Mortal Kombat Review (PS3)

Plainly called Mortal Kombat, the latest entry in the violent fighting game series is actually a reboot. Technically the ninth main-line entry in the series, it takes many cues from Street Fighter IV – pulling characters and gameplay from the ‘classic’ 90s era of the series rather than the newer games, slamming them into the modern age with a fresh layer of high-definition polish.

The end result is a weird game. Mortal Kombat is packed with features including single player options that seem downright insane for a fighting game and a very serious attempt to take the previously mocked Mortal Kombat series and make it a viable competitive fighting game – and that’s just scratching the surface.

Classic characters like Johnny Cage return with few changes

Booting up a fighting game, you’d expect to be hitting up an ‘Arcade Mode’ which offers a series of fights with a couple of character-specific cutscenes throughout. Mortal Kombat has that. What it also has in addition is a huge story mode which reboots the Mortal Kombat mythos and retells the stories of the first three games with fully voiced cutscenes.

Those cutscenes slip almost seamlessly into gameplay – while they’re rendered in the game engine they’re pre-recorded, so some compression artefacts give away the seams, but you’ll see a character threaten to beat another and then, almost out of nowhere, it zooms out – ‘Fight!’ – It’s that simple.

The reasons for characters fighting are often dumb and even the serious side of the story will leave you eye-rolling, but it also left me liking and understanding most of the characters from MK who I didn’t before. Origin stories galore are laid out quite clearly here, and the way the main story mode breaks out into chapters dedicated to playing as individual characters feels like a great introduction to much of the game’s cast and their move-sets.

Past the cool-as-hell story mode there’s also the Challenge Tower, a collection of 300 missions that change the rules of the game to get you to do certain things. Some are just fights with certain conditions, like no throws, but others will remove your arms so you can only fight with kicks, or lock out attacks entirely to get you dodging projectiles.

Also buried in here are modes like Test your Sight, Test your Strength and Test your Luck, which challenge you in a puzzle game, button-bashing mini game and coping with ridiculous fight conditions respectively. The variety is a really nice touch, and MK doesn’t take itself too seriously in challenge mode.

The Challenge mode also forces you to play as specific characters, and it’s a great way to get you playing a variety of the 27 playable characters. When you want a more generic challenge with any character you can take them into the ‘Arcade Ladder’, which works like any other traditional Arcade mode – a ladder of fights leading to a battle against Shao Kahn, the over-powered, NPC-only final boss.

Actions in any of these modes will earn you Koins (with a K, of course) which can then be spent in the Krypt. The Krypt has you opening up graves and coffins on a vast map, though each item costs coins. Everything in the Krypt unlocks more stuff, from fairly innocuous stuff like concept artwork to properly useful stuff like alternate costumes and classic MK music for use in multiplayer.

Compared to other fighters on the market like Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs Capcom 3, the amount of single player content on offer is simply mind-boggling. It’s incredibly well-built and completing both the main story and challenge tower will take longer than the single-player campaigns of many modern shooters – quite a feat for a fighting game.

Past that there’s also some nice other single-player tools for training including a traditional training mode and a fatality trainer, the latter of which lets you just practice your gruesome finishing moves over and over. Always welcome is a proper tutorial that takes you from movement to blocking to normal attacks to special moves in a single step-by-step process, though this tutorial doesn’t go as far as it could – character combos aren’t listed in training mode at all – a shame as they are listed in other places, including the strategy guide. The cynical side of me wonders if this stuff is absent to sell more guides.

The multiplayer options are exactly what you’d expect, with the ability to hit a few buttons and find an opponent to fight one on one, as well as the ability to fight two on two using the tag mode, which lets you tag a second character or player in to continue combos, much like the Marvel vs Capcom games.

Blood, gore, violence and scantily-clad ladies – standard MK

King of the Hill is the Mortal Kombat name for the ‘Endless Battle’ lobbies from Super Street Fighter IV – essentially letting a group of players join a game and play, winner-stays-on, but the clincher here that makes it stand out is the new spectator mode. The Xbox Live Avatars are present (on PSN specific MK caricatures are used) and you can send out little emotive animations with various button combinations. There’s a ranking system where you rank your opponents and those you spectate, which adds to their overall rank.

Due to the state of PSN over MK’s launch period I only got to test the online mode in the Xbox 360 version, but in good conditions against opponents with good connections the netcode performed well for a fighting game, and I never felt like my hits weren’t connecting or I was suffering from crippling lag.

The only place the online really falls short is in the fact that it lacks a replay theatre to watch back your matches or those of top players. Other than that, Mortal Kombat matches the online features of other fighting games on the market word-for-word – with a few new tweaks here and there.

The game manages to marry the old-school look of the original 90s games with a more modern, gritty style and it works well. There’s a variety of costumes for each character included at no extra cost, and if you dislike some of the liberties taken to bring those palette-swaps or 90s designs up to date, many characters have ‘classic’ versions available to play instead.

