With series originator Ed Boon back on board, a brand new publisher and refreshed competition in the form of the inimitable Super Street Fighter IV, it was pretty safe to assume that NeatherRealm Studios were always destined to nail a new incarnation of Mortal Kombat, in a way that hasn’t been done since Mortal Kombat 4 almost fifteen years ago. So the fact that they’ve succeeded in making the best MK game in years isn’t that much of a surprise. But the fact that they’ve also managed to create the best Mortal Kombat game ever made is downright remarkable, and should signify that this is one series that is no longer solely aimed at lifelong fans who get a kick out of the presence of innumerable kitchen sinks, and find things like arbitrary complexity very easy to forgive.
So the third dimension is gone, dual fighting styles have been scrapped, and flippant, desperate endeavours like Puzzle Kombat, Slot Kombat and Motor Kombat are conspicuous by their absence. This is not to say that everything has suddenly gone serious – it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat if it had – and an excellent batch of highly enjoyable mini-games and offshoot modes are still present, but none of them feel like impetuous padding. From old hands like Test Your Sight right up to ingenious new modes like the endlessly creative Challenge Tower, this Mortal Kombat is positively jam-packed with irresistible little things to do. But you’ll find the real meat sitting precisely where it should be.
For the next few years at least, this game is destined to be compared to Street Fighter’s wonderful recent revival, and it’s a comparison that has much more clout than you’d think. Some may argue that Mortal Kombat in its original incarnation was never as elegant an affair as Street Fighter II was; it may have been distinctively simpler, but it was every bit as enjoyable, and this new game rekindles every drop of that blood-splattered magic. As with Super Street Fighter IV the key to this involves making everything as accessible as possible, whilst also ensuring that the hardcore are able to leap in with both feet. This new Mortal Kombat doesn’t wear its gameplay depth on its sleeve, but rest assured that it’s there in abundance if you’re looking for it.
Part of this is down to the new X-Ray meter; a dynamic that was almost certainly inspired by the Hyper/Ultra combo system that first appeared in Street Fighter IV. It’s a somewhat different beast here though, and the meter doesn’t expand so much when you’re on the defensive; which means that people who were able to use it to level the playing field in Street Fighter are going to have to be a bit more aggressive here. You can use small parts of it to perform moderately enhanced special moves and combo breakers, or wait until it’s filled completely at which point you can pull-off Ultra-like X-Ray moves; essentially miniature fatalities which are every bit as brutal and amusing.
For those in the know, Deadly Alliance, Deception and Armageddon all featured a Konquest mode that initially appeared to be little more than a rolling tutorial, but prolonged play revealed a rather unique new outlet for the series’ ever-boisterous plotlines. Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe took Konquest to the next level (offering a dedicated chapter for each playable character) and it is this mode from which the new Mortal Kombat has taken its direct cue. It features a sprawling narrative that incorporates virtually every single playable character, and is (in the classic MK tradition) both camp and utterly idiotic. But this wilful goofiness is intensely loveable, and arguably for the first time in series history, Mortal Kombat features a story mode that is actually, genuinely compelling.
Although PS3 owners secured early bragging rights when Kratos was announced as an exclusive playable character – and make no mistake, he fits into the action so effortlessly that younger gamers may have to check that he wasn’t originally an MK character in the first place – Xbox 360 owners have got something arguably better; an absolutely hilarious online lobby system. Utilising the console’s Avatar characters, the King Of The Hill system has to be seen to be truly appreciated properly, but we will say this; it’s a system has taken everything that was brilliant about SSFIV‘s online functionality, and has added countless comedy bells and whistles that only ever compel you to keep on playing, as well as to encourage your friends to do the same. PS3 owners do get the same online package, but you’d be a fool to underestimate the constant comedy value of the 360 version’s Avatar integration.
The fatalities are, on balance, as amusing and tasteless as they’ve ever been, and the just-one-more-go sensation that washes over you as you play Super Street Fighter IV, a pleasure that hasn’t really existed in the MK universe – outside of hardcore circles – since MK4, is back with a bloody vengeance. And if you’re a fan of the greatest fatality in MK history – which was a glorious little black comic ditty that involved Quan Chi and his opponent’s leg – that little beauty may or may not make a glorious re-appearance here. MK fans are going to absolutely adore this new game, no question of it. But it’s not just for them. It’s for absolutely anyone who suspects that they might be hard enough.
Watch the Mortal Kombat trailer here: