Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros
Available: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, PC
Released: April 2015
Download Size: 34gb (Xbox One)
It’s that time once again, where fighting game players up and down the land begin to display guttural, primal and violent tendencies, so much so that competitors can often be found disembowelled and lacking vital pieces of their skeleton. If you’re a little bit confused, allow me to alleviate: Mortal Kombat X has finally arrived, and oh my, it is a cacophony of blood, guts, and gore.
With so much content on offer, I barely even know where to begin, so I’ll start as the game starts, with the Faction War. Upon first loading the game, you’re given the choice between 5 established Mortal Kombat factions: The Lin Kuei, the Black Dragon, Special Forces, the White Lotus and the Brotherhood of Shadow. More than just a cosmetic choice, anything that you do in Mortal Kombat X (Story, Online, Towers) will now contribute to a global war, where each faction competes against each other to gain the most points, and the winner at the end of each week will get some rewards. Given the amount of casual fans that might have picked the game up, but won’t be much competition online, having them contribute through offline play is genius. Everything you do in game is being rewarded. Not only that, but each faction gives you access to exclusive “Faction Kills”, a new type of finishing move for you to humiliate your opponent, on top of the reintroduced Brutalities and series mainstay Fatalities.
I suppose that now is a good time to talk about what Mortal Kombat is basically known for: The Gore. I’d question what kind of childhood trauma the NetherRealm team went through in order to come up with some of these fatalities , but I like my spine on the inside of the body, thank you very much. As you’d expect from a franchise which made it’s name from extremely violent controversy, Mortal Kombat X makes great use of the PS4/Xbox One’s increased power, to produce some truly stomach churning fatalities… Or “stomach ripped out through your mouth” fatalities in the case of Ermac. Included are a typical mix of dismemberment, disembowelment, beheading, exploding, mutilating and generally being not very nice, with some good old comedy thrown in for good measure. You can’t help but laugh when you first see Johnny Cage’s first fatality…
Once you’ve pledged your allegiance (White Lotus 4 LIFE), you’re free to engage in any form of violence that you wish, though your first stop really ought to be the tutorial, as you’ve got a lot to learn. The tutorial does a good job of training players in the core mechanics of the game, introducing them to the MK X meter system (1 bar for EX or enhanced moves, 2 for combo breakers, 3 for X-Ray attacks) and the concept of character variations, but beyond that, the game requires some self-experimentation. You’re not going to be led by the hand here, and you’re certainly not going to “get good” instantly. That being said, there is satisfaction to be had from piecing together a huge combo bit by bit, as you figure out how one combo can be linked into another and finished with a special move. Lower skilled players can stick to the old Mortal Kombat tactics of dive kick, low sweep and uppercut, but peel back the layers and you’ll find a complex fighter with depth typically not associated with the series.
Once you’ve got a grasp on things, it’s time for the excellent story mode, though quite frankly, any fighting game with some semblance of a story mode beyond a traditional Arcade mode will be heralded as excellent and the pinnacle of the genre. However, NetherRealm has garnered a reputation for genuinely good stories with both Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice, and the winning streak continues here. Starting off 2 years after the events of MK9, we see Shinnok using his nefarious means to invade Earthrealm, and generally be an arse about the whole thing. *SPOILERS*, his plan is thwarted by the end of the first chapter, as he is sealed away in his own amulet. Fast forward 20 years, and we see a new generation of Kombatants engaged in a vicious power struggle for the amulet, not too dissimilar to the Faction War system that ties the whole game together.
The non-linearity of the plot, which jumps between points within the 25 year timeline, opens the game up for more character development. Flashbacks reveal why characters make the decisions that they make, or how they came to be in their current position, which makes Mortal Kombat X the best NetherRealm Studios story yet. What was surprising was the amount of non-roster characters that appear either in the story or as an actual fight. Chapter 2 with Kotal Kahn sees you lay the smackdown on both Tanya and -redacted-. Now, whilst Tanya is appearing as part of DLC, it’s clear that the version here isn’t meant for player use, before people start talking about “on-disc DLC”. The other “non-roster” characters movesets have also been lifted from previous games… Not to give away their identity or anything… I’ve said too much!
The Story mode offers players a good opportunity to learn half the roster, though you might struggle if you don’t like how a character plays. Kotal Kahn is an example for me, I found him to be rather plodding in comparison to Johnny Cage’s fast combos in the previous chapter. Also, once you find yourself getting used to one character, you’re hauled away to the next chapter and given someone else to contend with. I can’t say that’s a bad thing though, as the game needs to strike the balance between teaching a character and creating a compelling narrative. It’d be hard to write a cohesive story when each chapter consists of one character wailing on the rest of the roster.
