After the stellar (in the opinion of this reviewer) Deadly Alliance and Deception, which saw the series reach its pinnacle in the 3D space, fans of the series were treated to two unremarkable entries in the form of Armageddon and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Seemingly in an attempt to ride the coattails of the successful 2.5D Street Fighter IV, Midway (rechristened as NetherRealm Studios) rebooted the ailing franchise as a slick, ultra violent 2.5D fighter. 2011’s Mortal Kombat received praise from critics and gamers alike. While I enjoyed it, I had my fair share of issues with it. The most glaring of these, were the boss fights. The Mortal Kombat team have never been particularly good at designing challenging boss fights, they’ve always leaned more toward being cheap. After fighting your way through a series of visceral, over the top, and ultimately enjoyable Hong Kong cinema inspired fights, what should be the piece de resistance is a tedious jump and shoot skirmish. This is one of the reasons why Mortal Kombat, for me, worked better in 3D. It took the cheapness out of the boss fights. The fights with Shao Khan in the 2011 reboot play out about the same as a fight with said character in any of the 2D entries since 1993 has. If you remember to jump the spear and stay all the way across the screen throwing fireballs, you win. So, to the meat of this thing, how was Mortal Kombat X?
Aesthetically X is more in line with NetherRealm’s DC Comics based fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us. The character and background designs are a bit gritter than the last entry, in which the characters’ clothing and skin all had a strange metallic shine to it, lending a cheap and cartoon-like appearance to the whole experience. Some of the returning characters, like Scorpion and Reptile, look better than they have in years. The age progressed versions of series veterans like Kano and Kung Lao are also an interesting visual addition to the game. The controls, while still facing some issues, are smoother on the whole than in the last MK entry, and much smoother than the stiff and unresponsive Injustice controls. I had very few problems stringing strikes and special moves into brutal combination attacks. The game still seems to have a hard time telling when you’re holding a directional key down whilst executing a move though. So, if you want to run toward someone then execute something like Square, Square, Triangle, good luck. The game will think you’re still holding the button down and register it as a forward+square, rendering the combo null. Given game developers proclivity for patches these days, perhaps this issue will be fixed in a patch. Like its spiritual predecessor, Injustice, MKX boasts interactive backgrounds. While you won’t quite be throwing your opponent through giant oak doors or into the hands of the titans to be bounced to an entirely new arena, there are some smaller, interesting interactive elements. Players can pick up pieces of debris, shopkeepers wares, and even people and use them as weapons. If you find yourself backed into a corner, some arenas will allow you the ability to get yourself out of this unenviable position by running up the wall and vaulting over your opponents head. This is all accomplished simply, and fluidly through a press of one of the shoulder buttons (R1 on the PS4). The story mode plays out exactly the same as it did in the last game, but the voice acting is slightly better (only slightly). I’m not going to lie, I find the story lines in fighting games to be incredibly forgettable, this one was no exception. The one interesting scene in it was Scorpion’s beheading of Quan Chi. Otherwise, just zip through the cut scenes and play the matches to get the unlockables (if that is your sort of thing). The boss fights have been rebalanced and don’t degrade into a never ending cycle of jump, duck, fireball, jump, duck, fireball or jump, drop kick, jump… well, you get the idea. They still don’t work quite as well as the ones in other fighting game franchises, but it’s a step in the right direction for this series. Of course, one can not close out a review of a Mortal Kombat game without touching on the series bread and butter: gruesome finishing moves. In this realm, MKX does not disappoint. While the reboot boasted some pretty gruesome ones, the main Fatalities here take things a step beyond and run the gamut from being as simple as being shot to death with twin revolvers to more complicated fare like burning a hole through your opponents chest and then slicing his face off with a ninja sword. One of my personal favourites involves a character rather brutally and graphically dislodging her opponent’s jaw with a police baton and then taking a selfie with the corpse and posting it to a facebook-like social networking site (complete with idiotic comments section). In addition to the standard issue fatalities, MKX also boasts “faction kills” which are linked to your rank in one of the games five factions (White Lotus, Black Dragon, Brotherhood of Shadows, Link Kuei, and Special Forces). Brutalities, which made an appearance and then rapid departure in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy, are reintroduced to the series as well. This means that the number of ways to graphically end your opponent’s life is quite staggering.
All in all, MKX is a far more enjoyable experience than the previous entry and finally sees the series (in the mind of this writer) getting back on decent footing. If they can avoid the temptation to retcon the always cheap and easy Shao Khan back to life and avoid the mess of terrible spin offs, mini sequels, and tedious mini-games that has plagued this series for much of the last 10 or 12 years, I’d say the series has officially made its comeback. Of course, only time will tell if this is the case. One can’t exactly accuse Ed Boon and Co. of consistency, can they? If you’ve got the cash to spend and you get a chuckle out of unrealistic B Movie style violence, give it a whirl.