Review – Mortal Kombat
Play your cards right, you’ll live to talk about it.
It’s not been a good decade and a half for those of us who sided with Mortal Kombat over Street Fighter 2. Where Capcom’s series has stayed at a consistently high quality, topping out with the sublime Street Fighter 4, the Mortal Kombat titles since MK2 have managed to get steadily worse with the last five being absolute dogshit. So a new MK probably wasn’t top of anyone’s ‘must get’ list. But then the details came out suggesting that this, the ninth game in the series, was going back to basics and would have 3D graphics on a 2D plane ala SFIV. Then we all started to believe the hype. I did. I preordered this motherfucker. Does it live up to the hype? Does it ever?
You see, what I wanted was MK2 meets SFIV. That’s not too much to ask is it? At first that’s what you think you’re getting. Well, at first you get an oddly long load time, followed by a list of menu options, but once you get into the game it all starts to unravel a little. This was evident as soon as I stepped into Ladder Mode (your basic ten match Arcade Mode). After picking from the 28 characters (refreshingly these are nearly all MK1-3 favourites) I went to dish out those sweet uppercuts I’d been missing since the series went 3D and realised the button mappings were different to what I expected. Bah, you’ve got to leave the game to reconfigure and then you realise they’ve done away with high and low attacks and switched to lefts and rights ala Tekken. Not sure why they’ve done that. It’ll confuse veterans and it doesn’t improve the flow of things at all. There’s such a minor difference in damage between throwing a jab and a cross for example that it all seems a bit pointless.
Once you get used to that nonsense, you then come to realise that the game uses the same shitty special move mappings as the last few games as well. This is annoying as it means that basically all the specials in the game use the same sort of movements (back, forward or down, forward or similar) which means everyone basically feels the same to play as. Liu Kang no longer charges his bicycle kick, Sonya no longer has an instantaneous leg throw. Everyone just merges into a characterless blur. Their combos are all basically the same as well with just minor variations. It’s just so lazy and unnecessary but not necessarily game-ruining.
What is potentially ruining is the ridiculous difficulty spikes. As soon as the boss characters turn up, you’re in for a bad time. They are beatable but you have to play as cheaply as possible whilst the whole thing becomes a projectile fest. This is particularly evident against Shao Khan who, as ever, is a cheap cunt with a hammer. He was just as bad in MK2 but I doubt battles with him were any fans’ highlight of that game. A tag-team variant of Ladder Mode is also present but unlike the recent Capcom games, the crossover attacks are particularly mild and nothing special to look at. Still, it adds a little extra value.
One thing you won’t get much of in Ladder Mode is story, save for a short ending for each of the characters, but thankfully the Story Mode more than makes up for this with a sizeable chunk of plot covering all the events of the first three games. The cutscenes here are enjoyable for fans of the series (although sadly you can’t ever skip them even if you need to replay a section) if a little low in quality and they link in seamlessly with the bouts which are standard affairs albeit with the fatalities removed (because given the choice we’d all decapitate the fuck out of the badguys at the first opportunity). Unfortunately, the Story Mode does throw up some truly horrendous difficulty spikes when you are forced to go solo against two enemies, yet another throwback to the early games but this time they are completely unwanted.
In I like the Mortal Kombat series but I don’t love it. For me personally I have always considered It to be more of a second tier kind of fighting game. A game where I will have lots of fun playing with friends but I would not take seriously enough to invest hundreds of hours becoming “pro” or whatever. So I am kinda shocked that I like this reboot to the series as much as I do because it appears that Netherrealms Studios finally got the message, just give us a Mortal Kombat on a 2D plain already!
Because this is an re-imagining of the series there have been a lot of changes and not just to the storyline of the series which is explained in the games story mode. Now I like playing old fighting games but I am not averse to trying out new things too. Much like Marvel vs Capom 3 the controls have been slightly tweaked now. Gone are the days of the pointless high/low punch and kick system, now we have standard attacks that are much more useful because they can be much more easily put in to a combo with other standard and special attacks and it also gives the characters more personality as well as they now all don’t share the same basic attacks as each other a la MK 1 and 2 which is something of which I approve of. With that said we still have the attacks that people remember Mortal Kombat for, the uppercuts and sweeps although Roundhouses are noticeably absent and I am unsure why.
Overall I enjoyed playing MK9. I know it’s not perfect (lobby lag, Krypt layout, achievements) but those are small problems (in my opinion) and I enjoyed playing though the various single player modes and I had a laugh playing this online with randoms with all the new bells and whistles that the developers have added to the gameplay despite their best efforts to tell me that me Scorpion playing was terrible because at the end of the day it’s the gameplay in my opinion that makes this game what it is and that is fun, something I have not been able to say about a Mortal Kombat in some considerable time.
Secondary Score: 8/10
Playing matches in either mode unlocks coins (koins *sob*) which unlock extras in the crypt (krypt *bawl*). These range from the pointless fucking multiplayer codes (for such things as ‘no jumping’ or whatever), fatality movements and shitty concept art. There’s far too much of this shit and you have to find it by navigating in first person through various spooky areas. It’s just too long and clumsy for my tastes and the rewards are all basically shit. That said, it will show you how to do more of the fatalities if you’re unable to access the internet (how are you reading this?).
The fatalities, and gore in general, are what you’ve come to expect from the series. The all-new X-Ray attacks are fun, albeit they are unlocked in matches when you are taking a beating which is meant to balance things up but just serves to fuck you off when you are handing someone a darned good thrashing online and they start pulling that shit off, and there is a ridiculous amount of blood flying around the place. The fatalities are a bit cut and paste, get used to seeing heads chopped off and armed sliced away, but some of them are truly fantastic and it’s fun trying to see them all. Pulling off fatalities is a lot easier than it used to be with range requirements being relaxed a fair bit. The true highlights are the babalities though which are creative, hilarious and often disturbing. I won’t spoil them but they are worth seeking out.
Apart from the lengthy single player portion of the game, there’s a heap of online stuff to get through. Now as we all know, MK players are basically scum. They play cheap, they disconnect when they are losing but if you can find a decent one, the netcode here is actually pretty fluid, keeping up with the most hectic of bouts. That said, getting into a match can take a while – especially ranked matches – and, as expected, the online achievements are basically horrible. I’m not that big a fan of online ‘Kombat after winning my 100 ranked matches on UMK3 but this does an okay job of serving up competitive brutality.
Visually the game is no great shakes. Whilst the gory aspects of the game are well-represented, the rest of the game is a little ugly with some terrible character models (Johnny Cage’s hair being particularly awful) but I do like the fact that they’ve included a lot of familiar locations in the game, and some brand new stage fatalities to go with some of them. It’s not going to win any modelling contests with Virtua Fighter 5 or Street Fighter 4 but it does a reasonable job. It all moves at a reassuringly hectic pace anyway so you won’t be focusing on any part of the screen for too long. The sound is the usual collection of voice samples and moody music. Again, it does a functional job without excelling.
Overall, I’m still a little disappointed by Mortal Kombat because it still feels a bit too similar to the recent MK offerings but it is a step in the right direction. If they flatten out those difficulty spikes, sort out the loading times and maybe get someone who isn’t a fucking idiot to devise the achievements (there is one here that takes a full month of gameplay to get) then I’d probably fall in love with the next one but my gut feeling is that this is about as good as Mortal Kombat will get for quite a while.