Fighting, or Kombat if we’re to use its given name, requires some getting used to. I imagine this is why Netherrealm showed off variations before launch; to get the fans up to speed on how to use each character. Variations are a master-stroke, as they subtly alter the character’s moveset without compromising the very core of that character. Going back to my main man Johnny Cage, his special moves transcend variations, but the way they are implemented changes. Fisticuffs allow Cage to buff his punches, giving him some sweet extra chip damage on blocking opponents, not to mention some additional combos. A-List allows him to charge his special moves, giving them some extra damage or allowing him to “fake-out” his opponents. Not only that, but he can dash cancel those moves, making him a tricky opponent in the right hands. Last is Stunt Double, in which Johnny sends out shadows of himself to do special moves, giving him some range on his combos similar Mortal Kombat 9’s Noob Saibot and his clone. These kinds of variations are available for every character, giving players so much choice in how they want to play. Whilst this practically guarantees that there’ll be a variation for every play style, newcomers may be overwhelmed by what’s on offer, and we fall back to the original point that self-experimentation is required in order to become good at the game.
The continued implementation of a block button takes some getting used to, especially for those trained in Street Fighter or Killer Instinct where just holding back automatically blocks. Though, this ultimately simplifies your defensive capabilities when it comes to things like cross-ups, and a block button has been an MK staple now for years. If nothing else, Mortal Kombat X is still true to its roots even to this day.
Mortal Kombat has always been a bit of an outlier in the fighting game community when it comes to single player content, and I mean that as the biggest complement. While most brawlers tend to be rather thin on the ground content-wise, Mortal Kombat delivers extra modes and content like they’re sweets. First up is the introduction of Living Towers that change hourly, daily and weekly, ensuring that every time you boot up the game, there is some form of new content to play. With over 100 possible gameplay modifiers to choose from, coupled with stipulations which could see you forced to play as a specific character, and you have an insane amount of content to deal with, and this isn’t including your standard Survival, Endless, Test Your Might, Test Your Luck and Traditional Arcade Towers either. What’s even better is the Weekly Towers offer a chance to sample the Premium characters, such as Goro, allowing for a sort of “try before you buy” scenario. There’s even a Tower Challenge Mode, where you complete a tower and then challenge your friends to beat your score.
Next up in the Wheel of Game-Modes Showcase, we have the Faction Invasion. Once a week, one of the realms invades the Faction War and offers a superior, almost invincible Champion who sponges moves like you were tickling them with a feather. Tasked with basically surviving for 30 seconds against them, you’ll find that this is possibly the most difficult single player challenge. The faction who accumulatively does the most damage against this opponent wins that particular event, and could help turn the tide for your chosen faction.
This brings me to the Factions themselves, and if I’m honestly, they’ve not been implemented brilliantly. Players can choose which Faction they want to be a part of, and there doesn’t seem to be a limit on how many can join, which has created a huge unbalance as a large majority seem to have joined the Lin Kuei. Whether this has anything to do with a Lin Kuei Faction Kill involving an MK Kombatant from the original trilogy is irrelevant, because it’s now created a serious handicap for anyone of a different faction. As Rush said in the song Subdivisions: “Conform or be cast out”. A way of fixing this could be some sort of percentage system, where each faction must have between a 15% to 25% share of active players, to try to keep the Faction War at least somewhat fair.
Finally, on the list of single player modes, is the Krypt. Beginning it’s days as a somewhat glorified mystery shop in MK: Deadly Alliance, the Krypt has now evolved into a fully interactive, first person dungeon explorer, complete with puzzles, hidden areas and the occasional jump scare. And by jump scare, I mean GIANT FREAKING SPIDERS! Arachnophobes need not apply, and will likely be glad to know that most costumes on offer can simply be unlocked by finishing Arcade Towers, or by levelling up certain factions.
The traditional and living towers offer plenty of offline (well, living towers is online, but you understand), single-player opportunities to hone your skills whilst experiencing some new styles of gameplay, along with the other modes on offer, but a game like Mortal Kombat lives and dies by its multiplayer content, and much to the surprise of no one at all, the online features a range of different ways to brutalise your opponents.
The main inclusions, other than the traditional ranked and player matchmaking, have been lifted from MK9, and they are the Rooms and King of the Hill. Rooms, just like it says on the tin, offers players a selection of rooms with which they can challenge opponents and try to socialize. I say try. This is the internet. It’s filled with people proclaiming themselves to be God’s GIft to Fatalities. Moving on to King of the Hill, this occurs in 8 player lobbies, and sees the champion, or King, defend himself and the throne from all challengers. This comes in either normal (straight 1v1 match up) or Survivor (health carries over between fights) flavours.
However, there are a few new additions. The first is perhaps the most crucial, especially when you want to learn how to play with a friend, and that’s the Online Practice mode. Here, you and your partner can experiment with different combos, and improve your game together. Also included, for those with a large group of online friends, are 3v3 and 5v5 Team Battles, which see each team member face off in a 1v1 battle. The team with the most wins are declared Master of Space and Time and obtain all the glory that goes with it. I may or may not be exaggerating.
There’s also the inclusion of online Test Your Luck, meaning you and a friend, or the annoying foreign guy who knows all the combos, can mess about with the different modifiers on offer. Finally, we have Online Tower Battle, where you and a few other Kombatants tackle a Tower, and the one who does it fastest and with the most points wins.
Needless to say, there is a whole lot to sink your teeth into. A fighting game fan will fit right in here immediately, and hopefully the sheer amount of single player content will encourage some newcomers to buy the game, get a bunch of practice under their belts, and then head online. Just don’t join the Lin Kuei.