Mortal Kombat is a series that has never really struggled for identity, though at times it has found it difficult to move beyond the original entries’ vacuous and violent beginnings. Mortal Kombat X is potentially the most gore-soaked and violent entry yet, but there is far more on offer here than the fetishistic brutality would have you believe. Ed Boon and his team have honed their craft over the past twenty-three years, and the latest entry in the franchise displays that in every frame.
Mortal Kombat X is a direct descendant of the last entry in the series, taking many of the key elements of that reboot, such as the bone-crunching X-Ray moves, and building on them, incorporating one or two additions from Netherealms last project Injustice: Gods Among Us, including the stage specific interactions. Gameplay-wise, this is traditional Mortal Kombat, but with a new-found technicality that fighting fans will appreciate from a series that has often promoted flashy spectacle above fundamentals.
The story this time focuses on former Elder God Shinnok, as his amulet causes conflict between various factions across both Earthrealm and Outworld. His evil forces include the corrupted revenants of former heroes Liu Kang and Kung Lao, raised from the dead by evil sorcerer Quan Chi, with a Special Forces squad made up of the next generation of fighters; Cassie Cage, Jaqui Briggs, Kung Jin and Takeda, right at the centre of everything. It’s enjoyably pulpy stuff, with most of the voice acting delivered well and some fantastically choreographed fight scenes, though unnecessary QTE’s distract from the action in the name of getting you involved.
Graphically, the game looks excellent, with backgrounds, character’s animations and facial expressions marking a high-point for the series. From Sub-Zero and Scorpion through to newcomers Kung Jin and Takeda, everyone here both looks and sounds better than ever before. There are still some oddities to how some series’ established characters move or behave in contrast to some of the newer additions’ more naturalistic animations, but they remain true to their original design.
The roster is wide and brings both old favourites and new adversaries to the table, and this is granted even more variety by being able to select from different variations of each combatant. Each variation offers both type-specific moves and combos that don’t simply change the character visually but promote completely different styles of play within the same character base. It makes versus play incredibly interesting, as playing a Grandmaster Sub-Zero rather than a Cryomancer one requires a different approach, and it should serve online play well, though whether the roster is somewhat unbalanced with such variety on offer remains to be seen.
The new entrants to the game are welcome, and include the ‘next generation’ of fighters appearing alongside their parents for the first time. Jaqui Briggs and Cassie Cage appear alongside Kenshi’s son Takeda and Kung Lao’s cousin Jin. Of the bunch, Cassie is the only one who failed to capture my attention, mixing her mother Sonya Blade’s move-set with elements of Johnny Cage, her father, as well as some faux attitude. The other new entries include the hulking symbiotic duo that is Ferra & Torr, gunslinger Erron Black and my personal favourite, the insect-like D’Vorah whose move-set is plain disgusting. It’s a brave move by Netherealms to have left out so many fighters from previous games, but it’s likely that this will grow over time.
There are twenty-four characters in total, with an additional five currently available as pre-order DLC. It’s deeply annoying to find Goro’s picture greyed out on the selection screen with “Press X To Purchase Goro” appearing whenever you highlight it. To a certain extent I can understand monetising additional elements of a game, but it is tough to have something unavailable to you that’s presented so flagrantly. Mortal Kombat X also offers easy fatalities to buy in the store for those unable to perform the moves for themselves, though you can also earn this for yourself through play.
Mortal Kombat X’s Krypt mode meanwhile offers a wealth of unlockables, bought with Koins that you collect simply by playing through the various modes on offer. New costumes, fatalities and brutalities sit alongside concept art and power-ups which allow you to skip fights in the story or tower modes, or perform those easy fatalities. It’s a fun way to mete out the game’s content and keeps you coming back, though its random nature can be frustrating if you’re trying to find items for a particular character.
There are also a number of characters who appear in the Story mode who aren’t selectable at the moment, either appearing as adversaries, such as series staples Baraka and Sindel, or make cameos like Nightwolf. It’s a further annoyance that some of them are clearly in the game and yet unplayable, and you can’t help but wonder what price they’ll appear at in the PlayStation or Xbox Store for in the next few months.
Online options are varied, extending well beyond simple versus modes, offering King Of The Hill, Team Battle, Tower Battle, and the Test Your Luck mode where you fight with random game modifiers in place. Online code seems solid and connections were smooth, though it takes a while to connect to another player, robbing you of the immediacy of repeated play. You will also currently come across a number of players online who are simply repeating the same move over and over again, and while this tends to happen in a lot of fighting games at the outset, it certainly seemed to be more prevalent here.
There are also online Leaderboards, and the welcome ability to review your most recent bouts in the replay mode. I did find on one occasion that attempting to watch a replay caused the game to crash, so there are seemingly a few kinks still to be ironed out, but thankfully I didn’t experience any other similar problems during my time with the game.
However, while the combat is incredibly smooth, running at 1080p and 60fps on Playstation 4, the frame rate takes a bit of a hit during some of the story mode’s cut-scenes or when transitioning from different elements, though not to a level that diminishes the experience. It is disappointing that such an enjoyable element of the game hasn’t been optimised to run at a steady rate, and hopefully it’s something that can be improved with a patch.
Mortal Kombat X is an excellent fighting game, with a wide and varied roster, that’ll please series fans and newcomers alike. The combat is rock-solid, and offers a technicality that may surprise those with a low opinion of the series. Netherealms has crafted something that is enjoyable on a number of levels, and whilst the squeamish need not apply, anyone with an interest in fighting games should check it out, despite some questionable practices over downloadable content.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4