While NetherRealm Studios may be a relatively new developer name founded in 2010, their roots certainly dig far deeper. Originally comprised of the former WB Games Chicago, and Midway Games, NetherRealm seeks to continue on with their 23 year old classic fighting franchise: Mortal Kombat. Shocking and attracting crowds from arcades to home consoles with its novel over-the-top blood and gore and gruesome fatalities, Mortal Kombat quickly became that game that friends would fight over, and was probably one of the shining examples for the need for an ESRB rating back at a time when such a thing didn't really exist. Since 1992, the series has seen some pretty wild redesigns and innovations to remain up to date and relevant with the times, while still keeping that classic brutal combat. Some deviations managed to hit some right notes, like the action-adventure beat-em-up Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. Other attempts like Mortal Kombat Special Forces still serve as a painfully low point for the franchise. What is arguably one of the franchise's biggest changes was its shift from a 2 dimensional plane to a 3 dimensional one. When it worked, it worked exceptionally well, as was shown with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. But loyal fans of the series still wanted a return to form with their beloved series and in 2011 that is exactly what NetherRealm delivered. Simply titling it Mortal Kombat despite technically being the ninth instalment, fans were treated with a 2.5D fighting game with a good fighting system, brutal fatalities and an all new X-ray mode to make you really feel and see the brutality. On top of that, the team put thought into a single player campaign that tied the characters in together for a genre that largely isn't known for having anything other than a tradition arcade mode. The game was so popular that it sold nearly enough to cover the cost of the entire Midway acquisition.
Naturally, fans were pumped and eager to see what was next for the series. After four years of patiently waiting Mortal Kombat finally debuts on the PS4 and Xbox One with Mortal Kombat X. Adding a large portion of new characters to the roster, keeping the core gameplay intact while adding some interesting tweaks to the formula, offering a story mode that spans a quarter-century in the Mortal Kombat timeline, and offering loads of multiplayer modes, and collectibles, MKX is definitely how a sequel should be, and looks to be a fighting game that can be played for years to come.
Taking place several years after the events of Mortal Kombat, Shao Khan is defeated, and disgraced Elder God Shinnok decides to attack Earthrealm with an army of Neatherrealm forces. Included are a number of Earthrealm fighters such as Scorpion, Jax and Sub Zero were now resurrected under Quan Chi's control. Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade and Kenshi eventually open a portal to Raiden's Sky Temple, where the Thunder God and Fujin are battling Shinnok. The Earthrealm fighters eventually distract Shinnok long enough to steal his amulet and seal him away inside of it, and Johnny and Sonya track down Quan Chi and defeat him, restoring the aforementioned three that were previously under his control. Flashing forward twenty years later, we see that Johnny and Sonya had a child, Scorpion reinstates the Shirai Ryu clan while mentoring Kenshi's son, Takeda, and Sub-Zero becomes the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei. The kombatants now face a civil war that broke out between Mileena who has managed to obtain Shinnok's amulet, and the new Outworld Emperor Kotal Khan.
MKX's story was fairly enjoyable and engaging, albeit scattered and fragmented thanks to the time jumping. Nevertheless it was a short, but sweet method of tying all the characters together and giving purpose for their inclusion in the game. Much like how Injustice played out, the chapters in the story each let you take possession of a different character. One of my biggest complaints with the story mode was that served as a giant tease for characters fully realized, and clearly playable, but aren't currently in the roster. During the campaign you face off against Tremor and Tanya, who have already been confirmed as characters players will download additionally, or if they purchased the Kombat Pass, but there are also bouts between Rain, Baraka and Sindel and yet they unfortunately did not make the cut. Smoke also makes a random appearance under the name Enenra. It's just a shame to play against some of these characters, or see them even considered in the game's story, but not have them as playable characters. They highlight the fact that the game has 24 characters, 25 for those who received Goro, and 29 with the upcoming downloaded characters Predator, Jason Voorhees, Tanya and Tremor, but when you look at past games like Mortal Kombat Armageddon with its 62 player roster, you're kind of left wondering why so many omissions were needed.
On the flip side, it is great to see a third of the roster used to showcase the new characters --- all of whom feel right at home with the rest of the MK line up. Cassie Cage plays exactly like you'd expect; a balance between Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. Jacqui Briggs hits hard like Jax, but also has some interesting variations that let her use firearms. Erron Black plays like a gun toting cowboy from a Spaghetti Western. D'Vorah is a swift insectoid creature with an ability to control a swarm of insects. Takeda is the son of Kenshi, but has a wildly different playstyle utilizing a chain whip along with some similar telekinetic powers. Ferra/Torr is a very brutal duo consisting of an armoured teenage girl and a giant masked brute, and both play off each other quite well. Kotal Khan is a slower, heavy hitting character and is quite fitting as an Emperor of Outworld. And finally, Kung Lao's younger cousin Kung Jin has a terrific bow that also serves as a staff for a mix of ranged and close to medium combat. All play respectively well for what they set out to do and fans will be sure to pick their favourites. I look forward to the release of Jason Voorhees and Predator to see how they can effectively work in a Mortal Kombat game.
