Reviewed: May 13, 2011
Released: April 19, 2011
I never got into the whole Mortal Kombat fad when it was all the rage at the local arcade, which, in retrospect is a bit surprising given the amount of time and tokens I spent in the arcades in the 80’s While crowds of blood lusting kids were surging against the machine to see some expert player pull off the latest fatality, I was off playing something else. Eventually, Mortal Kombat made its way to the home consoles and I finally got a taste of the blood and violence that had soccer moms and senators waging a war against video games.|
As a reviewer, I’ve played most every one of the Mortal Kombat games to come out in the past decade, and while I can appreciate the simple elegance of a 2D fighting game with dozens of cool characters and thousands of moves and killer combos, I always found myself going back to the flashier games like DOA and Tekken. But there is no denying the hype behind this much-anticipated reboot of the franchise, so when Mortal Kombat arrived for the Xbox 360 I decided to take this one a bit more seriously.
Mortal Kombat reboots the series with a clever time travel element weaved into the story that sends Raiden back in time so you can relive the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games. In the world Raiden knows, Shao Kahn has killed everyone (as shown in a grisly opening cutscene) so he must change key moments in history to create an alternate reality – hopefully one in which everyone is still alive, so from time to time Raiden will have these flashes and will try to change certain events. The concept is cool but the overall story is still pathetically weak and comically bad at times; a shallow excuse to steer you from fight to fight using pre-selected characters and locations.
The story is surprisingly long and depending on your skill level can take upwards of 12-15 hours (thanks in part to the unskippable cutscenes), and then you have a 300-fight ladder tournament and of course, the endless sensation of the multiplayer battles, both online and local. With all of your favorite characters present and accounted for along with thousands of moves and amazing combos, there is enough fighting action lurking in Mortal Kombat to keep you popping blisters on your thumbs for the next year.
After several disappointing attempts at 3D, Mortal Kombat returns to its 2D roots and showcases a vibrant new art style that blurs the lines of comic books and video games with some revolutionary new graphics. The characters in Mortal Kombat have always been greatly exaggerated but now they are larger than life with crazy costumes, insane animations, and female proportions that make Lara Croft looks like a young boy. The big standout in this game are the unearthly environments packed with so much detail I kept getting my ass kicked while trying to admire my surroundings. But nothing can prepare you for the fight, combo, and Fatality animations.
The music fits the franchise and the fighting genre but is overshadowed by the outstanding sound design and Dolby Digital mix that brings the environments to life and blows you away with powerful sound effects. My speakers and sub-woofer were crackling with each punch and bone-crushing combo. Great voice acting (and excessive cleavage) helped move the story along.
Of course at the core of any fighting game, especially a Mortal Kombat game is the fight engine and this reboot manages to maintain the purity and balance of the Mortal Kombat legacy while adding a few nice features that will amaze even the veterans of the series. The Super Gauge is a key component to the strategy in Mortal Kombat. This three-section bar fills up as you take damage and then you can spend that energy in various ways, either one section at a time or in one big burst. Spend one segment and you enhance your special move, spend two and you can break an opponent’s combo, or if you can hold out and spend all three sections at once you will deliver a bone-shattering X-ray attack complete with slow-motion animation and sickening sound effects that results in a significant portion of your opponents health bar vanishing.
This single new feature not only adds a long-missing element of strategy to the standard fighting genre, it also allows gamers to tailor their playing style and create surprising new fighting techniques for characters that we “think” we already know so well. Sure, most gamers are going to instinctively go for the flashy X-ray attacks, which only makes using the one and two segment attacks that much more critical to winning fights. I had no issues playing with the 360 controller. All the commands, combos, and special moves were easy enough to pull off, but for those seeking the ultimate arcade expeirence it's worth noting that there is a custom Mortal Kombat Fighting Stick accessory available.
The lengthy story mode is a great way to get introduced to the large cast of fighters and experience all the locations, and there is some surprisingly good voice acting. Some fights are incredibly hard, and there were several choke points in the game (usually where I was forced to fight two opponents) and I simply could not proceed and had to call in a few more skillful players to get past those key battles. Completing the daunting 300-match ladder tournament is one of those goals that will lurk in the sidelines for months to come, but the main attraction, as always, is the multiplayer; the true test of your skills and mastery of your chosen character.
Local multiplayer is flawless, with instant response to your button presses, smooth animation, and fluid framerates. Things get a bit more problematic when you go online. There is a bit of inherent lag in the online modes and it only gets worse depending on the connection quality of your opponent. Leaderboards and a spectator mode will certainly keep people playing online and hopefully the lag will be addressed in a future patch.
I enjoyed this new vision of Mortal Kombat more than any previous edition in the franchise. It has some issues, mostly in the single-player game, but all the hardcore fighters are here for the human-on-human interactions so it probably isn’t a deal-breaker. If you love Mortal Kombat or just want to play an uber-violent and bloody fighting game then Mortal Kombat is the reigning champ and definitely worth adding to your collection.