This new Mortal Kombat is the ninth in the series – a series which has come a long way since its debut in arcade and on home consoles in 1992. The first three games and their special editions set the standard for the series. Beyond that, things got a bit unwieldy with multiple combat stances, a 3D fighting plane and weapons being introduced. Although not entirely terrible, for many fans these games failed to capture the magic of the original trilogy.
Enter 2011’s Mortal Kombat 9 – simply titled Mortal Kombat. This game returns to the roots of the series in terms of both gameplay and story. It was intended to serve as homage to those classic titles, a tribute to fans through its redesign, and as a starting point to introduce a new generation of gamers to the series.
The game was developed by NetherRealm studios, which was born of the ashes of WB Games Chicago, which was formed from the liquidation of Midway Games. Mortal Kombat series co-creator Ed Boon leads the studio, so the pedigree is definitely there – and it shows. During the development the team interacted with fans to find out exactly what they wanted from this Mortal Kombat game.
The Mortal Kombat Story
Mortal Kombat 9 is a reboot of sorts – it revisits the universe of Mortal Kombat, MKII, and MK3 but retells the events of those games with an alternate history. This is because Raiden, about to be killed by Shao Kahn, sends a message back in time to his past-self in a final attempt to prevent the destruction of all realities. As past Raiden tried to fathom the premonitions he is experiencing, so the events unfold differently. I obviously don’t want to give away the plot, but rest assured, there is a great (inevitable) cliff-hanger right at the end setting up a sequel.
The story features a lengthy and substantial plot, encompassing the events of the original trilogy, and despite coming across as slightly B-grade (some might argue that this is signature of the Mortal Kombat series), it is a lot of fun to play through and experience. There are plenty of cutscenes to introduce the numerous characters and set the stage for various fights, and all are directed and composed quite well.
Players will find themselves introduced to playable characters one at a time, each given their own short story arc including three or four opponents to fight. I found this to be a great way to become accustomed to the game and get a decent feel for the characters’ abilities. Despite the sweeping scope of the story and the constraints of the one-at-a-time character introduction, NetherRealm manages to ensure that things flow nicely.
Visuals and sound
Mortal Kombat presents itself as a game that was lovingly crafted. Attention has been paid to recreating the visceral nature of the Outworld and the environments in which players will be fighting. Attention has been paid to detail and levels with unique animations and sometimes deadly features make the Mortal Kombat world an enticing one in which to have a fight. Depending on the level, players can for example throw one another into oncoming traffic, dunk heads into lava, or into the classic pit of spikes.
The audio deserves a brief mention. While the visuals take the lead role, the audio is implemented very well and complements the gameplay action. The classic announcer voice is just how you’d expect, and conjures memories of “Finish Him!” drifting across the arcade floors of yore. The character’s cries of pain and exertion are urgent and believable and the effects associated with the various attacks are all sufficiently meaty and brutal. The dynamic background music is done perfectly, in the sense that it doesn’t intrude over the audio cues one may rely on the avoid opponents attacks. It simply remains in the background, setting a musical tone for the carnage.
Just in case you weren’t aware, Mortal Kombat is 100% adult themed when it comes to blood and gore. Characters reveal damage models as they progressively take a beating, with vicious wounds and shredded costumes showing. The fatalities, while often humourous, are also absolutely brutal. If you have a problem with seeing humanoids dismembered, eviscerated, dis-emboweled, immolated and otherwise reduced to a bloody pulp (all in fabulously gory, brutal, visceral HD glory), then perhaps you should walk away from Mortal Kombat.
One of the coolest visual additions to the game is the X-ray move, which can be executed after filling a 3-stage power meter. The X-ray attack is a particularly vicious signature move by each character, which displays the internal damage to bones and organs in an X-ray closeup. This is not only fun to watch, but of strategic importance.
The characters themselves are all thoroughly well-designed and updated to give them a modern look when compared to their progenitors. Their design helps them convincingly project their personality, becoming more than simple tools with which to fight. Scorpion is full of fiery rage and his powerful and brutal combat moves show this. Johnny Cage is brash and arrogant; Quan Chi is cold and calculating; the various cyborg ninja’s each bring their own style of high-octane precision. All round, I was thoroughly impressed with how much personality was delivered through the fighters – more so than many fighter games I’ve played of late. Check out the list of playable characters at the bottom of this review.
