Kris Wall reviews Mortal Kombat X…
In a world of Street Fighters, Tekkens and Killer Instincts, Mortal Kombat has always seemed like the one on one underdog, it’s gratuitous yet shallow violence seemed fun for a few novelty plays and water cooler talk of the increasingly gruesome fatalities, but often overlooked in favour of the more technically advanced fighters featured on the tournament circuit. However, that was then and this is now with NetherRealm Studios stripping away its novelty roots and rebuilding the Mortal Kombat franchise with its brilliant 9th entry, making it a force to be reckoned with and a real contender in the fighting genre. Mortal Kombat X takes everything that was great about MK9 and raises its game to the next level, however some questionable choices hold it back from ultimate gory glory.
First things first, MK9 ushered in a highly entertaining single player story mode which is pretty much unheard of in a fighting game and it was great to see NetherRealm fully committing to the world they’ve created and using it to weave a compelling narrative. To cut a long story short, in MKX, the evil (always evil) sorcerer Shinnock attacks Earthrealm in the wake of Shao Khan’s defeat and it’s up to a motley crew of mis-matched (always mis-matched) champion warriors selected by the God of Thunder, Raiden (sadly not Christopher Lambert) to defend against his invasion. MKX focuses on a more generational story, that being the legacy passed between parents and children and the importance of family bonds, with much of the story played out between Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Kung Lao, Jax and their offspring who are new fighters to the series. It’s a strangely heartfelt tone for the story to take and in the MK universe, it’s little more than B-movie fare but it remains compelling, engaging and great fun.
Combat in MKX is hugely satisfying with each blow given and taken feeling like there is serious weight and power behind it. New to MKX is each character having 3 variations of fighting style, which entirely changes the way a character can be used, opening up new move sets while locking out others. Two players using Kung Lao could approach the same fight with completely different styles depending on whether they choose his ‘Hat Trick’ variation which allows him to play defensively with a razor rimmed shield or his ‘Buzz Saw’ style which allows him to lay traps during battle. Sub-Zero gains access to ice weapons in his ‘Cryomancer’ variation while his ‘Grandmaster’ variation allows him to focus on more powerful move sets. It’s a great new addition to the series, adding another level of depth to an already excellent combat system and essentially means every character can either be broken down to find a play style that suits exactly how you want to play or can be learned three times so you’re ready to adapt to any and all threats, both online and on the professional circuit.
Following on from NetherRealm’s previous game, Injustice : Gods Among Us, MKX also utilises interactive environments in its fights. MKX’s arenas aren’t the multi-tiered battlegrounds that Injustice featured but they still add an extra layer of tactical advantages into each fight as you can press R1 to grab background objects to hurl at your opponent and use different parts of the scenery to leap over and outmaneuver your opponent, which can be an absolute life saver should you find yourself getting backed into a corner. Mastering and using the environment to your advantage is just as crucial as learning how to fight in MKX as a good player can use the environment to lure you into a false sense of superiority before quickly leaving you open and exposed to receiving some serious damage.
Mortal Kombat X is a seriously brutal game, even measured against its own standards and with the removal of MK9’s battle damage, it’s definitely the most ruthless and eye watering entry to date. With the power of current gen tech behind it, characters bend, break and bleed in absolutely horrifying detail. Returning from MK9 is the game changing X-Ray attacks which can turn the tide of battle if used tactically, you’ll watch most of them through your fingers though. Being a Mortal Kombat game, it’s the fatalities that will have most people talking and they’re more grisly and visceral than they’ve ever been before with some truly shocking things happening to limbs, organs, heads and bodies throughout the game, some highlights of note being Kenshi using telekinesis to turn his opponent into sushi, Kung Lao’s head splitting buzz saw and Johnny Cage’s riff on Jack Nicholson’s classic Shining scene, all of them rendered in ways that will make even the most hardened gore hounds wince. Brutalities also return to the series, here they’re used to close a combo at the end of a round in the most violent way possible.
MKX initially features an impressive roster of 24 fighters from the outset with fan favourites like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Raiden and Liu Kang returning to battle to the death. What surprises most is that a third of this roster is dedicated to entirely new characters, a risky move in this particular genre but one that Netherrealm should be commended for taking as it pays off handsomely, opening up the series to some new blood with new styles to master. The hulking Ferra / Torr wouldn’t look out of place in the Thunderdome, they hit hard and grapple even harder. Takeda is a futuristic ninja with access to laser swords and chain whips and if that sounds cool it’s because it is, very cool. Kotal Khan can lay down totems and offer his own blood sacrifice to gain stat boosts and tactical advantages. Unfortunately characters like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs just feel like slightly tweaked version of their parents but I haven’t spent enough time with either of them to write them off completely.
Outside of the main story, MKX packs in a hell of a lot of content, or ‘kontent’, for your money. Chief amongst these are the Towers which are split into constantly changing hourly, daily and weekly challenges that will keep even hardened players tested and on their guard, it’s also a great way to keep solo players engaged and playing after they’ve cracked the story mode. There’s the return of the Test Your Might mini challenges along with the new Test Your Luck challenges which bring in random modifiers to a fight ranging from rockets raining down from above to icy floors to combat handicaps. There’s a fantastic in depth training mode that takes a leaf out of last years brilliant Killer Instinct reboot by allowing players to really break down the combat system and look at the seriously hardcore minutiae such a frame data, as well as an area just for the learning and perfecting of those all important fatalities. Finally there’s The Krypt where you can spend all your hard earned money which has been developed into its own little game.
