Reviewed: January 18, 2003
Released: November 20, 2002
The Mortal Kombat franchise has been around since my high school arcade days. I was never any good at the game mainly because I didn’t have the time, tokens, or patience required to learn all the moves, combos, and fatalities required to be remotely competitive with any of the other MK-gods in my local arcade.
By the time this franchise came home to consoles like the PlayStation and N64 there were plenty of other fighting games out there that looked and played better. I managed to avoid the Mortal Kombat series until 1999 when I was given the chance to review Mortal Kombat 4 on both the PSX and N64 systems. While this title was the Midway’s first 3D attempt at the fighting genre, it still failed to impress. Now, almost four years later, Midway manages to lure me back into their fight club with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance.
Deadly Alliance breaks out of the traditional MK mold by offering an excellent 3D fighting system, multiple fighting styles, and a more involved combo system. Gruesome fatalities have been greatly reduced in number and brutality and the ridiculous Babalities, Animalities, and Friendships have been eliminated. What’s left is a deep fighting game with a huge library of moves that will tax your memorization skills and your dexterity.
Fans of the series will be shocked during the open movie, which wastes no time in killing off Liu Kang, one of the most popular fighters in the franchise. Liu Kang has traditionally been the character to play if you wanted to walk all over the rest of the fighters. With Liu Kang out of the picture Midway is practically forcing you to experiment and learn to play with the rest of the cast, which includes 23 fighters including favorites like Raiden, Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Sonya, and Johnny Cage.
Deadly Alliance loads you down with gameplay options and features, including the largest section of unlockable items I’ve ever seen in a fighting game. As you play the Konquest mode you will earn coins of various types (six in all). You can then take your loot into the Krypt and spend various amounts to unlock any of the 676 Koffins organized in a 26x26 grid. Some Koffins contain cool things like new arenas, costumes, and characters, but most simply contain a bunch of random artwork, photos of the design team, clues about the contents of other coffins, and some are even empty.
There are plenty of game modes for both single and multiplayer fighting, including your typical Arcade, Versus, Training, and my personal favorite, Konquest, which is a story driven tutorial that you can take each character through to learn the various fighting styles, combos, and earn lots of coins. By the time you finish the Konquest mode with each character you will be a master of their moves, at least until you play with the next character and forget everything you just learned.
The biggest addition to the gameplay is the highly advanced fighting system that now makes use of just about every fighting style in existence. Remember that scene from the Matrix where Neo is getting his brain infused with all of those fighting styles and they are scrolling by two or three per second. Styles like Tae Kwon Do, Kenpo, Kirehashi, and countless others are all available for you to master.
Each character can switch between any of their three styles (or stances) at will, and many of the combos actually require style changes in mid-combo. There is usually one style that is a weapon’s based attack that will allow your fighter to draw and use various weapons specific to that character. Learning these styles and how they all combine to make the most deadly combos will take a lot of practice and patience.
All of these new styles and combos mean that this is the most challenging Mortal Kombat in the history of the series. Using no less than seven buttons to control your fighter, Deadly Alliance is going to test your dexterity as well as “your might”. The first obstacle to overcome is the digital control system that uses the D-pad to control your fighter. While this won’t be a problem for old-school gamers that are used to the D-pad it could be a problem for the new generation of gamers who are more comfortable with the analog stick. And even though the D-pad offers a much more precise method of tapping the correct direction, I have yet to find a GameCube controller from any manufacturer that offers a D-pad that is remotely functional for actual gameplay.
The main buttons which are normally divided into punch and kick or high and low attacks are now simply called Attacks 1-4. To confuse the issue, no two buttons do the same thing for any two fighters, and even changing the fighting style of one fighter reassigns all functions to the face buttons. Confused? Wait until you play it.
Another important button is the Block button. Yes, you press a button to block. Those of you used to pushing the D-pad to block an attack will need to rethink your game. Blocking will become one of your favorite new commands in Deadly Alliance and it will probably save your ass more often than not.
Each character also has a Special Move, three actually, one for each stance, and depending on your chosen fighting style you can execute deadly throws, counter attacks, or gruesome impalements. It doesn’t get much cooler than sticking your sword through the belly of your enemy then watching as blood spurts from their gut for the remainder of the fight. Of course you can’t use your sword for the rest of the round. Mastering these Special Moves is one of the most important things you can do to make yourself competitive with the computer and anyone who dares challenge you to a match.
So, with all of the new moves, stances, combos, and complicated controls that change for each character you play, Deadly Alliance offers one of the richest fighting experiences you will likely find in the genre for quite some time. It also means there is a substantial learning curve. This is not a game you can pick-up and play, mash the buttons furiously, and become a master overnight. Prepare to spend countless hours practicing, memorizing, and perfecting your fighting technique and overcoming the limitations of the GameCube controller. The physical location of the GameCube controller's buttons is also not very intuitive making for a very frustrating gameplay experience.
The solo gamer will need to overcome the brutal AI of the computer-controlled fighters. Deadly Alliance does a good job of lulling you into a false sense of security with a few rounds of easy fights and quick victories. Then, just when you are about to criticize the game for being “too easy” one of the characters leaps off the screen and bashes you in the skull with your GameCube. Once the AI goes into overdrive you will see it blocking your best attacks and executing its own multi-hit combos that you would be lucky to pull off after a month of dedicated practice. In the end, like so many fighting games before it, you will simply look for the “tactical loophole” to beat these characters.
