Back when arcades and the SNES ruled the world, Mortal Kombat 2 became a huge part of my favorite gaming memories. Street Fighter 2 at the time may have been the “King” of fighters, but many gamers gave that crown to Capcom’s gory and violent rival. This latest entry on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 in the once great yet over milked franchise returns to its mid-1990’s roots and successfully recaptures those glory days.
Fighting games in general have never been known to offer exemplary storylines or franchise modes. In essence, two combatants enter a ring because they don’t like one another and the best man, woman or whatever leaves to fight the next match. What has always set Mortal Kombat apart from the pack is the trademark gore and signature characters that keep coming back for more. Any story is a bonus, and common threads do flow through the entire franchise with this latest installment included. To grade Mortal Kombat’s story against other genres is an injustice to fighting games. Within its own genre, Mortal Kombat offers just enough of what franchise veterans have come to expect.
Mortal Kombat is an homage to the first 3 games as well as a much needed reboot for the franchise. It offers a glimpse of the future where the fighters of good and evil have lost and Shao Kahn has destroyed them all. Raiden is the last to fall, and manages to send a message back in time to himself during the days of the original tournament in the form of a premonition. Seeing what the future holds, modern day Raiden and this latest Mortal Kombat begin down an alternate universe, somewhat resetting prior game events.
First and crucially foremost, Mortal Kombat has finally returned to the 2D fighting plane where it first gained notoriety and, in my opinion, belongs. Taking a cue from Street Fighter IV, it features 2D fighting with highly detailed 3D backgrounds powered by the UnReal Engine that make for a winning, albeit slightly flawed combination. Some of the human characters aren’t on par with the backgrounds or more exotic fighters as their skin and facial animations aren’t quite right. Real-time fight damage is a plus, but the unskipable cut-scenes leave something to be desired.
The combat system is simple to grasp as the series has always been, but there are layers of depth and strategy adding new depth to the series. Moves are still basically high and low attacks and defenses, but each one has a weight to it that needs to be played to be appreciated. You feel the impact of a punch or kick like a real 200lb MMA fighter would throw. The recipient shudders as he or she absorbs the assault and reacts realistically. Scorpion and Sub-Zero, or whoever is smashing into each other, is just awesome to experience over and over again.
A great addition to the fight arsenal is the three stage power gauge present with each match. Each segment of the gauge can be spent separately or as a whole to infuse some strategy elements for players not keen on simply mashing buttons. Segment one will up the ante on your special moves such as three fireballs instead of one. Utilizing two segments will allow you to break out of your opponents’ combo string, which is very handy once you see how fast your health bar can deplete. Waiting until your gauge has 3 segments full unleashes a devastating X-Ray move. This move can easily wipe away 25% of an opponent’s health or more in a gory instant. The camera zooms in and shows an internal glimpse of all sorts of physical horrors as bones fracture and organs rupture in gory detail. This is M-rated stuff for sure, and a fantastic addition to the series. Mortal Kombat has always been a slow and steady fighter rather than the seizure inducing pace of Japanese fighters and their 100 hit combos, and this latest entry stays true to that pace.
Fatalities, of course, are back and better than ever in Mortal Kombat. Each fighter has one Fatality unlocked and one locked that are extremely brutal and creative in a blood-soaked visceral way. Sub-Zero and Noob Saibot’s are especially insane and delightfully over-the-top.
Replaying the game to unlock all the Fatalities is a must, not to mention the very busy and popular online modes and a Challenge Tower offering somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 or 300 levels to conquer. The return of the Krypt to buy items and some hidden fights rounds out a collection of features that should extend Mortal Kombat’s play life for several months at least. For those with 3D hardware rigs, Mortal Kombat supports the third dimension so the 2D fighters really pop off the 3D backgrounds.
Mortal Kombat is the first entry into the franchise that I’ve truly enjoyed since Mortal Kombat 3. It gets back to the roots that made the series so controversial and popular. Bosses are still cheap, fights are still brutal, characters are still cool and you’ll forget about the wretched MK vs. DC debacle. Mortal Kombat has finally risen from its dusty hiatus and is relevant once again.
Note: The Playstation 3 version includes an exclusive Kratos playable character from the God of War franchise.
– Jason Krahn