Friday, April 22, 2011

Mortal Kombat Review - A Bloody Good Time

My time with Mortal Kombat has been nothing short of ass-kickingly awesome. From top to bottom, this is the fighting game Mortal Kombat fans have been waiting on since the game franchises' disastrous foray into 3D fighters. The game's story mode takes the Mortal Kombat story back it's roots. The game begins with the defeat of Earth Realms mightiest warriors and protectors at the hand of the Out world emperor. From there they do a clever Star Trek style reboot and mess with the space time continuum.

This reboot of Mortal Kombat includes a fairly full roster of MK alumni. It returns to the tournament from MK1, but there are some new faces to this tournament. Fans of the series will surely recognize cyborg characters Sektor and Cyrax, but will they recognize them as humans before their transformation? Seeing such well known characters in the first tournament, and before their final incarnations was a real treat. I've enjoyed my time with the story mode significantly, but nothing compares to the old school arcade mode. Choosing your favorite character and testing your might against the cpu opponents, a friend or even a stranger online is just as rewarding as it ever was.

I've never been a big fan of fighters, but for a few simple reasons Mortal Kombat has always been one of my favorite gaming franchises. Top to bottom, MK is its own game. There have been many copies and clones, but none ever so popular. The game has regained its sense of self. The combat is just as tight and over the top as ever. I worked my way through every character on the roster and although I have my favorites, I didn't find one that I couldn't at least play competently after a few rounds. Button mashing is no where near as rewarding as carefully timed attacks and parries, but it is possible for casual fighters.

The combo system lacks depth, but for those willing to practice their timing this MK has the best juggling system in the series so far. Pulling of basic specials is simple enough, but a new power up meter at the bottom of the screen allows for advanced special moves. For example, say you're playing as fan favorite Sub-Zero. Using his freeze blast will freeze an opponent in place, and they can then either break away with button presses, or you can beat them out of it. However, if you use a meter from the power up bar while using the move it becomes a stronger ice beam with more damage and a significantly longer freeze period. Saving the bars in the meter until its full allows the player to pull off an incredibly damaging "X-Ray" move. These special moves are generally a flurry of strikes the go in slow-mo and have a CSI type of internal view so you can see organs erupt, bones shatter, blades pierce, etc.

MK as always had a habit of rewarding players with special unlocks and fun cameos, and this new title is no exception. Adding Kratos from the God of War series was a perfect fit for PS3 owners. Unfortunately, Xbox enthusiasts didn't get so lucky. The single console exclusive was sort of a slap in the face for Xbox users. Imagine how amazing it would be to Chainsaw Bayonet an enemy as Marcus Fenix's fatality, or to go to town with an energy sword combo as Master Chief. Honestly, I see no good reason not to have used an Xbox exclusive character, but overall it's a small beef with an otherwise very well made game. I certainly won't say it's perfect.

I've had time with both the PS3 and 360 versions and the controller for the 360 is not cut out for MK. Using the thumb sticks often results in unwanted jumping and ducking, and the D-Pad feels rather unwieldy for those intense battles. PS3 controller faired far better in the handing department. I also was able to try out the tournament edition fight pad. This classically styled arcade stick with six buttons made me feel beastly at rapidly throwing fireballs and decimating opponents. Unfortunately this particular joystick comes two ways: with the Mortal Kombat Tournament Edition game pack which retails around $150 or as an online exclusive for around $99.99. The steep price tag makes this a relatively hard to justify purchase for such superfluous reasons, but it looks beautiful, controls amazingly tight, and pretty much gave me a nerd boner all the way around. Outside of controller issues I also noticed some buggy online play.

All my time online was with a 360 console. Matches online take a ridiculously long time to load. For quick play it seems to take upwards of 3-5 minutes to find an opponent which is sort of the opposite of quick play when most matches average about a minute and a half. Given that you find an opponent you enjoy playing with, each match ends with a screen opting for a rematch. If you select to do so you are returned to the character select screen and choose a new character. Once linked with another player rematches load significantly more quickly than initial matches. A new online play mode called King of the Hill plays out similar to the old days of 'winner takes next' in arcades. Basically the lobby is a waiting area where you're represented by you PSN or 360 avatar, and you wait your turn to battle the winner of the current match. I found the long wait times a bit boring after waiting around 3 minutes or so for the game to even get me in the lobby. I'm hoping eventually they will add a feature where you can at least watch the current matches while you wait.

Overall I feel like I'm nitpicking. I enjoyed my time with this game and will certainly be spending more with it. The return of the Krypt, which is a large cemetery setting in which you unlock extra costumes, concept art, musical tracks, and other goodies, is sure to be a big fan pleaser. Also, the inclusion of so many MK alumni in this game will definitely bring back a few old hats who've since strayed from the 3D games. The backgrounds in each fight are more beautiful and vivid than ever. During an online match my opponent told me to hang back a second an just watch the background. I was blown away. On the Rooftops level in the background you can watch the army fighting on the Outworld's invasion in NY City. This is complete with a full blown chase/fight between helicopters and mother fuckin' dragons! One level featured on a bridge features another battle on a bridge just a few meters away, and each level was so detailed and gorgeous I'd catch myself getting pummeled while trying to watch the background action.

The soundtrack was surprisingly bleh. A sort of mix between House music and orchestrated doom left me feeling less than impressed, but epic set pieces and wonderfully brutal battles are more than enough to make you forget about the score anyway. To fans of the original trilogy, and fans of fighters in general I definitely recommend this latest MK instillation. Online play, although plagued with long loads is a blast, and the new king of the hill mode made for an interesting sort of way to bring you console avatars into the action. My recommendation is for the Mortal Kombat Special Edition. It runs about $99. It's just around thirty dollars over what you'd spend for the game by itself, and it comes with some incredibly gruesome, but beautifully detailed bookends. It also includes a gorgeous hardcover art book and codes for avatar awards, traditional costumes for some of the ninja characters and a "Kombat Kode" for future online content. For the money, this is the best buy.

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