Fans of the original Mortal Kombat will remember the digitized sprites of the classic coin-op original that brought an almost cinematic style to the game and changed the face of arcade gaming for years to come. Things didn’t really change until the transition to 3D in Mortal Kombat 4, which was met with a mixed response. Fans of the series enjoyed the 2D rawness of the series and fans of the newer 3D games said that MK4 didn’t make the grade.
Deadly Alliance refines the 3D graphics with some gorgeous and interactive environments. I use the word "interactive" loosely, because once you start fighting in these arenas you will quickly realize the confines of those invisible walls that keep you from fully interacting with your surroundings. Sure, you can smash a vase or toss your opponent into the wall, but you cannot always go where you want or need to go.
The characters are as colorful and creative as the levels they fight in. Their textures are simply stunning and feature real-time facial damage. The more you fight the bloodier and more bruised each character becomes. This is the second game to use this technology (Rocky being the other) and the resulting effect is shocking and realistic. I can only hope we see this in every other game where the characters take and accumulate damage. I could even see this replacing the conventional damage/health bar someday.
Clothing is loose and flowing and the blood sprays freely. There are amazing particle and special effects such as rain, snow, sparks, fire, smoke, and gorgeous real-time lighting that interacts with both the fighters and their environments. Perhaps the most surprising visual observation is how the characters blend in with their backgrounds. All too often the characters seem to “pop off” their surroundings. Everything in Deadly Alliance shares a similar color palette and visual style.
Animation is fluid and all the moves blend together surprisingly well. Considering the sheer number of possibilities of moves and stance changes, there are no clunky transitions between moves or fighting styles. The combos flow together and if you manage to get the timing nailed you can pull off each fighter's one and only fatality.
Yes folks, those gory finishing moves that made this game the talk of the mall (and frequent Senate hearings) have been greatly reduced in number and gore. Gone are the days of ripping a character’s spine out of their body and dangling it in front of them and forget about ripping out their beating heart; you now get a bunch of comical fatalities that are so “Evil Dead over-the-top” you will laugh more than cringe.
Each of the fighters has a story that is told through non-animated cutscenes. These storyboards are colorful and interesting, and while I normally prefer flashy pre-rendered movies, these comic book-style narratives seem to be a growing trend in recent games, and they work really well with this particular title.
The menus and overall interface in Deadly Alliance rock. You have excellent portraits in the character select screens and preview images for the arenas. The unlockable bonus menu is designed as a huge cemetery with creepy krypts, eerie mist, and scary lighting effects. The overall presentation of this game is flawless.
Midway has become the “90210’s Peach Pit” of video games, using their recent titles to pimp out various newcomers in the music biz. For this game we are treated to the hard-driving tunes of Adema who grace us with an original song called “Immortal”. While the song isn’t terrible I have yet to hear anything that tops the killer soundtrack from the movie or even Tracy Lords techno rendition of the Mortal Kombat theme.
The score that accompanies the opening movie is perfect and creates an excellent mood that actually gets inside your head and stirs with your emotions. The chilling climax of the movie where Liu Kang heads to that great dojo in the sky is one of the most flawlessly executed scenes in video game cinema.
Sound effects are pretty standard. There’s not much you can do with a fighting game and Midway doesn’t try to reinvent the proverbial wheel. There are plenty of grunts and groans and a few occasional taunts. The most dynamic sound has to be the subtle yet clearly defined spraying and dripping of blood.
Deadly Alliance doesn’t offer Dolby Pro Logic II, but it does offer a standard surround mix that strangely doesn’t do a very good job mixing down to two-channels. What this means for stereo gamers is that you are in for a very bland and subdued audio experience. The announcer who introduces the players and encourages you to “Finish Him” is nearly inaudible unless you have a center channel. Those of you playing on a high-end audio system will get to enjoy an exceptional 3D experience that makes great use of positional audio to surround you in the action.
Fighting games are one of the few genres that have virtually unlimited replay value due to the multiplayer elements. Deadly Alliance is no exception, but where it does excel and surprise is in the meaty single player component. Not since Soul Calibur have I had this much single-player fun with a fighting game.
With 676 koffins to unlock, you will be playing this game and earning koins for weeks and months to come before you access every player, costume, level, and scrap of artwork available in the Krypt. While the Arcade mode is easily the fastest way to earn money, the Konquest mode is the most rewarding, as you learn the characters as well as earn money.
A typical trip through the Konquest mode will take you about an hour depending on your skill and how fast you can nail the timing of the more advanced moves and combos. Learning the buttons is not nearly as challenging as perfecting the timing of the button presses.
I was a bit apprehensive when I started to play Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. Having never been a hardcore fan of the series and being less-than-impressed with the one game (MK4) that I did play, I wasn’t expecting much. Fortunately, Midway has broken out of the confines of the original franchise and reinvented the legacy that is Mortal Kombat.
The sheer size and scope of this title will impress even the most jaded fighter, and the complex fighting system, multiple stances and styles and elaborate combo system will keep all but the most godlike of gamers busy for months to come. Deadly Alliance is easily the best Mortal Kombat in the history of the series, but I simply didn't find this version as playable or enjoyable as the other formats. It's nothing a good arcade stick or controller with a decent D-pad and button arrangement couldn't easily fix.