First things first – I’m a fan of fighting games, specifically the Mortal Kombat series, so I do have certain influences going into this review. Still, Mortal Kombat X is by far the best Mortal Kombat game to date, and a very solid example of a competitive fighting game.
When the original Mortal Kombat was released in the early ’90s, it was considered to be Street Fighter 2‘s quirky little brother. It was (and still is) a fun game, but in terms of complexity, it couldn’t compete with the detailed mechanics employed in SF2. It thrived on the novel (at the time) use of digitised graphics, as well as the liberal use of violence and gore.
The subsequent nine or so iterations have each been both an improvement on the prior title and a continuation of the storyline – excluding of course MK vs DC Universe (which was a departure from the core story in order to tie in with the DC Universe), and 2011’s Mortal Kombat reboot, which essentially reset the story. Each title, though, has brought its own new mechanics in addition to bucketloads of content. Mortal Kombat X doesn’t disappoint in any of these areas.
Set 25 years in the future the story is a continuation of what was told in the brilliant 2011 reboot (which explains why many of the new characters are children or relatives of existing characters). At this time, the fallen Elder God Shinnok has been resurrected, and is making his claim on Earthrealm. Under the protection of Raiden, Earthrealm has forged a tenuous pact with Kotal Khan, the new leader of Outworld, in order to hold back the threat. While highly fantastical, the story told in Mortal Kombat X is quite easily the best in any of the series, with somewhat logical twists and turns that lead to a solid climax. NetherRealm Studios have clearly learned their lesson from 2011’s Mortal Kombat, which suffered from a nonsensical story that, while still enjoyable, was laughable at times.
As a result of this more logical storyline, the Story Mode does not allow for players to use every character in the game. The story is played out over 12 chapters, each dedicated to a single character and comprising 4 matches and occasional quick-time events (not enough to be annoying, and suited to the narrative). While this does mean that the Story Mode is much shorter than in the previous titles, it’s also more satisfying.
Where Mortal Kombat X does differ from its predecessor is in regards to challenges – the previous title included a “Challenge Tower” of up to 300 challenges, each with their own stipulations (no jumping, for example, or one hit kills). Here, the same kinds of challenges are employed over multiple randomised Challenge Towers – there’s the traditional “Klassic” tower, where players choose a character and fight through 10 opponents (also providing an individual story per character), in addition to Test your Might, Test Your Luck, and Survival towers, among others. Further, the game offers what is called “Living Towers”, which are time-limited challenges that net players benefits such as XP (likely used in matchmaking), Koins (used to unlock the thousands of assets on offer), and Faction Points – which I’ll explain shortly. These Living Towers are occasionally themed, such as the “Lost Shokan” Premier Tower, which allows players to play several rounds as Goro, regardless of whether he is unlocked on their system. While the amount of varying content on offer is astounding, I felt this was less accessible to more casual players – there was no clear incentive for players to choose to play a tower on finishing the Story Mode. With so much on offer, it was somewhat overwhelming. That said, when I got stuck into it, I found each tower immensely enjoyable.
Another new addition is the Faction War. Here, players choose a faction, and any actions performed accrue points towards that faction. There are even new “Faction Kills,” which are essentially Fatalities that are rewarded more Faction Points on use. After 7 days, the faction with the most points is declared the winner and its players are awarded… something special (likely Koins and XP). It’s an interesting concept, but so far has proven somewhat uninteresting, given the majority of players have been choosing the same faction. Players can switch factions, though, and trophies/achievements support this, so hopefully over time the imbalance will be negated.
NetherRealm has also tried to expand their online offering, this time going beyond simple online matches and allowing for a number of different online modes. Included in this are the standard versus match, as well as Team Battles and King of the Hill – the latter of which I found immensely enjoyable. Simply jump into a King of the Hill battle with up to 7 other players, and wait in line until it’s your turn to fight the current “King” (essentially, the winner continues fighting until they are dethroned). This is a great opportunity to watch other players fight, and pick up a pointer or two.
In regards to the gameplay itself, NetherRealm has clearly put a lot of effort into refining the mechanics. The game moves at a great clip and the animations are smooth and responsive, which is important for a game of this type. Special moves are extremely varied – in fact, every character has 3 variations, each of which plays a little differently to the others, with new special moves in addition to the core set. Scorpion, for example, can summon a fire demon in one variation, and can shoot fireballs in another, but can throw his harpoon in all three variations. Initially, I found this annoying and strange, but on experimenting I’ve found that each variation is so different from the others that they can almost be considered completely different characters.