One of the coolest things about MK is the in-fight damage, which can leave characters bloodied, bruised and beaten, even with bones exposed. The game reads what parts of a character’s body is taking damage – and while it has no gameplay effect it means they’ll be wounded there for round two or three. The game looks great, and runs at a rock-solid frame rate, an essential for a serious fighting game.

Nice visuals and all of the features on-and-offline are pretty worthless in a fighting game if the core mechanics aren’t solid, though – and it has some major competition in that area from its rivals. In spite of that Mortal Kombat comes out brilliantly partly in thanks to the focus on making it a serious competitive game.

If you’re a Street Fighter player, Mortal Kombat will be a bit shocking at first - it’s slower, more deliberate, with often longer prioritised animations. This pace takes some adjustment but once you’re there things start to make sense, including how to pull off special moves quickly and easily and how to string combos together, juggling enemies helplessly in mid-air like something out of Marvel vs Capcom.

Much of what made the original MK games great is still here – familiar moves return with familiar commands and the classic MK sweeps and uppercuts are still wholly intact, but there are some new features for the 2D-style MK gameplay.

The super meter at the bottom of the screen is divided into three sections, and is built up by dishing out or taking damage. One segment allows you to do a Breaker, which reverses attacks back on your opponent. The next allows for an enhanced version of a special move that is usually more likely to hit and does more damage – but when you have all three bars of Super you can pull off your awesome new X-Ray move.

Tag battles let four characters duke it out instead of two

X-Ray moves are essentially a comeback mechanic, equivalent to Ultra Combos in Street Fighter IV. They’re awesome cinematic moves that, if they land, can do around 40% damage to your opponent. They get their name from how the game slips into slow motion and shows you the bones breaking with the impact of a police truncheon or a kick to the face, and it looks ridiculously brutal and cool.

The X-Ray moves are a cool addition, but it’s not all good. In multiplayer these will crop up often and they go on longer than other comparable mechanics in other games – meaning you’ll spend an awful lot of time watching the same X-Ray attacks over and over again, seeing the same bones break over and over again. It can get tiresome.

The same can be said of a few aspects of Mortal Kombat overall. The core mechanics are solid, but even some of the juggle combos that are possible feel a little accidental and in some cases dangerously powerful. Some special moves feel too easy to abuse, while others feel like they’re near impossible to use properly against another human – signs of the series’ chequered past in terms of being entirely well-balanced.

The addition of modes like 2v2 tag battles leaves me wondering why a little more time wasn’t spent on the overall feel of the game. The tempo could be tightened up some and the balance could’ve been tweaked in the time modes like that will have eaten up in development time, but at the same time NetherRealm seem to be totally committed to patching the game so it remains viable for tournaments – so it’s also hard to complain.

The Fatalities are exactly what you’d expect, and there’s a mix of all-new and classic. Each character has two by default, though others can be added as DLC as proven by some characters already getting extra ones as preorder bonuses. They’re sometimes brutal, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes both, and they’re all excellent – but it’s true that in today’s super violent airport shooting, curb stomping, head-shotting gaming climate they’re no longer all that shocking.

Those trees in the background? They can eat a dude. Seriously

Putting a final verdict to Mortal Kombat is difficult. There’s no doubt that it’s a brilliant game and does some amazing things with the source material, but it falls short in some important aspects of the core gameplay that is so vital within the fighting game genre. However, it also comes packing the most impressive suite of single-player modes ever to grace a fighting game.

Long story short, Mortal Kombat is brilliant. It’s a brilliant homage to the 2D fighters that birthed it and brilliantly plucks features equally from more modern fighters as well as adding a few new ones of its own. Definitely brilliant – just not quite perfect.

Best Game Moment: Finishing the story mode – that last boss is a damn cheap killer!



By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on May 06, 2011
Thank you for adding yet another game to the pile of my wish list.... *mumbles* Good review. :)
By Eversor (SI Elite) on May 08, 2011
Love to have this, I think i'm going to get this right now, oops IT AIN'T ON PC. big sigh.
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on May 08, 2011
There is that of course - I hope the petition will make them releases this on PC too soon!
By bosnian_dragon (SI Core) on May 10, 2011
Yeah, that would be awesome. Though, this type of games mostly suits consoles better than the PC... This one could be an exception of course :D
By FoolWolf (SI Elite) on May 10, 2011
If you have a controller - not that big difference - only problem could be that the developers don't use the strength of the PC and just makes a simple port...
By Revan (SI Elite) on May 16, 2011
I'm not sure why, but I'm having a hard time getting those dang combo attacks to work. The moves just seem to take to long to Do or something!
Or maybe I just suck at fighting games! :(
By JPerry06 (SI Core) on Jun 12, 2011
Where has Tekken gone?
By Sporey (SI Newbie) on Aug 25, 2011
Really wish Australia had an R18 rating, drooling over this game.