When the original Mortal Kombat hit arcades, it caused a shockwave that prompted many countries to adopt age ratings due to its now infamous fatalities. It’s said that Sub-Zero’s head pulling fatality alone created the ESRB rating system in the US. Since graphical fidelity has improved over the years, the finishers in Mortal Kombat games have become more visceral. Mortal Kombat X – the second in the rebooted timeline, sports some of the most graphic fatalities yet, but also some of the biggest fighting game innovations in years.
Story modes in the Mortal Kombat franchise have given mostly great insight into the lore and it’s fascinating to see how this new timeline is panning out. We’ve got characters resolving their differences that before wouldn’t have been possible, characters getting married to each other before divorcing, and even Raiden mourning over former allies who are now squarely on the side of evil. We see the next generation of fighters who are all great and diverse fighters that are just exciting to play as than their parents. NetherRealm Studios have also shown they’re not afraid to pull a Game of Thrones and bump off a few faces to further the plot. All in all, if you care about the new lore, Mortal Kombat X has you sufficiently covered, even if the QTE segments aren’t your thing.
Compared to many other games in the franchise’s history, Mortal Kombat X has a polished, gritty aesthetic that is appealing yet repressive at the same time. Backgrounds are either full of life or desolate while character models are well detailed and sport cosmetic differences between each variation. Sound design is wonderfully done, with character introductions in each fight a major boon to the presentation. What is jarring, however, is how the fighting gameplay is all in solid 60fps but intros, fatalities, and X-Ray style attacks are rendered in 30fps. It breaks the flow a little bit and honestly is a baffling design choice.
Blood, guts, and gore
When you select a character, you also need to select a variation. This is the biggest change that NetherRealm Studios have made to the Mortal Kombat formula and perhaps the best gameplay innovation. With tweaks to combos and new moves unique to each variant, every character in the roster suddenly is three times as unique cosmetically and functionally. For example, Kano’s variants are Cybernetic: which adds lasers and gives him a red glow; Command: which adds counter attacks and gives him a yellow glow; and Cutthroat: which adds knife attacks and gives him a blue glow. It’s fascinating to see just how different each character plays with little time needed to adapt to each other mode.
By taking what worked in Injustice: Gods Among Us and the rebooted Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm have created a 2D fighting style that is interactive and vaguely balanced. Each of the stages has things in the background to jump off, throw at your opponent, or run your opponent’s head into. A stamina meter underneath the health bar now makes movement more tactical, while the EX Moves, Breakers, and X-Ray attacks from Mortal Kombat return and are just as effective. As far as 2D fighting games go, there is a lot going on and you need to be on your toes in order to ensure you aren’t caught out.
We can’t talk about the franchise without talking about the finishing moves. Fatalities are, as previously mentioned, some of the bloodiest and the most ridiculous put on screen. More often than not, the first time I saw any given fatality I winced, laughed and stared in amazement. It’s a common cycle for every game and it just goes to show how sick the team at NetherRealm can get.
Sadly, the hilarious Babalities from Mortal Kombat are gone, but the reworked Brutalities (five in total for each character with some requiring certain variants) encourage you to perform specific moves under certain conditions to instantly kill an opponent on your last hit. These outshine the fatalities in a way as they’re harder to execute and far more rewarding to pull off.
Much like prior Mortal Kombat games, NetherRealm have injected a lot of extra modes to motivate you into fighting more against both AI and human opponents. Towers come in both static and “Living” variants, which incidentally change entirely as time goes by. You can even challenge friends to a random tower challenge to compete for the highest score. Test Your Luck challenges introduce modifiers that help, hinder, or even make you seasick; while Test Your Might is a button-mashing nightmare that is only a brief diversion. Then there’s the Krypt, still the best way to unlock things, but now in a first-person dungeon-like setting.
Choose your destiny
Online offerings include 1v1 matchups, King of the Hill, and Team variants in both public and private flavours. At the time of review, there is a bit of an issue with the net-code as matches have been spotty when it comes to latency. In a 60fps game where frame data is essential, it’s jarring when you press to block and your character blocks a second afterwards. Should this be resolved, however, there are no other big issues with the concept of the multiplayer modes.
Everything revolves around both Personal and Faction rankings. At the beginning of your gameplay career in Mortal Kombat X, you are given the choice of one of five factions to join. Each match against both AI and human opponents contributes a small point bonus to your faction’s ranking. You can also undertake Invasion modes to further contribute towards your faction, including wailing on an invincible AI controlled opponent, defeating randomly spawning Invaders, and challenging the Invasion Tower. It’s a bit early to tell the significance of everything that is happening, so over time we’ll get a better idea of what impact one player would have on the rest of the world.
Mortal Kombat X is more than just ultra-violence; it’s a smart fighting game beneath the surface. Sure it hooks you in with its ridiculous fatalities and gore, but while old games have sometimes relied on that alone, the latest in the series gives greater variety and complexity. Mortal Kombat X is also feature rich, giving players lots of modes both offline and online. Without hesitation, it is the best game in the franchise and the first great fighting game designed for next generation platforms.