Review: Mortal Kombat X

MKX-StoryMortal Kombat X takes place along multiple timelines following the recent reboot. It’s not exactly a coherent or even a linear storyline, choosing to flesh out its characters past and present. Following the defeat of Shao Kahn, an evil sorcerer named Shinnok attacks Earth with his army of Netherrealm forces. Of course, nobody stays dead in Mortal Kombat, so a few familiar faces who perished in the prior game appear to help out different forces in their wars across the realms.

If Mortal Kombat X’s story sounds familiar – it’s probably because the team at Midway (and now Netherrealm) have been really just doing the same old stuff for several years now. Sure, it leads on from the reboot which retold the events of the first three games, but X attempts to take things in a slightly different (if not ever so familiar) direction.MKX Screen - Story ModeThe result is, unfortunately, a rather typical Mortal Kombat storyline. People are back from the dead. Realms are being invaded. People are betraying each other. It’s all here. The inclusion of the children of some of the major characters are a nice touch, and it’s interesting to see how their own unique personas and moves have been developed, but ultimately they’re rather boring compared to the characters we’ve grown to know and love.

But that’s not to say that the storyline in Mortal Kombat X is uninteresting, it’s just not that new. The developers have put more effort into the writing of the game’s unique Story Mode more so than other games in the genre ever have. X takes a much more serious tone than the other Mortal Kombat games but still manages to keep that almost goofy humour intact here and there. It’s not game changing stuff, but it’s interesting enough to keep you hooked from beginning to end.MKX-PresentationMortal Kombat X is without a doubt one of the strongest looking fighting games on the market right now, and the team has put in a lot of effort to give it this kind of dark and macabre style to the point where the game’s tone feels radically different. The environments look amazing and lived in, the character models look fantastic and the game animates beautifully. It’s a technical achievement to get a game running on an old version of the Unreal Engine looking this great and running this fluidly, and the team at Netherrealm have managed to pull it off.

The environments and the characters aren’t the only thing that contribute to the game’s strong visual presentation – characters who have some kind of elemental effect on them look amazing. Flames and embers glisten around Scorpions arms. Wisps of wind dance around Kitana’s fans as she waves them around the arena. Needless to say, Mortal Kombat has never looked so good.MKX Screen - Scorpion and SubzeroOne of the biggest complaints about the last four or so Mortal Kombat games is how the animations are stiff or lack the fluidity of other games in the genre. Every Mortal Kombat game that was released almost looked the same – reusing certain animations for throws or counters to the point where it felt rather cheap. Mortal Kombat X completely does away with the old animation “system” of the previous game, with every character having been redesigned from the ground up. Everything feels fresh and new, and every move flows beautifully into the next.

The sound design is a little bit more of a mixed bag, however. The sound effects themselves are pretty fantastic, be it the breaking of bones, squishing of sinew and muscle or pouring of blood. The voice work is reasonably good too, even if the writing itself is cheesy. But the music feels pretty lacklustre – opting for a more generic electro-rock inspired soundscape rather than the traditional more fantastical oriental tracks. It’s by no means a deal breaker, since screams and sound effects will be filling more battles, but it does feel like a slight step downwards coming from the last game.MKX-GameplatMortal Kombat X is a fighting game first and foremost. It’s fairly typical – you pick a character and use them to beat down your opponents using a combination of standard moves and special moves. Mortal Kombat’s main gimmick was, and continues to be, it’s eclectic cast, its ultraviolence and it’s unique finishing moves. Today, Mortal Kombat X still manages to fill these niches better than any of its contemporaries – it provides an incredibly substantial experience in doing so too.

The mechanics from the previous game are still largely here – the brutal X-Ray moves provide grotesque and yet worryingly satisfying way to catch up to your opponent during battle. The X-Ray meter can similarly still be sacrificed to power-up existing moves or even counter your opponents moves too if you so wish. Of course, every character has their own set of special moves they can rely upon to either help themselves or damage their opponents. But it’s the way these special moves are incorporated into Mortal Kombat X that sets it apart.MKX - Xray AttackEach character has their own “base set” of special moves. These are usually their most iconic (for example, Scorpion’s harpoon). On top of this, players can now choose a variation of their character which changes up how the character plays. Scorpion can rely on his swords in his Ninjutsu variation, or he can rely on fire based magic in his Hellfire variation. For those who like to play with an assist character, his Inferno variation allows him to summon a minion to help him in battle and attack from areas of the screen he couldn’t previously.

The variations system isn’t quite ambitious enough to change characters to the point where they play like three completely different characters, but it is ambitious enough to significantly change how characters interact. One variation of Scorpions might be absolutely terrible against Sub-Zeros, but a simple change in variation can change the way a match might play out. It also encourages players to experiment a little bit more with different play-styles without having to choose a different character, which can be quite daunting for any fighting game aficionado. As a nice touch, each variation has a different visual indicator too.MKX - VariationsOther aspects of the combat system have been revived or reincorporated from previous games – including the Run button which is now crucial to the combat and helps give the game a greater and faster paced feel. Borrowing from Injustice: Gods Among Us, there are also interactive objects in each level. Thankfully, these are much more frequently utilised for mobility rather than attacking so they feel much more balanced and fairer than they did in Injustice.