MKX is one fantastic looking game, characters look stunning while backgrounds and environments are rendered in absolutely gorgeous detail. However there is some noticeable difference in graphical quality on some character models, with Sonya Blade, Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs looking almost bland and half finished, especially when matched against the exquisite detail shown on characters designs such as Sub-Zero, Kotal Khan and Ermac. I also really liked the small little touches that have been added, the way Ferra scrambles around the arena when knocked from the shoulders of Torr or the way the backgrounds feel alive and lived in and the way in which each character speaks to each other before fights depending on their history with that character.
NetherRealm have created a really cool persistent online community with MKX. From the moment you start up you’re given a choice to join one of the five factions that govern the Mortal Kombat universe (I’m Lin Kuei if you’re wondering, I’ll always side with Sub-Zero) and from there on out, everything you do in the game will earn points for your faction to grow in reputation. You can end rounds in special ‘faction fatalities’ that earn even more points for your faction and there’s constantly changing and evolving challenges and threats that you can jump into and get involved in that keep the game feeling fresh and exciting no matter how much you think you’ve got it figured out. Even if you’re the lone wolf type that prefers to play solo, you still feel part of a much larger ongoing war that is constantly being fought globally in the background and it’s another great sign of just how committed NetherRealm are to the world they’ve created with this franchise. I did notice some very slight lag when playing online which affected my inputs from time to time but NetherRealm have already committed to sorting this out via updates.
It’s not all great though, there’s a few things that take the overall shine of the MKX package. Given that MKX now features one of the most fun, versatile and experimental combat systems seen not just in a Mortal Kombat game but in any fighting game, the strange decision to keep the R2 block button tethers it to an archaic past that everything else in the game has attempted to move forward from. Above all else, it just feels unintuitive and it’s extremely frustrating to be on the receiving end of an umpteenth beat down because all your gaming instincts are hardwired to know and believe that pushing back on the stick in a fighting game should initiate a block.
For a full price game, it’s concerning how pervasive micro transactions are in the MKX experience and while they’re never forced, they’re pushed enough that they can’t be ignored. The moment you get to the title screen, you’re greeted by the choice to buy Goro for an added £4.99, top and centre of your options should you have missed the pre-order bonus. Want Sub Zero’s fancy looking ‘blue steel’ costume? That’ll be another £1.49, please. There’s also a £24.99 Kombat Pack that grants you access to new costumes and 4 extra fighters, Tanya and Tremor, and two guest ‘icons’, in MKX it’s everyone’s favourite camp stalking, hockey masked slasher, Jason Voorhees and the special forces decimating, intergalactic hunter, Predator. Judging from the masses of unplayable classic characters in the story mode such as Kabal, Stryker and Baraka, there’s plenty more to come too.
Elsewhere you can buy ‘Easy Fatalities’ in packs of 5 and 30 for 79p and £3.99 respectively, which strip away the command inputs to just R2 and a press of a button, while the entire bonus housing Krypt can be unlocked for £15.99. Part of the fun of Mortal Kombat’s battles are humiliating your opponent with a well earned fatality at the end, not good enough to do it, GET BETTER AT THE GAME, there’s a comprehensive practice mode that specializes just in getting the spacing and inputs of the fatalities right. Spending your hard earned ‘koins’ in the Krypt for bonuses like extra fatalities / brutalities, costumes and concept art is also a huge part of what makes this package fun, running around and seeing what you can buy and the surprises of what you’ve bought, it just makes no sense why you’d want to skip it, JUST PLAY THE GAME AND ENJOY IT !!! While it’s to be expected that almost every game will come with some form of paid for DLC these days, the pervasive approach that Warner have taken with MKX feels more like that of a F2P title than that of full price game.
Mortal Kombat X is by far the most accomplished entry in the series to date with NetherRealm trimming almost all of the novelty fat to create a seriously lean, mean and competitive fighting machine. Small niggles and questionable micro transaction approach aside, MKX is a hell of a lot of fun to play with incredibly satisfying combat, deeper and more rewarding mechanics with the new variation system, a great line up of characters both old and new, there’s plenty of content to get stuck into, an interesting persistent online community and even a cool story mode to top it all off. Best of all though is MKX is accessible, engaging and fun for everyone, new players and old alike, you can dip into it and have fun immediately and you can stick with it and keep having fun as you delve into its systems and get sucked into the ongoing Faction War. There currently aren’t that many fighting games available on the newer consoles but Mortal Kombat X has spilled blood to assert itself at the top.
+ Incredibly satisfying combat
+ Great fight mechanics
+ Looks and sounds superb
+ Cool persistent online community
+ Fun story
– Block button feels outdated and counter-intuitive
– Micro-transactions, while not forced, are highly pervasive
– Some slightly weaker character models
– Slight lag while playing online (Which should be ironed out via updates)
Kris Wall – Follow me on Twitter