It’s fair to say that Mortal Kombat hasn’t had the easiest time in recent years. In fact, pretty much since the jump from 2D to 3D they’ve been finding it tough. That’s quite possibly why there was so much rejoicing when the newly constituted NetherRealm Studios, coming out of the collapse of Midway, announced that their upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot would return to the series’ 2D roots. No, they haven’t gone back to literally rotoscoping actors to get the motions, but that would look frankly ridiculous.
Of course, if you’re a Mortal Kombat fan you know all of this. Last month’s demo seemed to assuage a lot of fans’ fears, showing a genuinely new era in the franchise’s history. In fact, if you’ve played the demo you probably want to skip the next two paragraphs and get to the stuff you don’t know. If you haven’t had a chance to get your hands on the demo, like me, then feel free to read on.
The first thing to note is that this really doesn’t feel like anything else on the market right now. The classic simplicity of Mortal Kombat has been returned to, removing the combo complexity that started to emerge in the 3D era. There didn’t seem to be a combo longer than four button inputs, and most are just three. There’s none of the quarter circles or frame counting that’s synonymous with Street Fighter, it certainly feels more ‘pick up and play’ than any fighter I’ve played in the last few years. That’s not to say that it lacks depth by any means, the short combos can easily be chained to create longer sequences for those of you who love to juggle your opponent. Most importantly though, it feels like Mortal Kombat again.
Visually too, the game seems impressive. The build we played was on PS3 and did have some minor anti-aliasing issues on ocassion but overall it looks good. The damage modelling feels pretty unique amongst modern fighters, with cuts and bruises persisting between rounds and clothing becoming torn to the point where it flirts heavily with nudity.
With the look and feel out of the way, lets get to features. Unfortunately the story wasn’t available in this build of the game but as well as the basic ‘fight’ mode there was training and the Challenge Tower mode to play with. Training is some of the best we’ve seen in a fighting game, covering everything from how to move left and right up to how to perform a fatality clearly laid out in fifteen simple tutorials. It helps that there are a few button combos that seem to be shared between most players, although it still would have been more useful to have a more detailed tutorial available for every character.
However, there is a fatality tutorial available for all characters. This is incredibly useful, removing the pure guess work from trying to work out how to complete a fatality. If you feel that having this easily accessible for every character somehow cheapens the experience then fear not! Whilst characters have at least three different fatalities, only the first one is unlocked, leaving players to work out how the others are performed. It’s a nice balance, letting everyone have access to some of the dark magic involved in tearing off your opponents head but holding something back for the truly dedicated players to discover.
As for the Challenge Tower, this feels different to the other, similar systems that have existed in previous Mortal Kombat titles. For example if you have any pre-conceptions that this will be like the Konquest mode from Deadly Alliance then put them to the side. Yes, you are working your way through a series of challengs but it’s not your basic “Do this combo” kind of task. Instead you’ll take part in sparing sessions where you have to dodge your partner for 15 seconds, play the “Test Your Strength” mini-game that’s been featured for a while now, or even use your ranged attacks to fight off waves of enemies whilst you stand statically.
By adding or removing abilities (for example if you have to dodge you lose all of your attacks) the mode feels more dynamic than previous attempts. The addition of a minor narrative binding the challenges together is also a nice touch. By no means is it Shakespeare or even a replacement for the typical arcade story but it does do something to make the mode feel like it’s more than a few randomly strung together scenarios.
The real lasting impression from this play session is that Mortal Kombat may be back. It’s not certain yet but there’s certainly cause to feel cautiously excited. NetherRealm seem to have listened to the fans and produced a title that recaptures the Mortal Kombat of old but transplants it into a modern age.