I’ve always been ambivalent towards the Mortal Kombat series.
Whilst I love the characters and its gory yet comical violence, I’ve always felt that the fighting itself was stilted and almost robotic. The quality of releases has also been up and down over the years, with numerous spin offs and attempts to make the game work in 3D being very hit and miss, but Mortal Kombat 9 took the series back to its roots as a 2D fighter with a great amount of success.
With Mortal Kombat X, NetherRealm Studios aims to build on the foundations of its last title and create the most feature-rich entry into the series yet, whilst also taking the opportunity to refresh its roster of characters. Question is: is their effort a flawless victory, or has development suffered some fatalities along the way?
It was apparent from my very first bout in “quickmatch” that anyone who is familiar with Mortal Kombat 9 will feel very comfortable with Mortal Kombat X. With the usual Mortal Kombat moves remaining unchanged and the return of features such as the bone-crunching X-Ray moves, the gameplay is largely the same, but somewhat more intuitive, thanks mainly to improved character animations. Don’t get me wrong however; the combat still doesn’t flow as well as it does in the likes of Street Fighter 4, but it is a marked improvement over previous Mortal Kombat releases. This much-needed injection of fluidity, along with some seriously good-looking visuals, makes Mortal Kombat X a joy to play, with the ebb and flow of battles feeling better than ever. The interactive environment system first seen in NetherRealm Studios’ Injustice has also been incorporated, which makes the battles feel more dynamic and presents more combat options.
Cruciually though, it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without multiple ways to humiliate and destroy your defeated opponent; and in this regard Mortal Kombat X certainly does not disappoint. Each character has two animated “Fatalities”, and coupled with the power afforded by next-generation consoles, they are the goriest and the most inventive yet. Bolstering this, each character also has five “Brutalities” that are sure to amuse and surprise time and time again, and up to five “Factions Kills” that are brand new to the series.
Upon loading the game for the first time, you are prompted to join one of five factions from the Mortal Kombat Universe and from that point on you earn faction experience points and war points. Whilst faction experience points increase your standing in the faction, unlocking new Faction Kills and “Kombat Kard” customisations, your faction war points are accumulated with all other faction members to increase your chances in the persistent online faction war. Winning the faction war promises to grant rewards – and as a member of the victorious faction in the first war I experienced I was awarded 5,000 koins, which was nice, but hardly anything game changing. Hopefully rewards will become more worthwhile in the future, as potentially the faction war system could become a nice way of rewarding players with exclusive content.
Morseo than any other fighting franchise, Mortal Kombat is known to deliver a wealth of content for fight fans to enjoy in single player, and Mortal Kombat X does well to continue this trend. Whilst some may bemoan that the story mode is shorter than Mortal Kombat 9’s, clocking in at around five hours, it is undeniably better directed and there are no gimmicky battles with multiple opponents. In fact, I’d wager that there is just as much story in Mortal Kombat X as there was in the last iteration, but now with fair 1-on-1 battles and no cheap bosses, the journey is just a much smoother ride.
What may be a genuine loss for many though, is Mortal Kombat 9’s challenge tower. Replacing the 300-stage behemoth are multiple smaller towers offering varying challenges and gameplay modifiers. Initially, these smaller towers might not seem like a fair exchange, but in the long run they could be for the better. The classic towers are where you’ll find the staple arcade mode, as well as “test your luck”, “test your might”, endless and survival modes,- all of which are fairly self-explanatory. The “Living Towers” are where things get more interesting though. Featuring premium, hourly and daily towers that can be tweaked by the developer to offer unique challenges and experiences on a set basis, it will be interesting to see how these add long term longevity to the title. I was also pleasantly surprised by Mortal Kombat X’s iteration of The Krypt, an interactive shop where you can use the coins that you earn via actions throughout all game modes to unlock extras such as fatalities, brutalities, costumes and concept art. Playing like a first person dungeon crawler, it is quite easy to lose track of time exploring the labyrinthine environments in your search of iconic character items to access further areas, fending off foul creatures and unlocking extras as you go.
For those that like their opponents to more organic, both local and online multiplayer modes are obviously included. Online matchmaking is efficient, and various match types are available such as ranked and player matches, King of the Hill, Survivor and Test your Luck. Whilst I have only had a brief foray into playing online as I am admittedly rubbish – and constantly battling opponents that seem to be able to pull of extended combos with ease or insist on repeatedly teleporting around the screen isn’t that much fun – I didn’t notice any discernible lag which is a big win for Netherrealm studios. It should be noted however, that the online multiplayer is region locked, meaning that you are limited to fighting those from whichever region your game is from. Whilst this does show good results – with quicker matchmaking and smoother online play – it does limit the number of opponents available, which may be detrimental further down the line when the player base has dwindled.
With 24 characters available (25 if you include the preorder exclusive Goro), many fans will no doubt be disappointed if their favourite character has not made the cut. As the story is set 20 years after Mortal Kombat 9, Netherrealm Studios has taken the opportunity to introduce many new characters to the roster, at the expense of omitting some old favourites. Whilst this is a brave move, that in this age of playing things safe I feel should be applauded, I still found it strangely vexing that many familiar faces pop up in the story mode such as Rain, Baraka and Sindel, yet are not playable (although I should note that someone has already modified the PC version to enable you to do so). Why go to the trouble of creating a character model and moveset, to then dangle it in front of the player whilst denying access? The rational person within me assumes that with each character having three variations to choose from, each making them look and play slightly differently, time simply ran out during development to fully flesh these characters out. The cynical side of me assumes that it’s likely they will be made available as DLC at some point in the future.
Luckily, most of the new pugilists such as D’Vorah, Erron Black and Takeda are interesting and put some of the returning cast to shame. I found some of the veteran Special Forces characters like Sonya Blade and Jackie Briggs to be bland and devoid of any interesting character traits, and whilst you can unlock new costumes to give them some visual individuality, they still remain fairly dull compared to the rest of the lineup. This is particularly disappointing given that female characters account for less than 25% of combatants available.
Overall, Mortal Kombat X isn’t flawless, but its victories far outweigh its shortcomings. With its fantastic story mode, impressive graphics, silky smooth gameplay and violently enjoyable combat, it’s no doubt the best in the series despite some minor issues with content. Some may be put off by the reports of microtransactions, but the truth is they are unobtrusive and are not paramount to your enjoyment of the title at all, except maybe Goro being locked behind a paywall for those who didn’t preorder. Anyone looking for a next-gen brawler with teeth should look no further; Mortal Kombat X is all that you need.