The core gameplay for Mortal Kombat X remains largely the same as what was shown in the 2011 revitalization of the franchise. Players string arm, leg and grab combos together and hope to execute opponents with gruesome fatality finishers. The energy meter from the previous game returns, allowing players to build a meter to either unleash a devastating X-ray attack, or use portions of the meter to buff up regular attacks. Similar to Injustice, players can also interact with the environment and use their surroundings as weapons or launch pads to reposition themselves. One of the greatest inclusions to the core gameplay is that each character has 3 different variations that all play differently from one another. Kenshi, for example has Kenjutsu which specializes in telekinetic throws and pushes, Balanced which focuses on summoning a psychic image of him for mid-ranged attacks that can catch an opponent off guard, and finally Possessed allows Kenshi to summon a demonic spirit in place of his psychic image. What's most impressive is how varied these styles can be, and you'll be quick to discover which variation works best for your playstyle. As most are probably aware, Jade is unfortunately not available in the roster, however Kitana has one variation that offers a playstyle very similar to Jade's. What this successfully accomplishes is that it offers fans and newcomers a chance to really find a focused playstyle they want to master, and I hope future iterations include this.
Mortal Kombat is certainly no stranger to kontent, and MKX is stuffed to the brim. For single player modes we have the story mode that can be replayed entirely, or from specific chapters, there are the timeless classic arcade tower modes, but NetherRealm have also added "Living Towers." These are time-sensitive towers that run either hourly or daily depending on the difficulty you are looking for, and offer players a chance to earn bonus experience and coins to spend. For Kombat Pass owners, there is also a Premier Tower that is currently a few days away from expiring. Living Towers are all connected to the MKX servers and you can compare your results to the rest of the world. Tower Challenges allow you to challenge your friend in a randomly generated tower. Test Your Luck is the "I'm Feeling Lucky" of a Google search, where you fighting against the AI with random gameplay modifiers. For two players offline there's standard PvP, Test Your Luck, Test Your Might, and Kustom Kombat. Online lets you join and host rooms, participate in versus, King of the Hill, Team Battle and Tower Battle, and all will contribute to the ongoing Faction Wars which is a new addition to the series. In Faction Wars, players choose to align themselves with one of five factions: The Lin Kuei, Brotherhood of Shadow, Black Dragon, White Lotus, and the Special Forces). Players participate in a persistent online cross-platform competition, winning points for each faction and can ultimately reward players with unique faction-specific finishers if the player's faction wins at the end of any given week. Playing this game for just over a week and witnessing my first faction win, since all the cool kids chose Lin Kuei, Faction Wars seems like it's a tremendous opportunity to improve the game's longevity.
The coins you earn during any of these modes can be used in The Krypt. In MKX, The Krypt is where players can unlock new fatalities, concept art, brutalities, alternate costumes, stage music and more. It's all done in this impressively designed labyrinth that you navigate in a first person perspective. It controls like a tank-controlled dungeon crawler, and will toss random quick time event enemies in your way just to reward you with some extra coins. Some areas are locked and will remain locked until you find certain items, or solve a specific puzzle. Throughout the Krypt there are also timed chests that will appear and disappear and you will need to find them within their timeframe. There's a lot to do and a whole lot to spend in the Krypt. Where it gets you is that you have no idea what you're unlocking until you unlock it, encouraging you replay the game enough to farm a war chest of coins.
For a debut on the current gen consoles, I was hoping for a bit more out of Mortal Kombat X. There's nothing bad about the games visuals by any stretch; they just seem dated, which makes sense given the fact that the game is built on a modified version of an 11 year old engine. Characters are all nicely modeled and the environments have a great sense of depth to them, but it's clear this is a highly polished UE3 title; only managing to take a step up above their previous games like Injustice and Mortal Kombat 9, rather than the leap the hardware increase ought to allow. That being said, character models all sport multiple layers and show wear and tear over the duration of each match, and the X-ray attacks have improved detail in the bones, muscles and tissues to really make people squeamish. I am pleased to note that the game runs absolutely smoothly at 60 frames, and haven't noticed a significant drop that would hamper the gameplay.
Despite a petty want for prettier visuals, Mortal Kombat X is still a fantastic debut on the new consoles, and one of the stronger entries in the Mortal Kombat franchise as a fighting game. The mechanics are finely tuned and vastly improved upon from the 2011 reboot, and while the character roster may not reach the quantity of previous games, there is still a considerable amount of quality kombatants. It's a shame to be teased with Sindel, Rain and Baraka during the campaign, but I am sure they are being considered for future downloadable content. Overlooking the character omissions, the game is still packed to the brim with enough content to last players a good long while. There are plenty of offline and online modes to take part in, and the new Faction Wars is a great way to keep things competitive on a week to week basis. The single player campaign may fall on the short side but it is a pretty good ride, and NetherRealm still serves as one of the few development teams to actually care enough to want to include a story mode in their fighting games.
|Fantastic new Variations for characters.|
|New characters mesh well with the existing roster.|
|Faction Wars offers some great weekly competition.|
|Fully realized characters that aren't in the playable roster is a downer.|
|The game looks very polished, but the UE3 still shows its age.|
|Story is a little on the shorter side.|