If you had told me prior to 2011 that I would still be fully anticipating the release of the next chapter in the Mortal Kombat saga, I would have called you crazy. Once a favorite of mine back in its early days, this was a franchise that considerably fell off after the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis era. Hell, the best game to be based around the property following the release of MK3 is a beat-em ‘up spinoff. Perhaps sensing they needed to do something in order to sway public opinion, Ed Boon and the team at NetherRealm Studios went back to the drawing board for the next entry.
Enter Mortal Kombat 9, which not only brought the series to the last console generation, but also fully rebooted the franchise. Focusing primarily on the first three entries in the series, the reboot was able to make the story of the series engaging again and managed to bring the gameplay out of the dredges of the fighting game world. Now, after four years of waiting, and another console generation, the series has once again returned with Mortal Kombat X.
Taking place 20+ years after the events of MK9, MKX focuses on the battle between the fallen elder god Shinnok’s forces, and the remaining warriors of Earthrealm and their allies. While the storyline features mostly returning faces, NetherRealm has also introduced a variety of new characters in order to properly shake things up. Plus, they kind of had to bring in some new combatants considering the bloody and gruesome conclusion of the battle against Shao Khan.
Despite the fact that it comes in at a slim 4-5 hours, I rather enjoyed my time in the story mode. It still has that Mortal Kombat goofiness that makes things enjoyable, but I was also surprised by the strong theme of family that was present here. Since they’re not just focusing on the MK Tournament this time around, there is more room for NetherRealm to bring some real emotion to the franchise. This is still the same series where you can rip someone’s head in half and extinguish a cigar on their lower mandible, but the storyline is more engaging than most would think. It’s a little disappointing that it’s several hours shorter than the one found in MK9, but I’ll take a lean, strong plot over one that goes on for too long and limps to a conclusion.
Getting back to the roster for a second, while it has fewer combatants than both the previous entry and Injustice, it does not disappoint. Returning favorites like Johnny Cage, Kenshi and Liu Kang are still a blast to use, and their updated designs are far better than what the developer farted around following the release of MK3. Even more surprising is the fact that they were able to craft great new additions to the roster, which is something that the studio had previously struggled with.
The big roster additions are arguably the assorted offspring of classic Mortal Kombat characters. You have the daughter of Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage (Cassie), daughter of Jax (Jacqui), cousin of Kung Lao (Kung Jin), and son of Kenshi (Takeda). Some of the designs are a little bland, particularly Kung Jin, but how they play more than make up for these issues.
More intriguing than the offspring of older characters, are the new, and mostly ugly, faces of Outworld. Insect hybrid D’Vorah, Earth-born gunslinger Erron Black, mostly incompetent king Kotal Khan and the midget/giant tag-team of Ferra Tor inject new life into the roster. Not only are they unique from a design standpoint, but their combat styles are completely different from the other fighters. The characters are also major improvements on some of the garbage that NetherRealm has previously released (Hsu Hao, Kobra and Blaze).
For those that don’t care about the absurd happenings of the MK universe, though, the improved combat engine of Mortal Kombat X should be more than enough of a draw. The basic controls of buttons for two kicks, two punches and a block are retained, but thanks to the sheer variety of attacks and special moves for each combatant, they never feel stale. The tiered special meter also makes a return, so you can once again witness your opponents skull smash in brutal X-Ray glory.
Perhaps due to the slimmed-down roster, NetherRealm has provided each fighter with three different styles to choose from. For example, Raiden can fight in either his “Master of Storms,” “Thunder God,” or “Displacer” styles. While they retain some of the same basic moves across all three styles, each one feels noticeably different from the other. This is not the half-assed stance system introduced back in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. By featuring multiple styles for every fighter, there are now tons of options for players to mess around with in order to discover which fighter best suits them.
Furthermore, the gameplay itself is also quite deep and on par with many of Mortal Kombat‘s competitors. Between meter burning cancels, environmental actions and stamina draining dashing, if you expect to go into this and button mash your way to victory, you are going to be on the receiving end of a major beatdown.
