REVIEW: MORTAL KOMBAT X

The Mortal Kombat series, with Mortal Kombat X available now for PS4, Xbox One and PC, and on 360 and PS3 2nd June, is one of the longest running and well known fighting games in the industry, spawning off into Films, TV Shows, Comics, the list goes on. It made its mark in 1992, earning a reputation for its high levels of violence and gory finishing moves called Fatalities, and now over twenty years later it remains a prominent franchise. The tenth game in the series is today’s focus, and goes to prove that the series is just as kick ass now as it was back in the arcade.

Gameplay feels fantastic, with a sense of impact to the hits and simple combos that feel and look good to pull off. Special moves have different variations too, depending on directions pressed and can be worked into combos for stronger attacks. A new addition to the game is stamina, which depletes when you dash too much or interact with the environment, though it doesn’t seem to be all that noticeable. The small combos help the game feel accepting to newcomers, while the different strategies tied to the different characters and the multiple variations of special moves, so an easy to learn, hard to master scenario.

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The special meter down at the bottom however has more of a use, allowing for enhanced special moves, combo breakers, and devastating X-ray moves that allow you to watch your opponents bones shatter from your attacks. Each character has three variation, which switch out some of the special techniques and allow for different combos, like how one of Scorpion’s styles gives him a pair of swords, while another grants him access to more fire attacks, giving him a flame aura around his arms.

This feels like it helps to add more variation to fights. One opponents isn’t going to be the same as another, so you have to change up your own fighting style accordingly, less you get caught off guard. A cool addition is the ability to tag combos and special attacks and have them on the screen, which is a carry over from Nether Realms other recent fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us. Probably going to alert your friend as to what moves you’re going to try next though! Another addition taken from Injustice is the ability to interact with the environment to jump over your opponents head, or use items like tree branches as weapons.You can even use an old woman as a projectile. I’m not even kidding, find her and throw her!

But this is Mortal Kombat, so what would it be without Fatality finishing moves, where the victor brutality kills the loser in creative ways. Parents can stay safe with the knowledge that kids aren’t going to be able to slice faces off or punch holes with fireballs any time soon, though needless to say you shouldn’t be getting your kids this game anyway. In fact this game might be a little too brutal. The blood is toned down, but only so we can see the opened skull of the victim.

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Story mode will be familiar to those who played the previous Mortal Kombat, as well as Injustice. Each chapter features a different player character who takes on around three or four fights each. The previous game ended with most of the main cast dead, only to be resurrected by the necromancer Quan Chi and turned into undead warriors. The story revolves around the invasion by the Elder God Shinok, which begins with an invasion which left him trapped in an amulet, allowing time to skip forward 20 years before he’s released to try again. The majority of the story looks at how the story has developed in the past 20 years; Johnny Cage and Sonya’s daughter leads a special forces team, the resurrected Scorpion and Sub Zero bury their old grudges and form their own clans to defend Earthrealm, and the civil war in Outworld ended after the defeat of Shao Kahn.

However the story keeps leaping around to subplots that don’t really contribute to the plot, with the Shinok invasion at the beginning coming across as especially pointless, since he just escapes at the end anyway, putting us into the same position. Granted the events of invasions do go towards the development of Johnny and Cassie Cage, but don’t do much for the overall story.

With that said the story mode is saved by two things; the characterization and the scene played during the credits. I am deadly serious; my jaw nearly hit the floor during this scene. The next game is going to be epic! The focus is really on the characters, which works with how the levels are structured. The fights as Jax are focused on his character, while the fights are Takeda are focused on him etc.

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The structure of the story helps establish and flesh out characters one at a time and help develop both the new comers and to see what the old characters are like after the events of Mortal Kombat. One of the stranger aspects of the story mode is the quick time events during a cutscene. Typically these would be used to keep the player alert and the reward for missing one is to die and start the sequence again. However in MK X there is no downside to missing a button press. There isn’t even a deduction to Health in the following fight, nor does it reward you with additional Koins to use in the Krypt, or as far as I can tell. I’m alright with not having to start the cutscene again because I failed to press X in time.

