Reviewed: November 9, 2006
Released: October 9, 2006
Mortal Kombat was the first game that I ever beat. At the tender age of eight, I loved its ultra-realistic (for the time, at least) graphics, kung-fu style fighting and gruesome fatalities, which never failed to thoroughly disgust my mother. It was so different from other fighting games, and I remember feeling like a "grown-up" playing it, because after all, not just any kid was allowed to play a game with so much pixilated blood.
Looking back on the first Mortal Kombat, it's a real laugh that it was ever considered shocking. To be fair though, it certainly was the first video game of its kind and it did set a certain standard for its genre. Seven games later (and a few spin-offs here and there), Mortal Kombat is still phenomenally successful. Characters like Sub-Zero and Scorpion have become video game icons, and the series doesn't seem to be going away soon. However, with next-gen video game systems coming out and the industry standard for games ever rising, how well can the good old cheesy and gory series hold up?
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is the end of a chapter in Mortal Kombat history. What does that ending entail for its new beginning?
Armageddon's gameplay is divided up into several different modes. There is the traditional Arcade Mode that ends in the telling of the story of whichever character is played, Motor Kombat, which is a go-kart race with some of the characters, Kreate-a-Fighter, which allows players to create and customize their own warriors, and Konquest Mode, which follows the main, overarching story of Armageddon through two new warriors, Taven and Daegon. That's quite a bit of Mortal Kombat!
The roster of fighters is at 62 in Armageddon. Nearly every single warrior from Mortal Kombat's history shows up as a playable character, including fighters who have long since been dead according to the storyline. However, as all Mortal Kombat fans know, nobody has to stay dead in this series. There are always, always ways for these insistent warriors to come back for another round of bloody fights and fatalities. Unlike the last two Mortal Kombat games, Deadly Alliance and Deception, each character has two fighting styles instead of three, one hand-to-hand style, and one weapon style.
There are a few exceptions with the larger characters, usually former bosses such as Onaga, who have only one style to keep them balanced as fighters. The obvious reason for this, is that with 62 fighters, it would be difficult to give each one three unique fighting styles. In fact, some special moves and fighting styles, while given different names, are inevitably recycled amongst characters. This certainly is understandable with so many characters, although it is obvious that variety did have to be sacrificed at some points.
Still, the fighting does seem more streamlined with just the two fighting styles that most characters possess. Most characters also have new special moves along with some signature ones. There is also air kombat, which happens when both combatants (or kombatants, if you're a Mortal Kombat purist) are in the air together and blows connect. The result looks pretty cool, with fighters suspended in the air, fighting Matrix style. Fighting arenas have several ways to creatively kill opponents, or knock them through walls and floors to a different layer in the stage.
One of my favorites takes place in a bell tower, where players can knock opponents into a huge bell with resounding "gong" noise, as the opponent comically rattles along with the bell before falling into the base of the tower. Controls are nicely balanced, and while Armageddon is a bit more challenging than previous Mortal Kombat games, (the A.I. blocks and evades much more often in this game, even on easy settings), all it takes is some getting used to, and it does give the game a fresher feel. Unfortunately, freshness is something that it could have used more of all around.
Each character’s ending was, to say the very least, disappointing. I'm still waiting for Mortal Kombat to tell the characters' endings through cut-scenes, and while it is certainly not the only fighting game series to usually tell endings through a series of stills and some voice-overs, it is disappointing when players don't even get to see that. Every character's ending in Armageddon isn't even told through pictures; instead, their stories are told through a voice-over while they perform a kata. It's very, very dull.
Even worse than that, many of the stories make little sense and were obviously thrown together as an afterthought. There are no bios to unlock like there have been in the past, so character motivations and details are left almost completely out. The result is a poorly written storyline and a lack of distinct personality traits amongst the fighters. There really is no excuse for this.