Besides the story mode, Mortal Kombat X features a handful of additional mode that should satisfy fans. For one, towers return from the previous game and remain as much of a draw as ever. Sure, you can stick to the traditional tower, which is just basic 1-on-1 battles, but the Test Your Luck tower is a greater thrill, as modifiers such as super speed or heads falling from the sky make an already enjoyable match downright hilarious at times. As for the return of Test Your Might towers, which has players mashing buttons in order to smash objects, they’ll definitely be a pleasant surprise for some, but I personally found it more obnoxious than anything else.
If you get sick of battles against the A.I., you can always try your hand at online play. For the most part, the net code this time around is much better than the inconsistent at best one found in MK9. However, launch week has not exactly been smooth. Frequent bouts of lag, disconnecting players and struggles to even be matched up with an opponent have cropped up during my time online. I do think it will get better over the coming week, but for now, be prepared for some issues.
New to series is the always online action of Faction Wars. When you first boot up MKX, you will be required to enlist with one of the many organizations found in the world of Mortal Kombat. You can sign with the likes of the Lin Kuei, Special Forces, Black Dragon, etc. Playing through the game will help you level up in your chosen faction, which opens up faction specific fatalities. At the end of each week, a faction is chosen as the winner, depending on how many points its members earned over the course of the past week. While it’s nice to have something driving the gameplay besides just having fun, the appeal of Faction Wars has kind of been lost on me. Perhaps I’ll get more into it as time goes on, but as of now, I can’t say I really care if my faction wins the week or not.
The Krypt has also been brought back for another go-around in Mortal Kombat X but has been completely re-done. Now similar to a first-person dungeon crawler, players can explore a dark graveyard and unlock assorted goodies using the koins they earned from playing the game. You will have to grind in order to acquire enough coins to unlock everything, though, which can be annoying when you spend your hard-earned money and get some garbage in return. The extremely annoying jump scares found in MK9 also make a return, but this time you get various monsters jumping out at you, which is almost worse in a way.
Of course, if you don’t want to take the time to explore the Krypt, you can also pay $20 to unlock everything right away. Yes, Mortal Kombat X has fully embraced the world of micro-transactions, which depending on how you feel, is either a non-issue or something that needs to be stopped. I tend to fall on the side of the former, as no one is forcing you to spend extra money. That being said, MKX is pretty obnoxious when it comes to this.
Like I said before, grinding for koins can be taxing, and it almost feels like NetherRealm purposely made it that way so that eventually you’ll just say “Fuck It” and pay to unlock everything. There are also constant ads about purchasing Goro and telling you that you can spend money to unlock tokens to use towards easy fatalities. The game is very in your face with these options and it’s somewhat disappointing that a classic franchise such as Mortal Kombat is going down this road.
Despite the fact that it is technically a cross-gen release, Mortal Kombat X may just be the best looking fighting game currently available on current-gen consoles. The character models look great, with each one not only unique, but also full of small details. The female models are especially good, as NetherRealm has consistently struggled with making them look normal.
Of course, with the upgraded technical power, Boon and company made sure to make the fatalities loom as gruesome as possible. They’ve never had trouble making them look brutal and painful before, (in fact, I still have bad dreams about Kung Lao’s fatality from the previous game) but now they look as disgusting as they really should. Whether it’s Ermac pulling his opponent’s innards out or Jax ripping someone’s skull in half, they are given the appropriate amount of “ick” factor they deserve. It’s gruesome, sick and disgusting, and while it may make me sound like a sociopath, I’m all for that.
For a franchise that is 20+ years old, it’s amazing to think that Mortal Kombat X represents its pinnacle as of now. Its technically precise gameplay, lean storyline and gruesomely gorgeous graphics run circles around the previous entries in the series. To be honest, this could have been a perfect game if it didn’t feel like NetherRealm was constantly trying to get me to spend extra money on it. I’ve been willing to deal with Season Passes, even the costly one here, but I draw the line at micro-transactions. If you can look past that though, then there is no better fighting game currently available on the Xbox One and PS4.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the title, which was provided to us.
Gruesomely gorgeous and technically precise, Mortal Kombat X represents the absolute peak of the long-running franchise.