While the Mortal Kombat series has always had a keen following, many would argue its long past its prime. Though each has been enjoyable in their own right, the 3D outings in the series have been met with a mixed response by both critics and the core audience. Understanding the decline in respect for the series, co-creator Ed Boon has seen fit to return to the very beginning, in terms of both gameplay and setting.
Essentially rebooting the franchise with the plot of all three of the original 2D titles, the Story Mode of Mortal Kombat is key to the success of this ninth release in the series. It’s not a reboot to the extent of ignoring the subsequent fiction and characters, instead simply retelling the original tale from the beginning once again with much more in the way of detail, and a much more commendable delivery. Successive chapters see players taking on different characters for a number of fights: first Johnny Cage, then Sonya Blade, Scorpion and so on, each progressing the cinematic delivery of the story.
Irritating difficulty spikes do occur in the Story Mode, most notably with the game’s envisioning of the original Endurance matches. Mortal Kombat features a tag-team gameplay mechanic wherein players choose a team of two to take into battle, switching between each almost instantly, however here in the Story Mode the player remains a solo fighter throughout, tasked with taking on teams entirely alone. This is an unfortunate blemish upon the face of the Story Mode, an otherwise immaculate presentation especially in terms of technical details. Using the in-game character models to elegantly brutal effect, spouting fan service out of every pour and hiding loading times cleverly between sequences make for one of the most immediate, memorable Story Modes ever offered in a Beat-‘Em-Up game.
The Story mode is joined by a host of other gameplay modes, including the usual Arcade style ladder and ‘Test Your’ mini-games that have become one of the most memorable parts of the 16-bit releases in the series, but perhaps the most noteworthy is that of the Challenge Tower. An extensive variety of challenges gradually increasing in difficulty explore the wider possibilities of the Mortal Kombat formula without stretching into the realms of chess or kart racing. From survival challenges to entirely removed shooting gameplay, the Challenge Tower offers plenty of variety in accompaniment to the core game modes.
In terms of fighting mechanics, Mortal Kombat has done away with all the stance options and varying martial arts, and returned to the original formula of basic, counter and special moves. The combo counter from Mortal Kombat 3 returns, as it’s clear that the developers have aimed to keep the combat system as close to this most fluid 2D outing. The biggest revision of the formula would be the Special Meter, which includes combobreaker, enhanced and x-ray moves. Combobreakers act here as they ever did – allowing the player to interrupt their opponent with split second timing – and the enhanced moves add extra damage and a new visual effect to your chosen characters special moves. X-ray moves were made famous during Mortal Kombat’s development process, and can be devastating during play. Zooming in close, the x-ray moves has obviously been influenced by the Xbox’s Fight Club, showing the damage inflicted on tissue and bone directly.
Each of the three techniques requires a greater amount of the Special Meter, with the x-ray moves demanding a full quota. The Special Meter is built slowly through landing blows, but more swiftly through receiving them. Due to this, the X-ray moves can often be used as a last-ditch effort, allowing player to regain ground after a firm beating, and given that the meter retains its current charge between rounds, it will quickly become a key component of many player’s strategies.
Mortal Kombat is a very well presented game, offering some remarkably detailed, believable character models and eye-catching backdrops. The animation is simply fantastic throughout and, despite the often odd shapes and sizes of many of the characters, the collision detection is near-perfect. As usual, the PlayStation 3’s DualShock 3 controller proves encumbering with the odd placement of it’s analog sticks and disjointed D-Pad, though not enough to discourage any gamer that has dealt with these issues in any of the Street Fighter IV titles on the system.
From the initial announcement to last week’s launch, Electronic Theatre had taken everything Warner Bros. Interactive had thrown at us with a pinch of salt. Yes, it did look to be the fine point between fan service and attracting a new generation of gamers, and yes it did look as though it was set to harness the power of current-generation hardware in a way that so few competing titles have done, but still it was wise to reserve judgement until the final game arrived with us. And now that it has, it’s unquestionably a return to form, and though it’s not designed for tournament standard, Mortal Kombat is perhaps one of the beat fighting games yet to grace a home console.