It has begun! Mortal Kombat X is finally upon us and there could not possibly be more hype surrounding this release. This is the tenth entry into the iconic fighting game franchise following 2011’s Mortal Kombat, which served as a pseudo-reboot. The 3D combat system of Deadly Alliance is long gone, instead opting for a more traditional 2D fighting style and the story’s timeline has been reset in a move similar to JJ Abrams’ Star Trek movie. Mortal Kombat (2011) was basically a remake of Mortal Kombat: Trilogy, and while seeing the series return to its’ roots was fantastic, seeing what they’ve built off of that new foundation in MKX is even more satisfying.
Now having both Mortal Kombat (2011) and the DC Comics themed fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us under their belt, Netherrealm Studios have taken the best parts of each to create the fighting system for this game. The controls are tight and responsive, with a combo system that can be daunting to new players, but satisfying to masters of the previous installments. The interactive stages from Injustice have returned full force, allowing your character to swing on vines for a speedy getaway or throw a Shaolin monk at your opponent in a hilarious move. The X-Ray moves introduced in the previous MK game also come back with some really creative and innovative results this time around. In particular, Erron Black’s bullet which literally has his opponent’s name on it is a nice addition.
The roster of characters here is really solid as well, with a lot of returning faces and quite a few new ones, too. I’m really impressed with how well-designed the new characters are and how exciting they are to play. The aforementioned Erron Black steals the show, being a Clint Eastwood style cowboy mercenary from Outworld, but characters like the Aztec-inspired Kotal Kahn and the insectoid D’Vorah shine as well. Even the more “vanilla” newcomers like Cassie Cage and Kung Jin bring something different and interesting to the game. As far as the returning characters go I’m mostly satisfied, though a couple of them feel a bit redundant. We have a few too many Special Forces agents for my liking and the cast of the 3D era is noticeably absent. I realize that those games weren’t particularly well-liked, but it’d be nice to see a few more returning faces that weren’t kicking around just one game prior. I’m still holding out for Fujin as downloadable content.
As it stands there are 24 playable characters, and while that is noticeably fewer than Mortal Kombat (2011), Netherrealm’s biggest change in gameplay comes in the form of Variations. Each character now has three distinct fighting styles to choose from before a match begins. The differences between them can be something simple like a few new special moves or something drastic like brand new combo strings and a complete change in play style. This adds a whole new level of depth to the game by offering characters that are more fully fleshed out and distinct while also giving players a chance to play more than one style without having to completely learn someone new.
Now along with the core gameplay and the more competitive side of things, Mortal Kombat has always been the one fighting game franchise that really supported the single player experience and this one is no different. Much like the previous entry, Mortal Kombat X contains a story mode which lets you play through a series of fights with various characters as you progress through cinematic cutscenes containing the game’s narrative. There are a few Quicktime Events as well, but they don’t really have much of an impact aside from watching things play out slightly differently depending on if you succeed or fail. All in all the story this time around is a big step up. It’s a bit shorter than the previous one, but the writing is a lot better. For the first time they wrote characters that actually develop and grow. There are some strong emotional moments and overall it just feels a hell of a lot less campy than the story from Mortal Kombat (2011). I do have a few gripes about it, especially when it comes to some criminally underused characters, but I’m willing to let that slide.
Aside from the story there’s also the classic arcade-style towers which now include a few new variations to spice things up. In particular there are the Living Towers, which can include gameplay changes such as random bombs dropping from the sky or a tilting stage and change after a certain amount of time, so you’re always getting something new. The one move here that I think is absolute genius is the Premier Tower, which lets you play as a DLC character without buying them, effectively giving you a free test run to see if they’re worth the purchase. Test Your Luck is here as well, which implements those same gameplay modifiers on a random basis. The Krypt returns as well, featuring plenty of alternate costumes, Fatalities, Brutalities, and concept art to unlock using the Koins you collect by playing the game. They really went all out this time, too. The Krypt functions as a pseudo-adventure map, playing similar to something like The Legend of Grimrock. There is no first person kombat, but there are puzzles to solve and an inventory of items to discover to continue progressing. There’s also a ton of QTE jump scares which can definitely put you on edge, especially if you don’t like spiders.
Obviously there’s online play as well, which has Ranked and Casual matches along with King of the Hill and Tower Battle. My experience online was fairly positive and I didn’t have even the slightest bit of lag. On the downside it sometimes takes forever for the game to find an opponent, especially when attempting to join in on a King of the Hill match. I do however need to point out that while this was my experience, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be yours. I played the game on Playstation 4 and I’ve been hearing that while I’ve been lucky with online matches others have gotten quite a bit of lag. The initial launch was also very troubled with the PC version suffering from some seriously game-breaking issues such as entire sections not becoming available, even after fully completing the download. It appears that Netherrealm has solved the issue for the most part, but I can’t really say since once again, I did not experience these problems.
The last major addition to the game this time around is the Faction Wars, which has every player pick one of five factions. Everything a player now does will contribute to their faction’s overall points and at the end of each week a winner will be declared. There are plenty of extra features implemented into this system such as random Invasions, which bring special boss fights and tower challenges with them. While this is fun and adds an extra competitive element, it feels a bit uneven. Currently the Lin Kuei faction is winning by a landslide and I can’t help but feel like it’s only because they’re popular, so they have more players. Rather than a total number of points I think they should have gone with a per player average, which would even the playing field and let some of the less popular groups still stand a chance.
Finally, the game looks beautiful. I popped Mortal Kombat (2011) into my Xbox 360 not too long ago when I was anxiously awaiting the release of MKX, and the graphics here are far superior. From the interactive backgrounds that look like real living breathing places down to the cloth and skin textures of the fighters themselves this is a highly detailed and well-designed aesthetic. Speaking of design, the costumes are a vast improvement as well, especially where female fighters are concerned. Sonya Blade is actually wearing something that looks functional and practical this time around, deciding to do away with the comical amount of cleavage she had in the previous game. The Fatalities are the most brutal and anatomically correct that they’ve ever been. Rather than having characters explode into geysers of blood and nondescript chunks of meat you see beating hearts and intestines fly out. Ribcages are removed, bodies are torn in half, and jaws are knocked off. If you’re here to see the blood fly, this is the best it’s ever been.
Mortal Kombat X is a great game and despite a few shortcomings in the story and some of the online functions there is enough jam packed in to keep you playing for a long time. On top of that, Netherrealm has already announced the first round of DLC and I suspect more will be on its’ way after that. I can’t wait to try out Jason and Predator, but for now I’m perfectly happy with the characters I have. Erron Black is the absolute coolest new addition and I’ll be playing around with him, D’Vorah, and Cassie Cage a lot in the days to come. If you’re a fan of the series this is a must buy, but you already knew that.