Mortal Kombat X
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Android, Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3, iPad, Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Mortal Kombat X is the third game from the nascent NetherRealm studio created by Warner Bros. after Midway - owners of the franchise - filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Each of the previous games put them in good stead for this tenth Kombat game - namely the reboot in 2011 plus Injustice: Gods Among Us, or Mortal Kombat: DC Comics Version. The gameplay is largely similar, focussing on combat built around four key button inputs, special moves, combos and more, with the key draw an involved and what was a very atypical way to tell a story in fighting games, but readily accepted nonetheless. Once that’s done there’s plenty of other content to keep folk entertained, and entertained they shall be along the way, even if the depth might be a little too shallow for fans of other fighters coming on board.
Mortal Kombat was America’s answer to Street Fighter. It was all about style, and gore, and had gazillions of fans back in the 90’s. It lost its way over time but NetherRealm and Warner Bros. brought it back to life and did it well. The aforementioned story mode - perhaps the biggest single improvement - was fantastic then, and is again now. Instead of having really poor character-specific still screenshots and horrific voiceovers once the final boss has been defeated, here we have one long story encompassing all characters - playable and non-playable - in one joined-up piece of fiction. Within this you get to be involved through various Quicktime Events (QTE) and one-on-one fights littered throughout. It’s a wonderful idea, still, and really makes the purchase worth it. The QTE can surprise when you’re just enjoying the over-the-top ridiculousness occurring onscreen, but they make sure you remain engaged and prep you for the actual fighting.
The story is where most will head first, but it’s actually not available until you’ve played through the tutorial. Whilst an immediately offensive design decision, over time we realised it was a big help, ensuring we got familiar not only with the usual mechanics of a Mortal Kombat game - front and back punch, front and back kick, fatalities and so on - but also the newly added ones, such as the ability to enhance special moves, or break combos using parts of the X-ray meter (kind of like the EX meter in Street Fighter), as well as explaining how to build combos via juggling and otherwise. For a newcomer it’s essential, for an experienced pro a good reminder and all round the tutorial is a good place to build a foundation for yourselves before tackling any offline or online play.
The roster of this latest addition to the stable of Kombat games is twenty-four, including eight new cast members. All but one of them are available from the start, with the final character unlockable through normal play. There are further avatars available via DLC (including day one - yay!) expanding the lineup further still. Many of the newcomers are related to favourites of the past and help ground this entry’s future-setting in some kind of reality. Each character has three variations, which means they can go into battle with a different moveset and some differences in their getup. Other outfits can be obtained through the Krypt, along with all kinds of other unlockables. The Krypt is where you can use in-game Koins. Unlike normal static stores, this forms a meta-game itself, where you in first person mode can move around the Krypt opening tombstones, collecting items and warding off beasties who jump out at you with the sole intent of scaring you to death. It’s different, but after about twenty-seven seconds, frustratingly irritating. You can unlock all Krypt items in one go, if you’d like to pay for it. Annoyingly, if you go for the unlock as you go along option, you don’t know what something is until you’ve spent your Koins. That means it could be a new fatality input (you can always execute a fatality and unlock it that way, rather than searching the Krypt) or a piece of character art.
Fatalities, brutalities and X-ray moves are what makes a Mortal Kombat game a Mortal Kombat game. X-ray moves are the easiest to do, given all that’s needed is to press L2 and R2 at the same time once the X-ray meter is full. If you do so successfully you’re treated to an incredibly graphic and often painful special move sequence which will make you go “wow”, “ewww” or wince in pain depending on your disposition. Fatalities are how to execute your opponent when you’ve done them in; the moves are not too hard to input but they can be made simpler still by purchasing easy fatality tokens in the store. Brutalities are finishing moves like the fatality, and equally impressive when seen onscreen.
There's a lot of gameplay content in this game once you’ve completed the story. There are various towers to try out. Klassic Tower is where you fight ten different opponents on your way to the top. This is one of the traditional towers, of which other variations mix-up the settings whereby you fight opponents with random modifiers, or of increasing difficulty, perhaps even with ever-dwindling health carried over from bout to bout. Living towers are updated periodically by NetherRealm and will have different requirements at each point in time. There is local multiplayer and of course online, where you should expect to spend most of your time once story mode is done. There are various modes here from ranked matches one-on-one, to the option to join a room from where you can challenge or be challenged by folks to various modes of battle, all the while seeing your chances of winning before entering into such a contract. When playing offline and online you earn faction points - adding to the total points earned across the world by your chosen group out of five - which can lead to periodic rewards, such as Koins earned thanks to your part in success. You also earn XP, allowing you to rank up over time as well, which is obtained for doing anything and everything in the game.
The presentation is befitting of a current generation game and a step-up from the last iteration in 2011. The graphics of fatalities and so on benefit from this, giving them a really in-your-face feel. The story mode makes the whole thing feel as slick as a Hollywood movie, and it also has big voice talent from Troy Baker (obviously as he’s in everything) to Tricia Helfer and Kelly Hu. The art direction, animations and sound are all excellent here. The gameplay is locked to 60fps on PS4, though this isn’t the case on all platforms. The exceptions to this are fatalities, brutalities and cutscenes, which play out in 30fps, presumably due to their extra complexity. It’s noticeable, but not a problem as no inputs are required once you’ve kicked things off. Online matches are dependent on how good a connection you have with your opponent. We found matches fine if we had a green, or even yellow at times, indicator. The netcode is perfectly serviceable. You’ll likely find that a bigger challenge online (and off) is just the speed of play. It’s somewhere between slow and fast and this can be difficult to get used to if coming from other fighters. Animations whilst they look good can be hard to get to grips with in terms of hitboxes and connectivity. You’ll take a while to get used to when to kick after jumping and so on. Executing combos is quite a learning curve, too, due to the timing needed between inputs to make them work here. If you can get to grips with it, winning becomes straightforward as you destroy everything in your path, finishing the opponent along the way.
Ultimately what NetherRealm have done is moved the needle forwards in their execution of a proper fighting game. It’s very Mortal Kombat which is what the fans would want. It has a story mode similar to that which has gone before, again a major bonus given it’s unmatched by any game except for NetherRealm’s input to date. The mechanics have been built on, with more complexity and depth, designed to attract fans of other series. The content is sizable and will keep happy Kombatants going for weeks. If you’re a completionist, expect to play for tens of hours as you work towards that platinum trophy. So then: it’s Mortal Kombat, improved. It’s an evolution and not a revolution, and that’s what fans would have wanted.