Two words have been on gamers’ lips over almost two decades of blood-splattered beat-’em-up action. Two words have defined an entire fighting game franchise since it first emerged way back in 1992. Two words bellowed by the announcer at the end of a Mortal Kombat bout, when a semi-conscious defeated opponent wavers unsteadily on their feet. And those two words are: Finish him!
We all know what follows. A few seconds of intense fumbling with the joypad and a series of haphazardly mashed buttons as our victorious on-screen character trips over his shoe laces and twists his ankle, while our opponent eventually laughs himself unconscious. What should happen, if the fatality move is executed correctly, is an extremely brutal finisher.
The gore in this 2011 reboot takes the Mortal Kombat series to unprecedented over-the-top levels. Joining the usual spine-rippers are the likes of buzzsaw blades cleaving folks in two, fighters getting their heads literally punched clean off, and unfortunate losers being thrown in acid baths with a graphic depiction of them dissolving. The programmers have truly outdone themselves with the gore factor.
It helps that the graphics are beautifully rendered to give these and other special moves extra impact. Equally, the backgrounds are nothing short of stunning, crammed with all sorts of animated detail. While there’s a 3D effect to the visuals, Mortal Kombat still plays out in two dimensions, sticking very much to its core gameplay principles. The controls are kept relatively simple- aside from some of the trickier special moves – and we found even the more complex joypad-shuffling finishers possible, after a bit of practice.
It’s all in the timing
Practice mode is one thing, however, and while the moves aren’t particularly difficult at heart, pulling them off in live combat is a different matter. Blocking and defending yourself, knowing when to strike and how to time your special X-ray moves – so-called because they come complete with a bone-crunching X-ray cut-scene – is a considerable learning process. As is chaining combos and punch-juggling opponents in the air.
Despite the more demanding nuances, the basic controls keep matters relatively accessible for those who just want to semi-button-mash, and not think about tactics too much. And there’s an excellent selection of tutorial options for when you decide you want to learn more about the successful execution of moves, including a separate set of fatality tutorials, which is very handy.
Mortal Kombat has more options than Goldman Sachs. Aside from the practice dojo, there’s a standard arcade ‘versus’ mode, plus a tag-team ladder for two-versus-two battling (a first for MK). Not only this, but there’s a full-on story mode which has a proper plot that actually makes some semblance of sense. It also throws varied challenges at you, such as taking on two opponents at once.
If it’s challenges you’re after, though, a trip to the Challenge Tower is in order. This is a 300-floor marathon of mini-tasks with a wonderfully entertaining emphasis on variety. There are fights where only special moves can be used, or where the combatants are poisoned so they don’t last long anyway. Then there are more off-the-wall challenges such as taking down an incoming horde of zombies, along with tests of strength (hammering buttons) and sight (keeping track of which decapitated head has the eyeball beneath it).
Mortal Kombat has a sense of humour as well – which one challenge, entitled I hate teddies, aptly demonstrates. Mileena (a sort of demon half-breed) has made Scorpion (the revenant ninja assassin) a teddy bear, and insists he accepts her gift. However, Scorpion doesn’t like teddies and refuses it – so the pair fight. If she wins, Mileena chucks the toy at his prone and beaten body. Watching a stuffed bear bounce off his bloodied scalp as she utters a petulant here, have it is a moment of fighting game genius.
There’s multiplayer, too, with a full lobby system, ranked and unranked matches for versus or tag-team play, along with a king of the hill mode. This is winner-stays-on in true arcade style, with the fight displayed on a cinema screen and the waiting players all spectating as their Xbox avatars. Spectators can cheer or applaud adroit moves, or boo cheesy play, then rate the winner with respect points at the end of the bout. This is an excellent touch.
Unfortunately, we found king of the hill play to be pretty laggy at times. It would seem that the Mortal Kombat servers are struggling with the sheer weight of players going online just after launch. At busier times, we hit some slight lag patches in our versus matches, although the majority ran smoothly enough. The developer has acknowledged this and is focused on resolving online issues asap, but for the moment, king of the hill bouts can be rather hit or miss (literally).
One final note on the Xbox Live multiplayer: Warner Bros has introduced an EA-style online pass, which is necessary to play. Bear that in mind if you purchase a second-hand copy of the game, because it means someone will have already used the code, and it’ll cost you 800MS points to buy your own pass.
Company: Warner Bros
- Hugely brutal and addictive fighting action.
- Online play suffers from a touch of the dreaded lag.
Stuffed with content, visually superb and with finishing moves which will make your eyes bleed, Mortal Kombat is an awesomely well-rounded fighting experience. There's an involved story mode, freshly introduced tag-team fighting, the excellent Challenge Tower and extensive multiplayer options. The only downer is the lag that's currently causing some turbulence with the online play.