Adding to the homogeneity of the 62 characters, fatalities are done in a completely different fashion they have been in the past. By pressing a certain order of buttons, you are given a time limit to maim your opponent and rip them apart as much as possible before executing a finishing move. The more destruction you do to them, and as long as you finish with a finishing move, the more koins you earn to buy clothing and moves for the Kreate-a-Fighter mode. There are no fatalities that are unique to each fighter. While I appreciated the attempt at a new approach, I also felt that it took away from the uniqueness of each character, and that it was sort of a let down as far as how what you can make your character do, which is basically tear limb after limb off.
Konquest Mode is different this time around as well. Instead of the heavily RPG style of MK Deception's Konquest, Armageddon's Konquest Mode is more of a beat 'em up action game this time around, much like Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. There are also elements of platform gaming in Konquest Mode, with instances of avoiding obstacles through careful timing and maneuvering. While not as open-ended as the last Konquest Mode that we saw, it still is a lot of fun, albeit a bit short. I only wish it had more of a role-playing feel to it, since the story is lacking elsewhere in the game.
Kreate-a-Fighter Mode is exactly what it sounds like: players can create their own fighters by customizing appearances, weapon and hand-to-hand fighting styles, special moves, and even biographies that will scroll over the character's kata if you beat arcade mode with him or her. Different moves, clothing and accessories can be bought with koins earned in arcade, motor kombat, and konquest modes. Kreate-a-Fighter boasts a lot of variety, which makes it a lot of fun, and mildly addictive. The only problem is that only one character can be made per account. I found myself with numerous accounts and started to confuse what password went with what account, and which character was on which account.
Also, when purchasing new items, the game automatically puts the accessory on your character, even if you just want to purchase it for another time. When you put the previous accessory back on your fighter, the color resets from what you may have changed it to, to the default color for that item. These problems are minor annoyances though, and overall, the Kreate-a-Fighter mode is very well put together.
The last bit of gameplay is Motor Kombat. Have you ever wanted to play a Mario Kart type game, only with Mortal Kombat characters and the risk of getting decapitated or burnt to a crisp on the raceway? Well, now you can! Motor Kombat is a rather simple go-kart racing game with cartoony, chibi Mortal Kombat characters who each possess a special move to execute against opposing players; for example, Raiden electrocutes people, Sub-Zero freezes them, etc., etc. While pretty fun for two players, Motor Kombat certainly isn't as unique or addictive as the Puzzle Kombat of Deception. It's a fun add-on, but I could honestly take it or leave it. It just doesn't have the same addictive charm as Puzzle Kombat did.
Overall, Armageddon is fun to play. However, while I appreciated the fan service in seeing all of the familiar faces of past warriors, the lack of personality and variety amongst them can't really be ignored. I have to hand it to Midway for trying to do as much differently as they could with so much material to deal with, but it feels as though perhaps it was too big of an endeavor to undertake, to try and not recycle or homogenize many aspects of the game.
One of the biggest complaints I have in the graphics department, is the fact that most of the characters, that is, the ones who have shown up from the last two installments of Mortal Kombat, all have the same costumes that they have had in those past games. Characters who we haven't seen in a while get makeovers of course, but come on. With such a staggeringly large roster of characters, I can understand the necessity of recycling fighting styles and moves, but why did Midway decide to recycle old character models as well?
It's a letdown to see the exact same character models as the last time and the time before that. Even if Midway had given each character one new and fresh look, such as just a different alternate costume, I would have been satisfied. There are only so many aspects of a game that can be repeated over and over again before it starts to feel tedious and sloppy on the game developer's behalf.
That said, the graphics are still decently well done. The CG movie we are shown at the beginning of the game is an absolute blast to watch. We are treated to an impressive scene of each and every Mortal Kombat character fighting each other in an all out free-for-all, and race each other to the top of a pyramid in a desert, where the final boss, Blaze, awaits to either take their lives, or grant them a massive amount of power.
