It puts its immediate contemporaries to shame with a pool of modes, features and unlockables that have been on the wishlist of fighting fans for some time. What's more, the content is built upon an accessible and satisfying fighting system that's deep enough to hold your attention while you experience everything the reboot has to offer.
Mortal Kombat is a return to form for the series. Recent entries have been lacklustre outside of the passable Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. But by taking inspiration from Street Fighter IV's throwback resurgence, NetherRealm has crafted a brawler that's reminiscent of Mortal Kombat's promising arcade origins. Outside of the modern production values, this feels like a successor to Mortal Kombat 3. Forgetting all the bells-and-whistles, that's probably the single greatest compliment you can pay the game.
Mortal Kombat's staggering array of content becomes evident shortly after you've spent a couple of hours with the game. Not only are there standard Ladder and Tag Ladder modes for the traditional arcade experience, but there is also a complete Story campaign with fully-voiced cut-scenes, an enormous Challenge Tower that takes the game engine in unusual directions, and a fully-featured online multiplayer component with a rich array of options in of itself. One thing you won't feel with Mortal Kombat is short-changed.
The sum of Mortal Kombat's content wouldn't amount to much if the core experience didn't deliver. But it does. While we don't consider ourselves proficient enough in fighting games to judge Mortal Kombat as a competitive product, the fighting system is undeniably enjoyable and distinctly throw-back. What's instantly gratifying about Mortal Kombat's gameplay is just how meaty every punch and kick feels. The Mortal Kombat upper-cut has always been a recognisable staple of the series, and here it embodies everything about the system. Attacks crunch with satisfying showers of blood, as a dynamic damage system adapts the appearance of the game's chunky character models, lending an additional layer of fulfillment to the mechanic. Each of the game's ~30 characters feels unique, bringing their own mix of special moves, fatalities and x-ray attacks. The latter is a new system in Mortal Kombat's fighting mechanic, introducing a power bar that can be used to repel attacks with Breakers, power-up a specific special move (i.e. transform Scorpion's spear attack into a dual-spear attack), or, when full, unleash a damaging special move able to significantly transform the tides of battle. The x-ray moves are rendered with a similar sadistic eye for detail as the fatalities, showing the bone-crunching effects of an attack combination from inside an opponent's body. Like the fatalities, the effect is brutal and extravagant. Mortal Kombat is admittedly a needlessly repulsive game, but it's as comical as it is gratuitous. It's hard not to smile at the game's childish lust for gore.
It'll take you about 50 hours to play through Mortal Kombat's story campaign, Challenge Tower and Ladder mode as each character, not including the replayable nature of the multiplayer.
Going into Mortal Kombat we had no idea that the game boasted a complete single-player story narrative. NetherRealm obviously wanted the campaign to be a pleasant surprise for players. Before we elaborate, we should probably clarify: Mortal Kombat still includes the standard arcade Ladder modes most fighting fans will be familiar with. Seeing out ten increasingly challenging stages will still conclude in a short ending sequence detailing some additional narrative for the character you completed the game with. However, Mortal Kombat also boasts a full campaign in addition to that. This is split across 16 chapters, placing you in control of a different character for each. The narrative details the origins of the franchise, rewriting some hokey elements of the story along the way. The storyline is little more than exposure for a sequence of fights, but it's so well integrated that it becomes hard to put down once you've started. There are definitely some questionable moments in the narrative that feel like loose justification for a fight to take place, but outside of these instances the plot development feels reasonable and engaging. It's all totally self-aware, melodramatic nonsense — but that's entirely what's intended. It's comical in its false sense of seriousness, and that makes the campaign entertaining. What's more, it's a genuine breath of fresh air to enjoy a rich single-player campaign in a versus fighting game.
Much of Mortal Kombat's single-player content is enhanced by a progressive Kurrency system inventively titled Koins. These are earned when you perform specific combos, win matches and complete objectives across the game's suite of content. Koins can then be spent in the Krypt on throngs of unlocks, costumes and artwork. It's reminiscent of the old Soul Calibur games that rewarded your achievements with unlocks and content, and it feels no-less satisfying here. There are hundreds of bits-and-bobs to unlock in the Krypt, with the only disappointment being that you have no control over what you spend your money on. NetherRealm's integrated an interactive first-person menu system into the Krypt, that allows you to walk through grave-yards and bogs in order to select your awards. While this is an infinitely more attractive feature than a bog-standard menu system, it does begin to grate when you have lots of Koins to spend. What's more, the system doesn't ever give you an indication of what you're buying, making everything you receive a surprise, but adding frustration if you want something specific. For example: if you're a big Scorpion player, you might want to unlock all of the character's costumes and fatalities as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the Krypt leaves things down to luck. Despite its irritations, the vast array of unlocks add motivation to the package, forcing you to progress through the campaign and Ladder modes in order to experience everything.
