There are two purposes Blaze’s pyramid serves: the single tombstone that marks the graves of the realms’ greatest warriors, and the birthplace of the Apocalypse. Picking up where Mortal Kombat: Armageddon left off, Shao Kahn has emerged as the victor of the demented free-for-all. His grand prize: absorbing the infinite powers of Blaze, and a chance to turn his long time nemesis, Raiden, into hamburger. Before taking the final blow to the dome, the thunder god uses the last ounce of his power to send a series of messages back through time in hopes of changing the future. The recipient is none other than Raiden’s past self, and the message is delivered just in time to relive Mortal Kombat 1 – 3.
Mortal Kombat is more than just a typical franchise reboot, it’s that much needed reminder as to how and why it captured our hearts from the gate: it is the antithesis to Street Fighter. Are you tired of fireball wars? Projectiles pass through each other so everyone gets shot. Sick of memorizing which moves per character serve as a high prioritizing anti-air? You can never go wrong with the classic uppercut. Hate having to time your button presses by frames and links for combos? MK uses the dial-a-combo system, meaning you just quickly tap your button series like you would dialing a phone, but giving it time to go through. Intimidating as it may sound, it’s fine tuned for beginners, while removing any possibility of reliable button mashing.
Following in the footsteps of today’s popular fighters, MK now features a multi-level super meter. One bar spent allows the use of enhanced specials. If you’ve been tired of constantly bending over and having to take the entire length of a brutal combo, two stocks grants you a combo breaker. And if you’ve never been a fan of entering complicated commands for supers, the X-Ray attacks are all performed by simply tapping L2 + R2, much more rewarding and makes high damaging combos accessible to even lab chimps. Despite the simplicity, the need to regulate meter is still a factor. One misplaced judgment in meter spent, or having an empty tank, can cost you the match so strategy never takes a back seat. When victory is your’s, you’re awarded the chance to pull off a number of Fatalities. And we’re not talking about 4 ribcages popping out of one person or someone’s neck getting stretched. If the sights and sounds of X-Rays have made you cringe, the Fatalities are evocative to the death scenes of Hellraiser, Saw, or a trip to the butcher’s. Disgusting is back as the new black.
Fighting games have always strove to have a conceivable story but fall short of this with their constant use of brief CG’s, on-screen text, and the hopes that someone puts up a wiki article. NetherRealm Studios, however, have become the moon explorers that have made all the giant leaps for the genre. Simply put, MK’s Story Mode is a true interactive movie experience; the center that even the likes of Final Fantasy dreams of finding. It is the perfect balance of cinematic goodness and gameplay, complete with an epic score and proper scene transitions. Though the ending is reminiscent of a certain annihilating movie, the cliffhanger assures us that there’s a reason that has yet to be revealed.
In the meantime, the Koins earned throughout will be well spent unearthing graves and ripping apart the Krypt’s prisoners for unlocking Fatalities, artwork, music, and costumes. If you’re running short on funds, you can embark on the single player ladder challenges, create a dream team with the new Tag mode, or better yet, climb the entertaining Challenge Tower which also unlocks Stage Fatalities and new Test Your Whatever minigames. If you’re still having issues pulling off Fatalities, the Fatality Training Mode is there for you. Standard Training Mode is still a staple for all your combo practicing needs, but unfortunately that’s all it counts for in this title. The mode lacks a way of recording dummy actions, making scenario simulations impossible unless you have someone manning the other controller.
MK also puts other fighters to shame with its zestful attention to detail. Plenty of fighters boast about packing lush graphics, like a couple of jocks over-compensating their insecurities with abstract size comparisons. But Mortal Kombat reveals how we’ve overlooked corners being cut. The developers have not only polished the cast but the arenas have been treated with the same coat of wax. Spectating monks sport wrinkles and are in no ways identical, the Pit is a living painting with a sky of volcanic smoke and warriors sparring in the background, the Outworld infested streets of Earthrealm conveys a world stricken with fear as choppers chase fire breathing dragons and cars speed in panic, almost as if the scene threatens to interrupt your fight. And the sights of tortured souls overseen by the monstrous Cerberus in Nether Realm threaten to stray your attention from the incoming kick to the head as you are lost in awe of the devilish details.
Another stone that was not left unturned was providing each character with visible personalities. Other fighting game characters seem shy in comparison with generic gestures and making lame comments, Japanese and English alike, but the MK warriors certainly have no problem opening up to the crowd. Aside from the unique, bad ass intros and win poses, the characters also provide their own personal take when basking in the glory of winning Round 1, preparing to perform Fatalities, or getting up from a beating. And talk about beatings. Depending on how much was sustained, a character can have their clothes thrashed, eyelids removed, a section of lip or patch of skin torn off, and completely covered in a tie-dye of blood. There’s swag in having no shame.
Mortal Kombat seems to be the cream of this year’s battle crop, but it is with a heavy heart that I must report that it isn’t so on the PS3. What very well sets the whole masterpiece on fire is the online play. As you and I coped with a world without PSN, we waited with anticipation for the chance to try out not just single online fights, but online tag battles and King of the Hill, an arcade-styled mode where groups of people can watch two players go head to head as they wait their turn in line. When that chance came a month later, we were greeted with venomous lag. The recent 1.01 patch does nothing to remedy it.
If you select to find a random player to fight against in any of the modes, they’re all plagued with tremendous slowdown, most of which crashes fights and kicks everyone out. The only way to minimize it is to join the Lobby, but again, this just minimizes the problem. In every room I toured, there were at least two people complaining about the lag via Chat. Some matches can still slow to a crawl and shut down, others seem fine but are subjected to surprise lag at any moment, but even during matches where the speed seems “normal” it’s but an illusion; delay still exists but on a frame rate level. The difference borders microscopic but it’s enough to have one unknowingly adapt to a new set of physics. Once you return to the offline modes, you’ll suddenly notice that things seem faster and you’ll have to re-adjust again.
If you sharpened up on advanced combos and strats, the lag throws a good amount of that effort out the window. Prepare yourself for having all your losses and victories dictated by delay. Get ready for King of the Hike, the exclusive underwater theater experience. And if you haven’t gotten used to using the block button, thanks to time spent with other fighters, lag tends to diminish its importance. In observing Team Sp00ky and CrossCounterTV’s online MK play, it dawned on me that 360 owners were the most fortunate afterall: 99% lag free. So it would seem that the exclusive addition of Kratos is the complimentary tissue for purchasing the PS3 version, and if possible, I’d gladly trade him for better online playability.
Mortal Kombat definitely provides a fighting experience like no other. With a return to the original all-star cast, the involving Challenge Tower, the best Story Mode in fighter history, approachable gameplay, and mindblowing graphics, this is an affair that definitely requires your attention. However, if you happen to live in a rural location or don’t have many friends that dig the genre, consider yourself stuck between deciding to tough out the online play or relinquishing your soul to the 360.