Perhaps more importantly, complex combos are available, along with combo breakers, block breakers, wake up attacks, cancels, juggling – making this is the first Mortal Kombat to really feel like something that belongs in the Tournament circle. 2011’s Mortal Kombat was close, but I’m really looking forward to watching skilled players at competitions in the near future. With 24 playable characters “out of the box,” each with 3 variations, there’s a lot to be learned, but I found that virtually every character was fun to play. Perhaps more importantly, though, there wasn’t any one character that could be considered over powered – balance is important in fighting games, and this is why the variations are really interesting. While the stock-standard Sub Zero may have trouble against fast-moving brawler-type characters, players might find that the “Unbreakable” variation gives them the upper hand, as that variation is more focused on defence.
On top of all this, Brutalities make a triumphant return; although, given there are pre-requisites that must be adhered to before the move can be performed, they are so hard to pull off that it’s frustrating. Alongside Fatalities and X-Ray attacks (previously seen in Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Men, also developed by NetherRealm) these are gruesome, andextremely realistic – this title is not for the faint of heart, and the gore can not be switched off.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat if there wasn’t an inventive way to discover the huge amount of assets on offer – from concept art to alternate costumes, to additional fatalities and more, the Krypt has been a mainstay since Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (although it skipped MK vs DCU). In Mortal Kombat X, the Krypt plays out in a similar fashion to an old first-person RPG – there are even a few monsters running about that will pounce on you from time to time. It doesn’t get more complicated than that, you simply walk about an old graveyard and use your Koins to unlock bonuses, but it has its own kind of charm.
Presentation wise, Mortal Kombat X is gorgeous – the high resolution capabilities of modern consoles, along with additional processing power, demonstrates some highly impressive lighting features that really add to the realism. The animations for each character are also more varied, with fighters responding to attacks in a much more realistic manner, making the fights look so much more brutal. Add to this the stage interactions borrowed from Injustice (where players can jump off the environment to get out of a sticky situation, for example, or throw stage elements at an attacker) – I really felt the stages were much more of a living, breathing element than in prior titles.
Is it perfect? Well, perhaps NetherRealm has gone overboard with content in this release, as the amount of choice on hand is overwhelming for both casual and hardcore players alike – albeit for different reasons. Casual players may not know where to go once they’ve finished the core game, and hardcore players may just find there are too many characters and variations to master. On top of this, there are some moves (such as the uppercut) that are surprisingly more powerful than many special moves, which means that it’s likely we’ll see the usual jump-kick-uppercut routines that used to play out in the ‘90s. Skilled players can certainly overcome this, but it is frustrating.
I guess the biggest nit-pick would have to be around the DLC that is on offer. On one hand, the standard items are a little pricey – the Kombat Pack (which unlocks additional characters that will be released over a staggered period) is priced at almost $40, for example, and the Blue Steel alternate costume for Sub Zero just shy of $3. However, on the other hand, there are some interesting, yet controversial, additions – “Easy” Fatality tokens can be purchased for a few dollars, allowing you to pull off complex Fatalities with a couple of button presses. Personally, I don’t find this an insult, as purchasing these will not impact the game in any way – in fact, it would be remiss of me not to mention that you can actually pause the game to review the standard Fatality button combinations, so it’s almost a pointless offering.
Further, there is the offer to unlock everything within the Krypt for $29.95… This is a lot of money for something that players have already purchased, but I will say this – NetherRealm is offering those that have the money the opportunity to be lazy, and to experience everything they have on offer, should they choose to pay what is being asked. Those who don’t see a need for it shouldn’t put their money down – it seems a little silly, but it’s not pay to win so it really shouldn’t have caused the uproar that it has… I’ve seen some articles where individuals have called for a boycott in protest, but the idea is absurd. If you don’t want to pay for these things, don’t. That said, the price for the Kombat Pack is a little depressing, and I’m having a hard time deciding if it’s too much for something that I do want…
Overall, Mortal Kombat X is the best Mortal Kombat game in the series by far, and the best fighting game I’ve played in a long while. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and should suit most gamers, but if you’re not a fan of fighting games, then it probably won’t convert you. If you are, though – even if you only kind of like them from time to time – it’s one you shouldn’t miss… Unless you’re squeamish. Then I’ll give you a pass.