Giant Bomb Review


Mortal Kombat Review

  • X360
  • PS3

Mortal Kombat is fantastic fun whether you're looking to take on the world or if you just want to see the story unfold in an all-new way.

Raiden and Liu Kang stop to chat about hats and lightning and stuff.
Raiden and Liu Kang stop to chat about hats and lightning and stuff.
Mortal Kombat, the reboot-friendly title of the ninth core game in a franchise that spans nearly two decades, manages to contain something for just about every sort of Mortal Kombat fan. If you're the type that just wants to see video game guys kill each other in gruesome and often-hilarious ways, MK has plenty of that. If you're interested in an approachable, well-designed fighting game that offers a variety of wild moves that are easy to execute but are tougher to work into timing-based combos, you're totally covered. And if you care about the lore of Mortal Kombat--bear with me here, I know how weird it is to talk about the story in a fighting game as a strong point--this game takes you through the early parts of the MK story, before it got too crazy and littered with more characters and realms than you could shake a loose spinal cord at. With its shockingly terrific solo components and a multiplayer offering that gives you plenty of options, Mortal Kombat might just be the most complete fighting game ever released. Oh, and yeah, it's a lot of fun to play, too.

The fighting style in Mortal Kombat builds upon the relatively recent past, with some of its ideas coming out of the previous release, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. But that game was still set in a 3D environment, allowing players to sidestep out of the way of incoming spears, fire, and ice projectiles. The new Mortal Kombat flattens the action back down to a 2D plane, just as it was in the original trilogy of arcade releases. This change makes an immediate impact on the action, returning the game to an in-your-face, offensive style, where the best way to stop your opponent from teleporting behind you with his fist out is often to just do it to him first. Projectiles are truly dangerous again, and the game feels a bit more active than its immediate predecessor did.

The game also returns to the uppercuts and sweeps found in the original trilogy. You can start combos with jump-in punches, juggle them up into the air, and do what you can to keep them there, delivering damage all the while. That's not to say that there's no defensive aspect to Mortal Kombat, as there's definitely value in turtling up, trying to poke, and baiting out someone's X-ray, a bone-crunching move that requires a full super meter to attempt. But at times it feels like the fights are best when two players are simply going for it at all times. It's a thrilling game with a lot of flashy moves and combos, many of which can be sussed out by newer players. The specials are easy to perform, and once you wrap your mind around the logic of getting someone into the air and keeping them there, figuring out the most damaging moves you can is half the fun (at least until someone does the math and tells you which combos, exactly, do the most damage). While it goes out of its way to recall some of the fighting mechanics popularized by MKII and MK3, the game doesn't play like some total throwback, either. Carefully considering when to use the moves that drain parts of your super meter and timing those juggles just right are both pretty key.

Johnny Cage, playing the minigame from Tapper... but with SKULLS.
Johnny Cage, playing the minigame from Tapper... but with SKULLS.
That style of fighting drives the entire game across all of its modes, but you can opt to play it in both a traditional one-on-one fight or in a two-on-two tag battle. The game actually lets up to four humans play at once, if you're interested in tag-teaming with a real person. The tag battles add some extra moves to the game, letting you call in your partner to perform quick special moves or tagging out in the middle of a combo with fast switches between fighters. Personally, I prefer the classic one-on-one style but tagging in and out makes for a fun variant.

Mortal Kombat probably contains the best collection of single-player elements of any fighting game, ever. Its largest piece is the story mode, a chapter-based tale that takes you from one playable character to the next as the events of Mortal Kombat's first three games unfold in an alternate timeline that allows the developers to change some pretty interesting things about the state of the Mortal Kombat universe. By the end, some characters are left in a completely different state than they were in the "normal" timeline, which is pretty cool. But the best part about the story is the way it's conveyed. The game seamlessly weaves from fight to cutscene and back again, loading the battles in the background as you watch the story scenes unfold. Each match even ends with a custom win quote specific to that situation. The flow of the story really sucks you in, and other than having to deal with some annoying boss AI near the end of each tournament (but especially at the very end), it's really outstanding. It's also pretty long, too, with over a dozen chapters that, if I'm counting, probably takes somewhere around seven or eight hours to finish, provided you aren't skipping cutscenes. In addition to the preset story mode, you can also take on an arcade ladder mode with each character, which gives you a quick batch of fights that culminate in character-specific endings.

The other big single-player mode is the Challenge Tower, which is a collection of 300 tasks that vary up the rules of the fighting in a lot of different ways. Some are simple changes, like tag battles where the tagged out partner recovers health, or fights that must be finished with a fatality in order to be completed, or endurance battles that have you outnumbered. But some of them get way crazier, like one where instead of using normal attacks, each button press launches one of your limbs at your enemy. The limbs grow back over time, giving you a steady stream of heads, arms, and legs to launch. Others have the whole world tilt from side to side as hits land, with the fighter on the "low" side of the screen taking steady damage. There are a lot of inventive twists on the standard MK fight in the Tower, though a few types repeat a little too frequently as you rise to the final battle. Some of the tasks even come with a bit of dialogue, some of which gets pretty silly, such as one that has Mileena trying to give a teddy bear as a gift, or another that has Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn fighting over a gurgling baby that sits in the background as you battle. It really keeps you guessing in the same way that Soul Calibur's similar Mission Mode did.

