Mortal Kombat X Review: Test Your Might

Posted in Kulturecade by - May 02, 2015

For many years, Mortal Kombat had been the gold standard of fighting games. With a unique, diverse roster and a mythos that was second to none, few other fighters came close to matching Midway games’ golden goose. Of course, there were darker times, however, the Mortal Kombat reboot returned the series to the top of the mountain. Mortal Kombat X will make sure that it stays there.

Mortal Kombat X is, bar none, the best entry in the series. Period. The flow of combat has never felt tighter, and more responsive. The roster, save for a few blemishes, has never been better or more exciting. The story, while appearing convoluted and nonsensical in trailers, is surprisingly captivating, and left my jaw open on more than one occasion. Mortal Kombat X is a triumph of chance, and is likely going to be the most fun you’ll have with friends on this current console generation.

The most important part of any fighter is the roster, and Mortal Kombat is the best when it comes to fighter selection. Scorpion and Sub-Zero are likely as recognizable as Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny, and Mortal Kombat fans don’t take it lightly when you tinker with their series. Netherrealm did the unthinkable though, and made some cuts, leaving behind some long time combatants, and making space for some new faces in the 24 character roster. Thankfully, it works.

While fan favorites like Cyrax and Rain haven’t made the cut, you’ll surely find a new main in the new characters. While there are some misses in the design department, (looking at you Jacqui Briggs) most of the new characters bring with them interesting back stories and ever more interesting designs. From the gun slinging ninja/cowboy Erron Black to the insectile outworld denizen, D’Vorah, each new character feels fresh and unique, a far cry from the pallet swapped days of Jade and Kira.

Among the new brood are returning veterans, and with the game taking place 25 years after Mortal Kombat 9, some of our favorite faces have changed a bit. Johnny Cage’s hair and face show the wear and tear of years of kombat and a failed marriage. Jax’s time away form Special Forces has led to a bit of weight gain. Each character has a bit of nuance to him or her, a special treat for long time fans of the series.

Unfortunately, not every character benefits from the enhanced visuals and attention to detail. Sonya’s hair looks more like a long sausage link than actual hair, and Jacqueline Briggs’ model is downright ugly. While there are some fighters who sport their looks more effectively, during close up shots, you’ll notice that not every one was made to shine.

During fighting, each fighter touts three different fighting styles, each slightly different than the last. Being the game’s marquee selling point, much hype has gone into selling us on the fact that each character has essentially three forms, leading to a gigantic number of variance in the roster. While, admittedly, I was not able to experience every variant with every fighter, I can say that the hype is accurate and deserved.

In most cases the variants add some aesthetic changes to a character. Kano, for example will sport different color lights adorning his eye and chest place, swapping out his trademark crimson for a flashier and less violent baby blue or sunflower yellow. In addition to the visual changes, the characters do experience some level of mechanical variance. Character speeds can vary along with special move sets and abilities, meaning one will have to be much more studious in their selection of a main fighter.

Mechanically, the game is a huge leap forward from the latest entry. Taking obvious cues from Injustice: Gods Among Us, Mortal Kombat is tighter than ever before and animations and hit detection are smoother and carry more gravity than I’ve experienced in a fighter to date. Punches connect with actual weight rather than the floaty jaggedness seen in the 2011 entry.

The improvements to combat are at the forefront of an improved all around experience. Prior to each bout, characters will interact with each other in character specific lines of dialog. For long time fans, its a real treat to see characters with long blood feuds trash talk before a match, however seeing Johnny Cage and Cassie Cage spout banter before beating the shit out of each other is a bit awkward, especially considering there’s a high chance that Johnny is going to split Cassie’s chest open with his bare hands after the match.

Returning is a cutscene driven story mode, showcasing the fallen elder God, Shinnoks resurgence after Shao Khan’s defeat after his failed invasion of Earthrealm. Shinnok isn’t the only star here, many characters are given a time to shine, namely the new emperor of Outworld, Kotal Khan. While on the subject, the redesign of Outworld from a barren desert to a Mongolian inspired land with some evidence of actual daily life and a functioning government was a great decision and a nice touch.

