roborobb's Mortal Kombat (Xbox 360) review

Mortal Kombat is back.

I’ve grown up with Mortal Kombat. Through the years, the bone-crushing series has progressed from 2D stop-motion sprites up to the 3D offerings on the current generation of consoles.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was the company’s best attempt at bringing MK to its rightful helm, yet it lacked the fighting flow and infamous gore of the original 2D games. So I’m happy to say straight up that NetherRealm’s new title, the ninth in the series, surpasses all previous 3D Mortal Kombat games and is easily one of the best fighting games ever released.

This latest version of Mortal Kombat takes the fighting mechanics from Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe and expands on them further. While recent games in the series have allowed the player to move on a 3D plane, this game returns to the classic 2D. This change returns special moves like Scorpion’s spear and Sub Zero’s ice projectile to their rightful level of effectiveness.

Speaking of which – all the characters you’d expect in a Mortal Kombat game are here, spanning the era of MK 1 to 3 (with the perplexing addition of Mortal Kombat 4’s Quan Chi).

At an impressive eight hours in length, Mortal Kombat’s substantial story mode sets new standards for fighting-game campaigns. The plot is a rough re-telling of the original three games in the series. But what makes the story mode so awesome is the constant voice acting throughout, a complete lack of loading screens, and a seamless cutscene-to-fighting structure that keeps the pace immensely satisfying. The story and dialogue can be cheesy at points, but that’s part of the fun here, and the high-intensity madness that sparks the fights is half the fun, with each twist and turn of the story seeming reasonable in the context of the MK universe.

The game features the traditional arcade ladder (similar to games in the series), which allows each character to have their own ending cutscene. Perhaps more interesting, though, is the Challenge Tower mode. This is similar to the Mission Mode from Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast, where you have to complete challenges that combine aspects of the game with different objectives and winning conditions. Some humorous narration has been added to each challenge in order to keep the momentum going, and bizarre challenges such as Armless Kombat are too good to miss.

A customisable practice mode is also available, which is necessary to progress further through the storyline. The difficulty of Mortal Kombat increases considerably as you progress, and understanding each fighter’s moves and tactics is vital.

And a Tag-Team mode is available for the first time in an MK game, allowing up to four players to battle locally or online.

Played online, Mortal Kombat runs surprisingly well with few latency issues and consistent games available. A new mode called King of the Hill allows up to eight players to interact while they watch an in-progress fight. These spectators can rate each fight and use a variety of animations to display their disgust or delight.

New and amateur players of Mortal Kombat can access tutorials, which provide the basic manoeuvres needed to play. There is also a tutorial for Tag-Team, and a fatality tutorial which makes learning and practicing fatalities easier than ever.

A new feature is the super meter. There are three sections to this, which fill up as you take damage or inflict damage on your foes. Filling the first of these sections allows you to perform a more powerful version of a special move, while filling the second and third allow you to break an opponent’s combo or perform a deadly X-ray move, respectively.

X-Ray moves are the most powerful attacks in Mortal Kombat, and can change the tide of a battle when properly used. They are so called because they show an “x-ray” view of a character’s bones and organs being crushed and broken.

Which quite rightly suggests that gore fans are unlikely to be disappointed. The damage each character takes throughout a fight is astounding, with flesh being ripped off and even brains becoming exposed. X-Ray moves are gut-wrenching, while most fatalities make you wonder quite how far we’re allowed to push videogame violence these days.

Still, the series has never looked better. The lighting is noticeably improved over MK vs. DC, and each combat arena contains a considerable amount of detail, even before you add the fighters. Mortal Kombat is a game that will you have tons of fun watching, as well as playing.

After each bout, you are rewarded with a currency called Koins, which can be used to buy extra fatalities, concept art and extra costumes at a place called the Krypt. The look of the Krypt is perfectly ghoulish, with each area featuring interactive animations, such as gruesome torture devices. The only letdown is that manoeuvring around this part of the game is a complete hassle, as it doesn’t seem to always lock onto what you select, thus wasting valuable fighting time.

But the biggest issue I had with Mortal Kombat is its brutal difficulty. I’m an experienced MK player, but I still struggled to make progress at various stages of the story and Challenge Tower modes. I often had to memorise a particular character’s moves and repeatedly use the practice mode until they were imprinted in my brain. Although it never led to too many frustrating moments, it made me question the approachability of the game for the more casual player.

Aside from these small niggles, and the lack of the infamous techno song, the new incarnation of Mortal Kombat is near-perfect in delivering on nearly everything a fan of the series could desire. With its triumphant return to classic 2D gore-porn, its fantastic variety of game modes and the promise of additional DLC content arriving “soon”, Mortal Kombat is unmissable – if you can stomach it.

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