The most important element of the game has been pulled off very effectively. The fat accumulated by previous titles has been trimmed, and we are left with simplified attack mechanics that anyone can easily become familiar with, but will take some practice and patience to master.
There are four basic attack moves – low punch, high punch, low kick, high kick – and a block button. Combining these moves with direction keys delivers a unique flourish of an attack for each character. While they may for the most part attack at the same height, and some moves are universal, learning the speed and correct time to use them is important. Further combining specific key combinations will produce combo moves (unique for each character) that are rather damaging when pulled off effectively and chained with other combos.
Then there are of course the special moves for each character – Scorpion’s spear and Sub-zero’s ice ball for example. Fans will recognise the classic moves and be pleasantly surprised by a few new ones thrown in. These moves are of course powerful and prone to abuse by newcomers to the game. However, an experienced player will find they can learn to dodge or block these manoeuvres and effectively counter them.
The X-ray move has been mentioned previously – it is powerful when used correctly, but can be a devastating failure when avoided or blocked. The 3-stage power meter can be employed to enhance special attacks (1 level), block combo attacks (2-levels), or launch an X-ray attack (all 3 levels). This adds a layer of strategy to its use – one can endeavour to fill the bar and launch an X-ray attack at the risk of having it dodged; or use the power levels to strategically launch a flurry of enhanced special moves and combo strings which can be just as effective damage-wise.
The game has been moved back to a side-on 2.5D fighting plane which will likely look pretty damn awesome on a stereoscopic 3D set up. It’s great to see Mortal Kombat doing things as it always should have been. No longer will players be fumbling with 3D combat planes and various combat stances – the game focuses on the core elements of timing, combo-strings and out-witting your opponent.
To enjoy the refined combat NetherRealm has provided a number of modes. A welcome mode is the fatality training which shows distance boxes and the key combinations so that one may perfect humiliating their opponents. The traditional Arcade ladder of 10 opponents ending with Shao Kahn is present, as is a Tag Team ladder. For versus mode fighting, up to four players can participate in Tag Team battles.
There is a massive challenge tower of 300 levels to conquer. Each level issues a challenge, such as the classic Test Your Might/Sight/Strike/Luck, along with some imaginative uses for the various characters, such as using Striker’s gun and Cyrax’s grenades to take down an encroaching horde of Outworld zombies. There should be more than enough to keep even the most OCD gamer occupied for a long time.
The reward for completing challenges (indeed, for completing anything throughout htegame) is Koins. These Koins can be used to unlock all sorts of goodies scattered throughout The Krypt. The goodies include new Fatalities, Bablities, alternate costumes, concept art, etc. The Krypt itself is a pretty cool place to explore – a 3D environment filled with tortured souls, gruesome totems and demonic wards.
Then of course there is the online mode – which we could not test thanks to the extensive PSN downtime. NetherRealm promised that the netcode for the online gameplay was a top priority for them, and many competitive PS3 Mortal Kombat players will likely begin taking the game very seriously when they can finally get online. Unfortunately, reports from around the web have cast the Xbox 360 version netcode as something awful – hopefully this will be fixed in due course.
2011’s Mortal Kombat is a triumphant return to form for the series, and should set a new benchmark for how the series is to be done. Veterans will enjoy the throwback to the good old days of the original trilogy and the modern gory visuals. Newcomers shouldn’t have too much trouble coming to grips with the friendly combat mechanics, but they will likely spend a lot of time mastering the nuances of the various characters. Mortal Kombat has once again cemented itself as the most brutal (and arguably the most fun) fighter out there – may it long bear the accolade.
Mortal Kombat 2011 review (PS3) << Comments and views
Mortal Kombat 9 – List of playable characters
• Johnny Cage
• Kratos (PS3 exclusive)
• Kung Lao
• Liu Kang
• Noob Saibot
• Quan Chi
• Shang Tsung
• Cyber Sub-Zero