The Mortal Kombat universe is crumbling and it’s all thanks to a creepy-looking scheming sorceress.
From her keep in the uncanny valley, Kronika has set out to upturn time, bringing Mortal Kombat 11’s kombatants face to face with their past selves. It’s a clever touch which allows the fighters to reflect on how much they’ve matured over the years – right before they garotte someone with their own achilles tendon. There are a few new characters who are reasonably interesting to play as, though the roster contains so many series favourites I’m not sure how much use they’ll get.
Time-hopping story aside (a tale which outdoes either of the Mortal Kombat movies), it’s business as usual for Mortal Kombat 11. Led by series co-creator Ed Boon, developer Netherrealm Studios has become a master of its kraft – sorry, craft. Mortal Kombat 11 is every bit as entertaining as its predecessor, eclipsing it at points.
But if you haven’t tangled with any of the previous Mortal Kombat games, don’t worry; the game’s extensive (and optional) tutorial section makes it accessible to newcomers as well as allowing existing players to come to grips with higher level play. Furthermore, Netherrealm has tweaked the combat system in multiple, mostly welcome ways.
X-Ray moves, where you’re shown the gruesome internal effects for your attacks, are now seamlessly blended into regular gameplay. The addition of slowly recharging offensive and defensive meters gives you the chance to enhance your attacks or escape from the game’s nastier combos – although I was still soundly trounced by at least half of the online opponents I challenged.
I do question the wisdom of the “finishing blow” move which allows you to deliver a near lethal attack when your health is low. On paper it’s a way to keep combat interesting, giving losing players an extra chance to fight back. But finishing blows are so easy to execute, not requiring any specific timing, that they seem a little unbalanced (and this is from someone who used them at every opportunity).
Speaking of executions, Mortal Kombat 11’s fatalities are gloriously gruesome and laughably improbable, even more so than in previous games. Netherrealm has somehow managed to raise the bloody bar, though there’s still a narrative disconnect between the way the characters are depicted in the story mode and the way they act when crudely dismembering their opponents. So Johnny Cage, movie star and hero of two previous dimensional invasions, takes great glee in tearing his opponent’s torso off and using them as a ventriloquist’s dummy.
But as polished and delightfully deranged as Mortal Kombat 11 is, it’s far from flawless. It feels as if a clumsy microtransaction system is threaded throughout the game, although you can only actually spend money on certain limited items. Still, I can’t shake the horrible, sneaking suspicion that publisher Warner Bros is just waiting to press the big red button that turns the bulk of the game’s mini transactions into actual money-fuelled microtransactions. Aside from being able to craft armour items to enhance your character’s abilities, each fighter has around sixty skins, many of which are barely tweaked versions of the costume.
Crafting some pieces of armour requires you to gather resources, often by unlocking chests in the game’s Krypt which – something else that made me suspicious – requires an online connection (unlike previous MK entries). Gathering the tokens that open these chests requires you to grind away fighting foes which, despite how entertaining the game generally is, feels like work. It hardly ruins the experience of Mortal Kombat 11, but it’s annoying how the game is frequently reminding you of the system, offering you the chance to buy your way to victory in single-player fights and so forth.
Despite being damaged by the built-in grind, Mortal Kombat 11 is well worth your time. There are multiple play modes allowing you to dip in at your leisure and some genuinely surprising features, including some borrowed from Injustice 2 such as the ability to field teams of AI fighters. Mortal Kombat 11’s combat is fluid and intuitive, and even when you’re losing it’s a joy to play. It’s a game that’s fun just to mess about with, but once you master its nuances it becomes even more rewarding. Once a gory joke, Mortal Kombat has evolved to become one of the most accomplished fighters you’ll get your hands on.