The reinvention of Mortal Kombat isn’t a surprising one. The current climate of rebirths and remakes mean this backward-looking entry to the franchise fits right in with today’s trends. It also, quite simply, shows us that the Mortal Kombat of old isn’t the direction Ed Boon and NetherRealm Studios should be heading in. Just to skip to the end: Mortal Kombat does exactly what it sets out to do, but what it sets out to do really isn’t very good. And that’s a shame – it’s never nice when childhood heroes come back and show themselves to be bloated, with thinning hair and relying on the same tricks as always.
Let’s start with the positives though, just to be nice. Mortal Kombat is a decent-looking game, full of interesting, active backgrounds and detailed – if almost cartoonish – characters. It’s not going to go down in memory the same way something like Crysis 2 will, but it stands its ground from an aesthetic perspective. Returning to the 2D plane of combat from yesteryear is a good decision on the part of the developer, as the 3D arenas of the past handful of MK titles routinely proved themselves to be wasted on this particular series, plus it makes projectile attacks viable once more – something they hadn’t been for a long time. There’s a wealth of content contained within, from straightforward one-to-four player fights we’re all accustomed to, through the daft little ‘test’ minigames that see button-bashing and memory tests to alleviate the stress of killing people violently, and on to the Tower Challenge, which… well, no, actually that’s just a bit of a waste and comes across as little more than a time-sink.
Get a group of friends in a suitably silly mood together and Mortal Kombat comes into its own. It’s not a technical title or one that will alienate newcomers, and as such can easily be put on for a good mess about in a social situation. That’s the ideal situation, really, because we’re honestly struggling to find other situations in which we would recommend playing the game.
It’s safe to say this isn’t one for the kids. On the other hand, it’s safe to say this is the least adult game that isn’t for kids you’re ever likely to see. The blood, guts, shattered bones and probably sputum is so charicatured that it’s hard to derive any sort of offense from it – though certain outlets are sure to try. This ‘adult’ content is backed up by more for the grown ups… in the shape of women who look like they were designed by a 13-year-old who has never actually felt the touch of a real woman. Though that’s just speculation. It’s not such a confusing mix and it is expected from what has been a consistently ridiculous series over the years – it’s adult, but it’s absolutely not mature in any way, shape or form.
Another way Mortal Kombat seems to hark back to the days of yore is in its AI. It’s never as punishing as the arcade-based logic of past computer opponents, but there are definitely strong whiffs of non-human opponents acting in particularly non-human ways – instantly reacting to strikes, countering before the player even has a chance to get their move off and generally being an irritant. In some ways it brings warmth to our heart, but it’s not exactly like it smacks of good design.
While promised a deeper fighting system, what we’ve actually been presented with is… well, NetherRealm isn’t lying. The system is deeper. Combos make up a far bigger part of the brawling than they did in past iterations, and it does feel more like a ‘proper’ fighting game than the Mortal Kombat of old. So it is deeper. But that’s not to say it’s actually deep, per se, especially not in comparison to its contemporaries.
It doesn’t help that the new, deeper combo system really isn’t all that much fun to play about with, either. It’s wooden, slow-moving and unintuitive. It seemingly punishes for making the slightest mistake at one point, before rewarding you with one or two extra hits the next time you press an identical combination of buttons. That may not be the case in a literal sense, but it certainly feels that way, such is the lack of flow or feedback from the engine. While fighting fans might be used to speedy, flowing combat (with a ‘c’), Mortal Kombat really only provides a stuttering, stilted experience and not one that feels little like it rewards true skill like something like BlazBlue or Super Street Fighter IV does.
All in all, Mortal Kombat nails everything we were told it was aiming for: it very much brings to mind the MKs of old; it offers a deeper fighting system than previous games; it ratchets the gore up to ridiculous levels; it delivers some blatant fan-service. There’s no way to criticise it on that count. The fact that, in harking back to earlier days, the game feels stuck in the past, the fact the fighting system really isn’t deep compared to other modern-day brawlers, the fact the gore is little more than a sideshow and the fact that most of the fan service appeals to fans who have grown up a great deal since the Nineties throws up numerous reasons to criticise, however. There’s fun to be had and – obvious as it may sound – fans of the series will get a kick out of it (and a punch, and their head ripped off), but generally speaking there are far better fighters out there for your buck.