Character renders are smooth, life-like, and just look very, very cool. Facial expressions, unique body language and attention detail are all present. And who wouldn't want to see all of these fighters beat the crap out of each other at the same time on a huge battlefield? I personally can't wait to see what the series has in store for the graphics on the next-gen gaming systems, since it appears that they have maxed out the current quality as far as CG goes.
Still, not all is perfect in Armageddon's graphics. CG rendering aside, the in game graphics do run into the occasional glitch here and there, namely with objects that are supposed to look like they are flowing, such as sashes on outfits or longer hair. Sindel's larger than life hair for instance, has a tendency to get "caught" on some other graphic and take on a bizarre life of its own.
Also, occasionally when switching fighting stances, characters will switch into the second style, but still stand as though they haven't switched stances, so it looks like they are holding an imaginary weapon. These are silly glitches, but they do occur more often than they probably should, which adds to the somewhat hasty feel Armageddon has overall.
In Deception, I remember Konquest Mode's voice acting took some getting used to. While some voice actors did a superb job, especially Shujinko's, others were stilted and awkward. I think that was perhaps an attempt on the developer's behalf to give it a somewhat badly translated king-fu movie feel to it, but it was a little awkward to listen to. For Armageddon, the voice acting in Konquest Mode feels a lot more smooth, professional, and fit to each unique character.
The fighter's voices are, no surprise here, as far as I can tell, the same voices from Deception. They make the same faux Chinese exclamations in battle, as well as grunts, screams, and all of that good stuff. Normally I wouldn't mind this. Outside of Konquest Mode, most of the character's don't talk. Sure, Jax sounds like a Shaft wanna-be, and Shao Khan does mock other characters verbally, despite looking like a professional wrestler in a silly helmet and BVDs, but for the most part, characters have never spoken much in battle.
Given all of the recycling of details in this game however, along with the homogeneity of characters due to their poorly written endings, I would have liked to at least hear something a little different come out of the character's mouths. Instead, they are just like they were in Deadly Alliance or Deception, and those who were not around sound more or less the same as those who were.
The music in Armageddon is, unfortunately, somewhat forgettable. There were some definite standout pieces in Deception, ranging from surprisingly beautiful classical Chinese sounds, to some very cool and heavy guitar riffs. Armageddon's soundtrack is quieter this time around, and subtler. Most of its music fades into the background, and is forgotten as soon as the screen changes. It's not exactly bad, but it's just kind of there, which is too bad. It's always fun to fight to cool soundtracks in video games, and when the soundtrack just sort of meanders, the whole experience seems to be missing a layer.
As far as how much there is to do in Armageddon, this game shines. As admittedly lame as each character’s ending is, there are still 62 playable characters to play as in the arcade mode. Two-player mode is a blast both in the traditional arcade mode and in the Motor Kombat. Konquest mode also has enough variety in playing style to keep it fun for fans of role-playing, action, beat 'em ups, platforming, and traditional fighting.
The Kreate-a-Fighter mode is probably what gives Armageddon the most value. With so much room to customize appearance, fighting styles and biographies, you'll probably find yourself getting addicted to creating fighter after fighter as you buy the many pieces of clothing and fighting styles. Armageddon also boasts fairly robust online capabilities, including up to eight-player Motor Kombat and more.
Even though Armageddon isn't a perfect game, and perhaps is weaker in some ways than it has been in the recent past, it undeniably offers a lot to its customers.
Mortal Kombat is a series that started out as cheesy and shockingly violent fighter. It has managed to become an increasingly more sophisticated series as time has passed, without losing the gory silliness that has won over so many fans. Armageddon is a testament to this. However, the Mortal Kombat series seems to have hit a wall in some ways, and could use a bit of a makeover. This may be due to the fact that there is so much in Armageddon, Midway perhaps bit off more than it could chew.
Whatever the case, Deception still seems to be Mortal Kombat's crowning achievement for now. While Armageddon is a solid game, and it did get a lot right, it also got a significant amount wrong. Not that that will keep me from anxiously awaiting the next installment.