The classic Mortal Kombat arcade tower mode returns, with a few new twists. It’s essentially a series of fights, cultivating in a final boss battle. Sadly this mode feels somewhat underwhelming. The final boss battle with Shinok feels too easy, possibly to help balance him out as a playable character. Even when he transforms at the end he feels too easy; he’s stronger than the other characters you fight, but not by much. Perhaps I’m simply spoilt by the previous games providing a greater challenge.

Other towers exist, such as the endless tower which acts as a survival mode, and includes “living towers” which change every so often and provide different affects, like a lower where gravity is weakened, or another where the ninja Smoke throws, what else, smoke bombs into the arena at random. Another mode is Test Your Luck, which adds random modifiers to a battle, including giving one character flaming fists, or summoning lightning bolts at random.

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The roster of characters in this game feels somewhat smaller than previous installments, however it’s still a pretty decent size for a fighting game. The majority of fan favorites return, including Johnny Cage, Lui Kang and Sonya Blade; the only character that feels missed in Shang Tsung. The new characters feel like the most imaginative, including a warrior who wields blade whips and light sabers, a woman who summons insects and my personal favorite being a giant brute who carries a creepy little girl on his back who he uses as a club and even as a projectile.

It’s honestly the first game that made me want to come out of my Scorpion comfort zone and use newcomer Takeda.
Each fighter feel different in their own ways, and the different styles for each character add even more variation, helping the game feel very diverse. Another cool addition is the different interactions between characters before a fight begins, which from what I’ve seen is different for all character combinations. Different characters will also taunt between rounds, personalized towards their opponent, like Quan Chi remarking that Scorpion has “lost his sting”, or Shinok taunting Jonny Cage by name. It’s a little touch that not many games attempt.

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A returning element is the Krypt; using coins earned in fights to unlock concept art, alternate outfits and fatalities, as well as tokens which allow you to either use an easy fatality or to skip a fight entirely. These level skip tokens are the kind of thing you’ll probably save for when you really need it on a particularly tough tower run, or if say you’re writing a review and want to get through the story mode faster. It’s an unusual mode to say the least, it’s all in this first person view mode with a map system and random attacks that catch you off guard. It helps build this eerie mood and just goes to show how much effort was put into what is little more than a way to unlock costumes and fanart.

The final element to the game is the factions system; a persistent competitive scoring system in which players choose one of the key factions from the story and earn points for their side by achieving long combos, performing fatalities etc.
Every week a winner is crowned, as is an individual from the winning faction, along with exclusive fatality moves becoming available as you progress. The champion faction is able to build a war tower, which the opposing factions must try to take down. However the current champions must defend the tower by adding blocks to it by defeating an opponent multiple times, adding the block to the tower. It’s an interesting concept that puts the winning team on the defensive, you earn enough points to put your team on top, earning you additional koins, which could be lost if you get complacent.

The faction mechanic is an interesting one, and I must admit that it does make me want to play the game more often. It’s a nice feature that helps with this persistent feeling of being apart of a larger game. It’s not needed, but much like the addition of personalized taunts before fights it’s a welcome addition to the overall experience.

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Overall, Mortal Kombat X is a fantastic entry to the series and a highly recommended fighting game if you’re a fan of the genre. Combat feels so satisfying, with multiple variations to play around with, and with many more variations thanks to the living towers system. The story is rich and engaging, with my only complaint being that it’s somewhat disjointed and lacks the structure to make it a fully self-contained story, and instead it feels like a series of small stories, saved by its strong characterization. It’s a shame that this one flaw in the story is the only thing that I see keeping it from a perfect score, considering the multiple variations to characters, game modes, fight modifiers. There is so much to love in this, and it’s worth every second of your time.

A must own for fighting fans. Be it with some friends, enjoying the cast of characters and their variations, or own you own, tackling the ever changing living towers, I doubt you will get bored of this any time soon. If the plot had been more focused and written as a story then this would be a perfect game. I guess it will have to settle for being freaking awesome. Take what you can get Mortal Kombat X.

Rating: 9/10

+ Strong characterization

+ Multiple game modifiers and modes

+ Easy to learn

– Story mode lacks a focused plot

MATT HANCOX

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