-on undefeatable foe needs to have his health chipped away by thousands of players over a day or two. You'll only get a few hits in as your strikes don't have the same impact as against standard opponents, but you can keep trying and it's not a bad way to earn Koins.
Taking the fight online can be a real shock to the system as there is no separate online rank/level for players. By the time you've played the Story through, you'll be in the 30s and matched with anyone all the way up to the 60s.
Some of the combat's shortcomings become more apparent online when facing expert players, or at the very least, ones able to spam the same three combos at you over and over, removing over half your health in one string of attacks. The defensive options and combo breakers aren't particularly effective and one slip up will cost you the round. There's no sign of lag, but matchmaking takes slightly too long between bouts and there's no quick rematch option.
For some, the hardcore experience may sound like a challenge they can't wait to get stuck into, but just be warned, there's no middle ground. I rarely came across a player you'd be able to class as a newb. So if you don't consider yourself to a hardcore Mortal Kombat fan, you'll probably want to look to the offline options, mainly the Towers, to maintain your interest in the game.
Better yet, play the the game as a local multiplayer brawler, which is what it was born to do. Unleashing violent comebacks, grossing out at the dripping fatalities and hitting random select on the character select screen is where the best fun is to be had and as things stand, Mortal Kombat X does this better than any other fighter on the new-gen machines.
- Fantastic range of new characters
- Enjoyable story mode
- Great fun with friends
- No multi-layered environments
- Poor practice options
- Koin rewards are slow after the Story
The Short Version: Consider Mortal Kombat X your first essential fighting game of the new generation of consoles. It's best enjoyed with local friends thanks to the easily memorised combos and buckets of gory X-Ray moves and finishers. The story and lengthy Tower options will pad out the single-player experience, but the online match ups are reserved for the more hardcore player.
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | Xbox One | Xbox 360 | PC
Developers: NetherRealm Studios
Publishers: Warner Bros Interactive