The tenth installment in the hugely popular and violent Mortal Kombat series is here, this time sensibly named Mortal Kombat X. In some ways, this is developers NetherRealm Studios second stab at the franchise. With series co-creator Ed Boon at the helm, is Mortal Kombat X a winner, or has the fighting game been dealt a fatality? Greg Glorious – a Singapore Pro Wrestling athlete who knows a thing or two about fighting (he’s also a long-time gamer – he’s been gaming since the 1970s or something) – steps into the ring to give us his view.
My earliest memory of Mortal Kombat was playing the neutered SNES version of the original game – yes, the one that replaced blood with “sweat”. Given Singapore’s censorship laws, this was the only legitimate way of playing the game at the time! Stripped of its trademark blood and violence, what was left was a decent fighter with somewhat clunky controls and pretty digitised graphics.
For the longest time, Mortal Kombat had been all about the fatalities. With each new installment, people would check in to see how the creative / sick people at developers Midway Games would top themselves, and in this area the franchise seldom failed to deliver (though I would argue that the iconic Sub-Zero spinal extraction from the first game remains the Best Fatality Ever). However when it came to being a competitive fighting game, Mortal Kombat’s fighting engine always felt more unwieldy and choppy than Street Fighter or any of the SNK games.
This changed dramatically in 2011, when NeatherRealm Studios developed and released the Mortal Kombat reboot. This brought about significant changes to the ebb and flow of combat (kombat?), supplemented by an ingenious three-tier super meter that allowed players to modify special moves or, best of all, trigger bone-cracking moves shown in slow-motion X-ray vision. More forgiving controls made the series more welcoming to casual players, rendering both combos and special moves much easier to perform. Not only was it now easier to execute fatalities, but getting there was a lot of fun too.
Mortal Kombat X, the first in the series to be developed specifically for next-gen consoles, is a natural progression of the series towards becoming a true competitive fighting game, and the structure the fighting engine is built around isn’t half bad either.
First up, the combat in this game is brutally visceral and extremely fast. Running at 60fps (Eurogamer reports a drop to 30fps during X-ray moves, though this doesn’t impact gameplay) results in little to no input lag. Combine this with the lenient timing required for special moves and the series’ trademark dial-a-combos and you have a fighting game that is truly a joy to play. I also love that key special moves are instantly viewable on the pause screen, a concession to busy gamers who simply don’t have the time to memorise long chains of move lists these days.
The fighters and backgrounds look great at 1080p, though at this point in next-gen you would expect nothing less. This is likely to be the last game in the series to run on Unreal Engine 3 though, as it’s starting to look a little dated. The cast of 29 (23 available at the start) is extensive, with a mix of fan favourites and creative new entrants, some with familial ties to the original cast. Somewhat randomly, Jason (of Friday the 13th fame) and Predator are or will also be available as DLC.
MKX brings with it several additional ways to mix up your game. Taking a page from Injustice: Gods Among Us (by the same developers), several background elements are interactive – these could be evasive, such as vaulting off a stone statue, or offensive, my personal favourite being grabbing an innocent villager and hurling him at your opponent.
New to the series are different fighting styles for different characters, resulting in variations to each character’s moveset and special moves. For example, Sonya Blade’s “Special Forces” variant allows her to call in a drone to enable additional attacks. While the typical player such as myself would settle on one variant and stick with it (today’s pressures of work and life don’t allow the luxuries of mastering 3 styles per character, sadly), these variants give players the additional challenge of having to quickly adjust to opponents adopting differing styles as well.
The game’s story mode, as with the Mortal Kombat reboot and Injustice, is surprisingly lengthy, spanning 12 chapters and tying together most of the game’s major characters. One thing I didn’t appreciate was Quick Time Events being interspersed throughout the game’s cut scenes – these added nothing to the gameplay, and felt like the game was just making sure you were paying attention. Adding to the game’s appeal to casual players, every fight in story mode is skippable. Can’t get past a certain fight? Don’t want to play as a particular character? The next cut scene is but a button press away. This might seem a bit of a cop-out to hardcore gamers, but you could always ignore the option!
Besides the story mode and the typical series of increasingly difficult fights (called Towers here), the game also offers a Test Your Luck mode. This introduces a series of wacky modifiers into each fight, ranging from dropping decapitated heads around the playfield to stun fighters, to lasers panning across the fight scene at random intervals. Fun for a short distraction, but not particularly game changing.
More interesting are the Living Towers, a series of server-hosted challenges that are changed at daily and hourly intervals, potentially keeping the game fresh for months to come. In general, NetherRealm have made several efforts to embrace the game’s online component, some more successful than others. They’ve also introduced a meta-game, Faction Wars, in which players’ actions while playing the various game modes add points to their faction of choice, resulting in rewards being distributed to the winning faction’s members at the end of each “war” timer. NetherRealm deserve points for trying, though this mode didn’t particularly add much to my gaming experience – typically I would pop in, complete my 3 challenges for the day, and check back in at the end of the week to see if my faction won (Protip: Nobody wants to be in the Special Forces).
Lastly, MKX also hides a wealth of unlockables, including secret fatalities and concept art. These are unlocked in the Krypt, a first person dungeon-crawler-like game where you use coins collected in game to smash open statues, while hoping you don’t get jump-scared by another frickin’ giant spider in the caves. I’ve yet to find everything in the Krypt as the map is truly massive, but this has thus far been a fun distraction from the main game.
In short, MKX is fantastic, and the fighting engine is the best the series has ever been. The game’s sufficiently accessible to casual gamers, but also offers enough technical depth to appease the hardcore fanbase. If you’ve been away from the series for awhile, this is the one to get you back into it. If you’ve played the MK reboot extensively, this is more of the same but better. Oh and if you’re in it just for the fatalities (you sick person, you), you won’t be disappointed either.
Note: As with all modern fighting games, online versus play is available, though I didn’t have a chance to test this component.
Mortal Kombat X is available now for PC at S$69.90, PS4 at S$79.90, PS4 Collector’s Edition at S$169.00, Xbox One at S$79.90 and Xbox One Collector’s Edition at S$169.00.