Test Your Luck spins the reels and gives you random gameplay variants to keep you on your toes.
Test Your Luck spins the reels and gives you random gameplay variants to keep you on your toes.
The Challenge Tower and the story mode force you to play specific characters, giving you plenty of time to try out most of the 27 fighters and figure out which are your favorites. Being that the game is set during the first three games, the vast majority of the roster comes from that era, from the MK1 classics like Scorpion, Liu Kang, and Kano to the MK3 upstarts like Kabal, Nightwolf, and Stryker. Each character gets at least two outfits and two fatalities. Those second outfits, methods to perform the second fatalities, and loads of concept art and music are unlocked via the "krypt," which behaves much as it has in past MK games. There's only one type of coin this time around (as opposed to six), and sinking time into the story mode will earn you enough coins to unlock a lot of stuff. Like past games, most of the concept art isn't really worth dwelling on for very long, so versus screen "kombat kodes," costumes, and fatality instructions are the most important things to get out of the krypt.

Online, the game plays mostly how it plays offline, provided the network conditions are just right. The structure of the online mode starts with the same sort of lobby system used in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, giving players a spot to swap text with one-another as challenges are passed around and battles are fought. If you don't want to mess around with chat rooms, the standard ranked and unranked options are also present. Both regular and tag battles can be played online, and a new mode called King of the Hill rounds things out pretty nicely. This is MK's take on the "quarter match" or "endless battle" mode, allowing up to eight players to join a room and spectate fights while they wait for their turn to take on the current winner. The loser of each fight goes to the back of the line. MK's take on the mode includes a visual lobby, of sorts, where avatars stand around and watch the battles. You can emote with your avatar using different button presses to express your joy or rage during a fight, or you can just hit the select button and make the fight take up the entire screen. After a fight, the spectators and the loser are asked to rate the match, which gives "respect points" to the winner. The avatar presentation is a cool way to present the concept, and there are even hidden emotes in there for players to figure out, proving that the team behind Mortal Kombat will stuff secret moves into just about anything they possibly can.

Reptile wants to see your insides.
Reptile wants to see your insides.
Visually, the game is a big step up from the last Mortal Kombat game, with far more detailed characters and backgrounds. If I had to guess, I'd say that locking down the perspective to a fixed 2D battle helps make this possible, and there's a great amount of detail to be found in the graphics. As in the previous game, the characters' costumes get torn up over the course of a battle, resulting in bloody scrapes and cuts in the sides of faces, ripped clothes and masks, and so on. It's a great effect that looks even cooler when the fighters are also covered in blood at the end of a fight. It's pretty extreme and, well, pretty funny, too. Maybe I just have a weird sense of humor.

Though the look and feel of the game is roughly identical across platforms, the PlayStation 3 version of Mortal Kombat offers some additional features that make it the better version of the two. Specifically, the PS3 version has support for 3D televisions and also has an additional character, Kratos from God of War. The extra character and stage are nice, and Kratos has a pretty cool ending, but it probably isn't a make-or-break addition unless you're a huge fan of the God of War series. The game's 3D mode looks quite nice. I certainly found it easier to follow than the typical 3D first-person shooter, though that says more about the differences in presentation between the two genres than anything about the quality of any one game's 3D support.

Mortal Kombat has a broad appeal that I think will work for players from a variety of skill levels. There's a passable tutorial in place to teach you the basics, but no one thing in the game is that tough to accomplish. The game gets tricky when you start to put all of those things together into combos, but by the time you're thinking about that, you'll probably be ready to handle it. As for top-level play, I'm not the guy to judge any fighting game from the "is this game tournament-worthy?" angle. But MK feels solid, with enough depth and guessing games in place to work, provided that it's as balanced as it feels after a week of solid play. But even if, for some reason, the competitive aspects of the game didn't work out, there's so much great single-player material in Mortal Kombat that it's still worthwhile even if you aren't looking to fight others.    

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
207 CommentsRefresh
Avatar image for captainslender
Edited By captainslender

Super happy to hear. I've always wanted to get into a fighting game like Street Fighter or MvC but after attempting both, I came up short. While enjoyable, without real dedication (and eventually having to resort to online sources for how to fucking play the game well) I didn't think there was much point. But the MK demo had me smackin' around fools with easy to execute combos that deliver the "LET ME HURT PEOPLE RIGHT NOW" feeling SF and (to a lesser extent) MvC don't have off the bat. Hoping my import copy makes it through Australian customs, it sounds like it's worth it.

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Edited By Hoffafiles
No Caption Provided
I Assume this is how most feel about this week    
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Edited By crunchmonkey

I can't wait to get this. As soon as I get up I'm heading over to Best Buy.    

Avatar image for wolf_blitzer85
Posted By wolf_blitzer85


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Posted By ricetopher


Haters gonna hate.

Avatar image for slaker117
Posted By Slaker117

I don't think anyone didn't see that coming.

