I Kan’t Even…
Mortal Kombat X is something special. So special, in fact, that I decided to come out of retirement for one last review. If you told Ed Boon, creator and curator of all things Kombat related, that his franchise would be hitting new highs 23 years later he would have likely laughed in your face. We know this because he has said as much. When Mortal Kombat 9 (simply titled Mortal Kombat) released in 2011 the series was struggling. Mortal Kombat vs DC was a token titles borrowing the names of its betters, and Armageddon seemed a sadly fitting name for a series in its twilight. MK9 took things back to basics, revitalizing an entire genre in the process. Topping that potent combination of adrenaline, nostalgia, and excess must have seemed a Herculean task and yet somehow Ed Boon and his team at Netherrealm have outdone themselves.
The progress made since Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us is clearly evident. Returning characters feel familiar and newcomers fit right in. Despite the character roster being a bit lighter than I would have liked, each character has three loadouts which does help to bolster the roster some. We also have the upcoming deluge of DLC characters to look forward to including Predator which is awesome because well, Predator. Long time players will not take long to adjust, especially if they return to playing their favorites. I was spearing and teleporting with Scorpion in no time. X-rays and fatalities are as awesome as ever and have been joined by brutalities, just in case you weren’t seeing enough blood and guts before.
Ranked and the other online modes are as robust as ever, except for the glaring absence of tag team matches. There are 3 and 5 player team battles, but it isn’t quite the same. As I slowly rebuild the callouses on my thumbs, I am reminded that truly mastering a fighter takes commitment; a level of commitment that might keep some players out of the more competitive modes. For those who don’t enjoy the punishing difficulty of playing against real people, there are enough challenge and arcade towers to fill a large metropolis.
The audio visual side of Mortal Kombat X is solid and adds to the experience without ever being too distracting. There is a noticeable visual upgrade that can be credited to the new console generation, but what really stands out is the background action. The areas are more full of life than ever before. There are hordes of bystanders wandering around, particle and lighting effects galore and enough just the right amount of eye candy to pull everything together without destroying your focus. I only got my face punched off around 10 times while scanning for easter eggs in the background- it could have been much worse. The music is a nice mix of classic and new tracks. Like the visuals, the sound effects manage to hit all the right wet, crunchy snaps of breaking bones and rending flesh. The interactable arenas from Injustice are back but have been tempered to fit more in line with Mortal Kombat’s gameplay. It wouldn’t make sense to have kombatants throwing helicopters at each other as comic book characters often do.
We’ve been conditioned to have low expectations for story mode in fighting games. A paragraph of exposition is usually all we get, maybe a couple of cutscenes if we’re really lucky. Netherrealm defies all expectations by including not just a story, but a damn good one. Mortal Kombat has always had a deep lore, which is part of what gives it’s characters such lasting appeal. The emphasis is on telling an exciting story full of enough intrigue, betrayal, and blood to give Game of Thrones a run for its money. It feels like a summer blockbuster.
I encountered many classic favorite characters, many of whom are not on the roster this time around. Unfortunately this is where my one major complaint comes in. A few of the characters I ran into were part of story mode fights but weren’t playable. They seemed to have all the same moves they did in previous games, in fact I suspect most of the code for these characters was ported directly over from the last iteration. This begs the question: Why go to the trouble of including these characters, creating animation, code, sound effects and other assets and then not add them to the roster of playable characters? I found myself distracted and repeatedly asking this question. It boggles the mind.
The Verdict: 9.3 out of 10
Mortal Kombat X is a continuation of Netherrealm’s current hot streak. I’m excited to get back into the mix as soon as I’m done writing this review and even more excited by the momentum they seem to be gaining. In a genre known for its inaccessibility, the game has somehow managed to stay relevant in competitive play without leaving everyone else in the dust. I will still be laughing and yelling at my TV months from now. I was a bit put off by some non-playable characters being included in the game, but my annoyed disbelief was nowhere near enough to keep me away. So much has been added and streamlined, and I can’t ignore the fact that a AAA game worked at launch. I’d love to keep gushing about this game for another review’s worth of words but for now, I need to get back to ripping out spleens.
Mike Bertrand is a video producer for MONG. He has a deep and some would say unnatural love for Mortal Kombat and gladly came out of retirement to write this review. Occasionally he is a smart ass on Twitter: @SurvivalHorible