Story mode is packed to the brim with references to older fighters and older plot points from prior games. I won’t spoil anything here, however, just know that your years of loyalty and dedication will be rewarded with a high level of pandering and fan service. With a few “holy shit,” moments and a bevy of interesting cutscenes, story mode is rarely boring and is mostly exciting throughout, despite being criminally short.

The length isn’t the only fault of the campaign. Certain characters are just downright annoying and unlikable. Raiden’s dialog is rather clunky and fails to convey the sense of urgency in the situation he and his heroes are currently facing. Cassie Cage, despite appearing to be a total bad ass in the same vein as Rhonda Rousey, comes across more like Rose Nyland. She’s someone who is in way over her head and unqualified for the type of work she is undertaking. These moments can be a bit distracting and bog down an otherwise excellent experience.

While the Mortal Kombat series has never been known for musical composition, this entry feels more lackluster than prior entries. Perhaps a symptom of failing to contain any notable or memorable stages, music design and stage design is largely forgettable. A real shame, considering that there is no more rewarding sound than that of a body being torn in half by a four hundred pound man as his small companion cheers from atop his shoulders.

Despite that, there remains much to look forward to in terms of aesthetics. X-ray attacks, brutal special maneuvers that showcase damage to organs and bones in gruesome detail are more intense than ever. Watching Goro stretch someone’s body vertically until tendons snap and bones crumble is both cringe inducing and oddly satisfying. Fatalities also have been given an upgrade in terms of presentation. Many times while playing I found myself staring at the screen and at the crumpled body being displayed on it, mouth open wondering to myself, “what’s next…” At 60 fps and 1080p, the level of detail in the violence and carnage is certainly not for everyone.

Previously, online combat was a mess. Lag and input delay marred what was to have been a marquee mode for the series. While the emphasis on online was downplayed this time around, it remains a feature of the game. I am happy to report that this time around, it’s much better, but not perfect. While there was some slight level of input delay, enough that I had to adjust combo timing slightly, it by no means ruined the experience. However, there aren’t a ton of bells and whistles to the online side of the game, so I doubt that many will spend a great deal of time there.

Much of that time will be spent in Mortal Kombat X‘s greatly expanded single player. From traditional arcade to near endless supply of challenge modes, Mortal Kombat X gives players a reason to keep the disc spinning every day, even if only to check in on the day’s challenges. Doing anyth
ing in the game awards koins, with which you can explore Mortal Kombat X‘s version of the Krypt, a gigantic field of unlockable awards ranging from concept art to new costumes and finishers. There is also a prize that is awarded in the Krypt, one that is causing much (well deserved) controversy in the gaming realm.

As anyone who has played Mortal Kombat knows, executing a fatality requires a sequence of buttons to be pushed in order after the match. It’s not a hard task by any means, but some people just can’t seem to get the timing down, or remember the sequence and order of four to five button commands. To alleviate stressed out players, series creator Ed Boon teased “Easy Fatalities”, one button commands that would activate the finishing move. What he failed to mention was that we’d have to pay for it.

At the cost of five tokens for $.99, easy fatalities gain you the opportunity to see something before you look it up on YouTube. Stupid and useless DLC is nothing new, just go to your 360 and look up, “Horse Armor.” However, given the current state of the gaming industry, this type of sales tactic feels a bit more egregious and unnecessary. For their part, not once in my time with the game was I pressured or even prompted to purchase tokens, however even knowing that it is an option means that mainstream console gaming is traveling a dark path, one that I don’t want it to go down. Here’s to hoping that this isn’t a trend that mobile gaming will bring to the mainstream.

Mortal Kombat is a rare breed in the fighting game world, one in which narrative and content share space as the defining feature. In this case both the narrative and content have never been better. Mortal Kombat X is a must own for even the most casual fighting game fan. Many a nights are going to be spent squeezing out one more fight before dawn, trying in earnest to learn every nuance and study the provided frame data. With an amazing story mode and a great fighting engine, Mortal Kombat X is the breath of fresh air the series has needed for some time, and the boost and clean launch that AAA titles have lacked for some time. 

(Edit: If you purchased the game for PC than you missed out on the clean launch. The game has failed to launch, and barely works. Hopefully updates will come soon to address the issue.

Final Say: Play It

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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