Mortal Kombat's Challenge Tower is the most instantly accessible mode in the game's roster of features. The 300-stage strong component constantly throws you into different scenarios, challenging you to complete short objectives to unlock Koins and progress up the tower. Some of these challenges are straight-forward one-on-one fights with slight tweaks to the rules (in one mission, your character is poisoned and has to land attacks to distill the effects), while others are more ambitious affairs. For example, there's one challenge where you play as Johnny Cage and Stryker. Both characters are fixed to the ground and can only use their projectile attacks. You can only fire five projectiles before you need to reload, which is achieved by switching character. The challenge success criteria requires you to stave off a zombie threat purely using both character's projectile attacks, reloading after five shots. It's such a simple way of manipulating the game engine, but the Challenge Tower is packed with these neat little ideas. The mode adds some pick-up-and-play mini-game accessibility to the package, and ties it all into MK's greater Kurrency progression system.
We've touted the need for good training mechanics in almost every fighting game we've reviewed. Fighting games, traditionally, don't do a good job of teaching you how to play them. Which is a crying shame considering the genre is one of the most mechanically dense available. Mortal Kombat doesn't necessarily take the genre where it needs to be in terms of player training, but it does do a better job than its contemporaries. A twenty-minute tutorial mode interactively teaches you each of the game's mechanics, and offers some context for their use. Additionally, a fatality trainer allows you to practice the game's trademark finishers outside of the pressure of a real match situation. There's still some way to go before fighting games have the kind of support they should, but Mortal Kombat's attempt is definitely a step in the right direction.
Despite being a bit murky, Mortal Kombat's variety of backdrops are well designed, animated affairs. There's lots of them too, with most stages having alternative versions at different points in the day. Our favourite fight takes place on top of a sky-scraper while a dragon and helicopter do battle in the background. Another fun stage takes place in a chapel while a mad prophet performs a sermon on a fleshless body. As with the rest of the game, the design is fun and self-aware. You won't get bored of the backdrops easily. You can add some depth to the backgrounds if you've got a stereoscopic 3D television, adding a subtle layer to the visuals.
Exclusive in the PlayStation 3 version of Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm's implemented Kratos from the God Of War series. The character is a natural fit for the series, and NetherRealm's done an impressive job integrating him into the world and lore. Fighting as Kratos feels a little bit slower than in the God Of War games, but that's purely to ensure he fits in with the game engine. His attacks and combos draw influence from the franchise, taking advantage of Kratos' arsenal of abilities including the Pegasus Boots, Bow & Arrow, and of course, Blades Of Chaos. In a cheeky nod at God Of War's heritage, NetherRealms also implemented QTEs into Kratos' special attacks. The character's a fun and fitting addition to the roster, and we're glad he's in there.
In addition to standard ranked and player matches, Mortal Kombat also introduces the excellent multiplayer lobby system from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, allowing you to chat with prospective opponents and challenge them to battle. A new King Of The Hill features also attempts to recreate the arcade experience online, by allowing you to control a small avatar character while you watch winner stays on bouts on a theatre screen. The mode's a lot of fun, and adds a social aspect to the sometimes dry nature of online multiplayer. The netcode's good, but would benefit from some optimisation as we've experienced some laggy matches. Hopefully NetherRealm is keeping a close eye on activity and planning a patch down the line.
Our disdain for the Unreal Engine is well documented across PushSquare. Sadly, Mortal Kombat takes advantage of Epic's technology, albeit a heavily modified version. What NeatherRealm's achieved with the technology is admittedly outstanding; Mortal Kombat runs at a solid 60 frames per second and has great controller response. Yet some artifacts of the Unreal Engine are still present, including the washed out visual image and grimy textures. Mortal Kombat is a satisfying looking game, it's just not a great one.
Before we get our spinal cord pulled out from our eye-ball socket: we know Mortal Kombat's art is supposed to be rubbish. Seriously, we get that's part of the joke. The game looks like it's stuck in the nineties, and it even looked dumb back then. And, listen, we're well aware that's the point. Still, some of Mortal Kombat's artwork is atrocious. Argue with us all you like. It is.
Mortal Kombat sets a new precedent for single-player content in fighting games. The game's satisfying fighting system is a complimented by a staggering array of modes and options, giving the package depth beyond its competitive core.