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Edited By Lukeweizer

Christopher Lambert would be proud.

Avatar image for twogunsablazin
Posted By TwoGunsABlazin

Mooooortal kombat. 

Avatar image for jjor64
Posted By JJOR64

Seen that coming.   :P

I'm having fun with the game so far.  Need to get used to the block button.

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Posted By Daveyo520

Shock :O

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Posted By adamfedoruk


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Posted By ReyGitano

So best Mortal Kombat game is what I'm reading here.

Avatar image for mistermouse
Posted By MisterMouse

awesome stuff! It seemed like this was going to be a pretty good mortal kombat.

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Posted By Hot_Karl

Damn baby girl, from behind, you look like a 3-star game, but you're easily a 5-star game.

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Posted By Skald

I'm giggling. That's how excited I am to play this.

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Posted By craigbo180

Obligatory five star score. I am hype enough to get this game but won't be playing until Friday because I'm in the UK.

Avatar image for legend
Posted By Legend

There is so much content in this game!

Avatar image for tyashki
Posted By Tyashki

Awesome. I can't wait to play this.

Oh wait, its against the law.

Avatar image for horry43
Posted By Horry43

Jeff, cover the $20k tournament.

Avatar image for ghost_of_perdition
Posted By Ghost_of_Perdition
@Legend:  You mean kontent.

So excited for my tournament edition to get here tomorrow. I'm seriously thinking of leaving work early...then I look at the bill... Thanks, Jeff!
Avatar image for patvb
Posted By PatVB

I am so excited to play this now!

Avatar image for craigbo180
Posted By craigbo180

Wow, Jeff recommends this game for the single player alone! Does this game not have a training mode ala SFIV/MVC3 that seems like a missed opportunity.

Avatar image for csl316
Posted By csl316

And Gametrailers gave this a 9.4.  Glad this game is truly bad ass.  Judging by how much fun the demo alone was, I can't say I had any doubt.

Avatar image for legend
Posted By Legend
@Ghost_of_Perdition said:
" @Legend:  You mean kontent.
You are Korrect. :P
Avatar image for donpixel
Posted By DonPixel

wow this is cool definitely looking forward for this

Avatar image for marz
Posted By Marz

oh wow a video review too :)

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Posted By DeadPan


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Posted By taugehz

Flawless Victory

Avatar image for tr4gic_h3r0
Posted By Tr4gic_H3r0

So happy to hear the game turned out great! I was a little worried after playing the demo, but am now convinced, I will be buying this game. Thank you Ed Boon and krew for not disappointing.

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Posted By JJWeatherman

I wouldn't expect anything less from you, Jeff. Not to imply that the score's not accurate of course.

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Posted By ProjektGill

Great review Jeff. I'm excited to hear that this is a fighting game with an actual single player story mode (something that I've missed in recent fighters). I was wondering if you tested out any of the 3D stuff. I remember you guys talking about how the environments were done in 3D but not the characters so the spectators could still enjoy the fight and I kind of wanted to know how that stood up.

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Posted By DavidSnakes

Sorry, but completely untrustworthy review

Avatar image for crispy
Posted By Crispy

Cannot wait to play this damn game.

Was never all that into MK as a teen, but played the demo and loved it.

P.S. Might wanna clean this sentence up.
"The Challenge Tower and the story mode force you to play specific characters, giving you plenty of time to try out most of the 27 fighters are your favorites."
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Posted By DukesT3


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Posted By Eyz

Can''t hardly wait!!

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Posted By darkvare

i love how bloodstorm is the first on the list of similar games

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Posted By MisoRonery

Can't wait, although I kind of have to, because nothing short of the intervention of a cosmic force could stop me from buying Portal 2 first.  But, soon.  Very soon.

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Posted By SnakeEyes327

C'mon Jeff. This game takes place after MK: Armageddon, not DC. Other then that, great review.

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Posted By snoopytimes

I love MK vs DC. Can't wait to get my hands on this.

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Posted By FuzzYLemoN

lol, should've expected this at midnight.

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Posted By Doomshine

This is one of the most expected review scores I can think of in recent history.

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Posted By Ben_H

I know what I'm using my gift card on now.  Can't wait to play this tomorrow.

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Posted By sanchopanza


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Posted By Portis

I think Jeff likes this game.

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Posted By CptBedlam

I'm so pumped!!! Can't wait till my copy arrives! Awesome awesome awesome ... modes in this game look crazy entertaining.

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Posted By lacke

You know, after the PAX panel I can't stop noticing every time Jeff writes "the game". Damn you Brad! :)

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Posted By Swoxx

Great review, both written and video. I might actually pick this up, even though the last fighting game i played was MK for the genesis

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Posted By LiquidSwords

Had a chance to pick this up early and having a blast with it! MK fans rejoice!

Avatar image for simplexity
Posted By Simplexity

After Mk vs DC got 5 stars, MK reviews mean pretty much nothing on this site sorry to say.

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Posted By dagas

Sounds good, but I'd be more interested in a review from a MK-sceptic than a huge MK fan like Jeff. Apart from playing the first game on SNES and seeing the first movie I have very little history with MK. How good will the game be for someone like me?