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But of course the main attraction is the finishing moves, and Mortal Kombat X brings them in droves. Each character has two fatalities, five brutalities and an additional set of faction kills (which we’ll go over later). Fatalities are straightforward, and Mortal Kombat X continues to push the boundaries when it comes to gore and violence. Brutalities, on the other hand, are like mini finishers. Some are variation exclusive, others can be used with any variation. But meeting certain conditions (such as simple holding a button rather pressing it during your final attack) will trigger a brutality. They’re simple but they’re a cool way to end a match abruptly and catch opponents off-guard.MKX - Jacqui and SubzeroThe (possibly) most interesting aspect for solo players here is the game’s Story Mode, which picks up right where the previous game left off (but also jumps several years ahead whenever it feels like it too). The Story Mode is slightly more linear than the previous game – as there’s no more tag battles and there’s no more battles where the player must defeat multiple enemies in a row. It’s much simpler and much more streamlined – to the point where it might feel slightly shorter than the previous game, but it lacks some of the more difficult AI (to the point where it felt unfair) of the previous game.

When you’re done running through the story mode, which should take most players between five to seven hours depending on your skill, there’s a wealth of “towers” to play through. The typical towers are the ones you’d be used to from classic Mortal Kombat games – battling a string of enemies and then fighting a boss at the end. Others are simpler like Survival where you’ll be pit against endless enemies until you yourself give in or lose. But the most interesting aspect is easily the Living Towers.MKX - TowersLiving Towers are only available to those who play Mortal Kombat X online, and they are similar to the challenge towers from the previous games. They pit players against unique situations and characters that might be a bit wackier than those in the main story. Living Towers are also, as it’s implied, living, which means they’re refreshed at certain intervals for as long as the developers continue to support them. Some of these will be themed, and some will even let players sample the forthcoming downloadable characters for free too. But they’re just one of the many ways that Mortal Kombat X fills itself with content to play and fight through.

Mortal Kombat X really takes the idea of online and runs with it, whether it be traditional online play (which is still as functional as ever) or the new Factions Mode. Each player, upon booting the game, will be given the choice to join one of the game’s factions. Everyone who’s playing online from that point will accrue points for their faction and be awarded with in-game items and awards based on their performance.MKX - Kung Lao and RaidenThink of it as like a gruesome, worldwide, cross-platform version of the Hogwarts House Cup. Each faction has their own set of unique fatalities too, and as you perform better for your faction you’ll unlock more. It’s a simple addition, but it does help make the game have a “connected” feel as if there really is a war going on in the background of the game while you fight. Other modes were unavailable pre-launch, but we’ll update when they go live accordingly.

If that sounds too serious for your own liking, then the game’s Test Your Luck mode, which is playable (to some extent) both online and offline, allows players to battle under select special effects and modifiers. Some summon legacy characters, like Kabal, to attack mid-battle at random intervals. Others might increase the damage of jumping attacks or cause power-ups to spawn randomly throughout each match. It’s random, it’s outrageous and it’s definitely not meant to be taken seriously. But it’s a fun little diversion from the typical online modes.MKX - Test Your LuckYour progress in all the matches is awarded with currency which can then be used to purchase items in the Krypt. The Krypt is a huge, sprawling area that the player explores from a first person viewpoints. It’s filled with tombs that can be broken open to unlock new content for the game – be it concept art, costumes and even new brutalities and fatalities. It’s an interesting choice to let the player explore the Krypt themselves in first person (it was previously a set of menus) but it’s a pretty atmospheric stroll that we won’t spoil here 😉

What’s even cooler is the way the Krypt is handled in terms of progression. Yes, you get to explore it, but it almost plays like a mini adventure game. You’ll find items that’ll help you access new areas of the Krypt. Raiden’s Staff will help you teleport places, for example, while Scorpion’s Spear will act as a sort of grappling hook to cross gaps. These smaller aspects are great, if not simple, and definitely is more enjoyable than just sifting through menus to unlock content.MKX-ConclusionGiven how easy it is for the Mortal Kombat series to fall into the habit of employing over convoluted mechanics to the point where it isn’t fun to play anymore, Mortal Kombat X is a triumph. It manages to expand on everything the game reinvented with 2011’s reboot without creating a needlessly complicated mess. The new characters are great fun, the old characters are still as you remember them but with even better perks, and the game looks better than ever.

Having different variations for characters truly feels like a game changer. While its concept isn’t necessarily new, it’s a simple yet effective way to provide depth to the character you select and how they’ll match up with other characters. It’s especially fun seeing how variations manage to change up the classic characters we’ve been playing with for over a decade now.

Combine this high attention to detail with the game’s characters and combat system with a very rich breadth of content – be it the game’s story mode, towers or even just how many finishing moves are available to each character – and you’ve got a fully featured fighter that doesn’t hold back. Mortal Kombat X is a fully featured experience that no fighting game fan should miss.

Variations system adds new layer to matches
Fantastic visuals and presentation
Huge wealth of content and modes
Bland soundtrack
Some fan-favourites missing from the roster