You’d think, being called Mortal Kombat 1, that this latest entry in the gory fighting game series would be a complete reboot. And it is, in some ways. With the timeline reset after the events of Mortal Kombat 11, a chance has been taken to revitalise the series’ cast of characters. Some that have been typically evil are now more sympathetic, for example, and all have revised movesets that make them quite different to play as. Jump into the game’s story mode, however, and you may eventually feel that the series’ opportunity for a fresh start has been squandered – though we’ll not delve too much into it so as to not spoil things.
This is Mortal Kombat 12 in all but name, then, with a story that relies on you having knowledge of prior events – not that it matters too much in a fighting game. And while the cast of combatants here have all received some tweaks, what’s initially disappointing is that there are zero newcomers to get to grips with. Instead, NetherRealm Studios has brought back many characters from the days of the early 3D Mortal Kombat games. The likes of Ashrah, Reiko and Havik may not be entirely new, but to many players they may as well be. Ultimately, the cast of Mortal Kombat 1 ends up being its biggest strength, especially when you factor in its assortment of Kameo characters that you can call upon in battle to assist you.
That these Kameo characters hail from multiple ages of Mortal Kombat titles should indicate the direction that Mortal Kombat 1’s story goes in, but we’ll not spell it out for you. In any case, they provide one of the game’s most welcome features. With the just the press of a button, and also perhaps a direction input, your chosen Kameo character can be summoned into battle, performing a unique special attack to help you catch your opponent unaware or bolster a combo. And that’s not all; they also present new opportunities for Brutalities and Fatalities. With so many combinations of main and Kameo characters available, it makes for a game where every fight keeps you on your toes.
The Kameo system comes at the cost of something, though: interactive stages. No longer can you grab an object in the environment to whack your opponent with, or use something such as a rock to catapult yourself out of a corner. It’s something that we miss, a little. There are other things you might miss if you’ve spent lots of time with Mortal Kombat 11, too. Character customisation has been dialled down, for example, with each character now just having one piece of gear which can be changed, and no special moves to switch in and out. If you loved exploring the Krypt, you’ll find that absent as well.
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All this is somewhat forgiven, though, when you sit down to play Mortal Kombat 1. The action here is faster-paced and more fluid, making it the most enjoyable Mortal Kombat entry to date. While you still need to dial-in combos, you feel like you have a little more freedom to express yourself, especially when it comes to aerial combat and follow-up attacks. The Kameo feature helps with this as well, with you able to choose a companion to further customise your play style. You’ll want to experiment not only because it’s fun, but also because it’s rewarding.
While the Krypt is out, as well as the living towers, it also helps that Mortal Kombat 1 still has a wealth of single player content to engage in. The story mode here looks absolutely phenomenal, as has some brilliant scenes. In fact, it might just be the best story mode in a Mortal Kombat game yet, even though we feel it takes a disappointing turn in its second half. In any case, once you’re done with the story, which with take most players around eight hours, there’s Invasion mode to dive into. This is essentially an RPG mode where you’ll explore realms like a board game, engaging in single fights and testing your might in events and towers, all the while gaining experience and unlocking additional content.
The fights can sometimes feel a little repetitive, but on the whole we’ve been really enjoying Invasions mode. Modifiers help keep fights interesting, and features such as elemental resistances add a layer of strategy, with you needing to switch characters or make use of Talismans to capitalise on weaknesses. What we’re not a massive fan of, however, is Super Armour. Sometimes your opponents will simply brush off your attacks, with just a small window in which to attack them when they’re flashing blue to interrupt their onslaught. It doesn’t diminish the gameplay too much, but it feels like a cheap way to artificially increase the difficulty.
When it comes to playing online, ranked and casual matches are available, but unfortunately there’s no crossplay support just yet. Thankfully it doesn’t matter too much at launch as it’s easy enough to find a fight, though if you were hoping to play with friends on other platforms it’s disappointing. Hopefully it won’t be too long until it’s added. Other than that, there isn’t too much to complain about, other than not being able to decline ranked matches due to connection speed like you can in casual.
While Mortal Kombat 1 feels a little streamlined and cut down compared to Mortal Kombat 11, it surpasses it where it really counts: the gameplay. This is quite simply the most fun we’ve had with a Mortal Kombat game to date. The improved combat with its faster pace, combined with a brilliant roster of fighters and the new Kameo system, means that we’re once again excited for the future of the series, as well as what’s to come to this entry. We’ll be returning to Invasion mode time and time again as its seasonal content is refreshed, and look forward to more characters being added into the mix.