Mortal Kombat X review

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Realising it shouldn’t rock a boat it spent so long trying to stabilise, NetherRealm has made Mortal Kombat X more an evolution of its predecessor than another completely new offering. Throughout the entire noughties the Mortal Kombat series was the living embodiment of one of its defeated characters at the end of a fight: standing there helpless, dazed and swaying, waiting for a publisher to ‘finish it’ by pulling the plug. Then the 2011 reboot came along and breathed new life into the flagging franchise, completely revamping the fighting engine and delivering a much improved experience. This is more of the same.

The fighting system will be very familiar to those who played the 2011 game. The same combo system remains in place, with generous button timing designed to ensure relative newcomers can still pull off satisfying chains of moves. The super meter also returns from the previous entry, giving players new abilities as each of its three bars are filled: special ‘EX’ moves at one bar, combo breakers at two bars and the elaborately grotesque, wince-inducing X-Ray moves when you fill all three.

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NetherRealm has also brought over a feature from its DC spin-off Injustice: Gods Among Us, the ability to interact with certain parts of the environment. Players can tap the R1 button to spring off background walls and land on the other side of the screen, or grab nearby objects and hurl them at their opponents. Stage interaction was fun in Injustice and it’s no different here, making the arenas feel slightly less flat and generic.

That isn’t something you could ever say about Mortal Kombat’s trademark fatalities, however, and here they’re even nastier than ever. While there are still a handful of finishers that call on the series’ trademark sense of humour – Johnny Cage and daughter Cassie in particular have darkly comic kills – the majority are gloriously unpleasant, with little quirks like gurgling death rattles and bubbling stomach acid offering an arguably unnecessary attention to detail.

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New to the series and creating some rather unnecessary controversy among players are ‘easy fatalities’, a way to perform finishing blows with a less complicated input (usually by simply holding a trigger and pressing a button). The drama is caused by the fact that these are a finite resource, used by spending tokens that can be topped up with real money microtransactions. This would be more of an issue were the fatalities not already very easy to pull off with the standard input combination, right down to giving the player the option to permanently display the button command on-screen as you fight.

More important, then, is who you’ll be performing these fatalities as. The character roster consists of 24 fighters, plus regular boss enemy Goro if you pre-ordered or are willing to buy him separately. Each character has three different fighting styles to choose from between each fight, but these aren’t so massively different that it feels like it’s tripling the roster. Instead, each fighting style gives your character a couple of extra moves that let you tweak them to suit your playing style. If you’re more offensive-minded you can give Sub-Zero the ability to swing a massive ice sword, but if you’re more of a defensive player you can instead make him able to create ice shields or decoys.

The best way to get to know each fighter is the Story mode, which lasts around five hours and lets you get to grips with a wide selection of characters as it progresses. For the most part it’s a brilliantly presented mode, with compelling cut-scenes and seamless fight sections, but it isn’t entirely perfect. The story can be a bit erratic with the timeline jumping all over the place, and it does get a little frustrating at times when legacy characters who aren’t playable in this game (like Sindel and Baraka) turn up for a fight, making you wonder why they aren’t in the main roster. It also scatters some quick-time events throughout the cutscenes, though their inclusion is a little bewildering because for the most part failing them has no influence on the story’s progression. Nevertheless, it’s still a fun solo experience in general and does a good job of continuing the long-running Mortal Kombat tradition of the necessity for a ridiculous plot.

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Once the story mode’s complete the game’s single-player longevity ultimately comes down to your interest in the traditional MK tower format, which essentially makes up the rest of the solo offerings. As well as the standard arcade-style towers that have you fighting a number of enemies before reaching the final boss and an ending, there are now ‘living towers’: special ones with set fight variations which update on a daily, weekly and hourly basis and let you compare your score with the rest of the world.

Sadly, the game’s online multiplayer is slightly less endearing, which is a huge shame considering that this such is a huge part of this kind of game. Its netcode is such that when two players with good connections compete, the gameplay is perfect, but face off against someone with a poor connection and the resulting stuttering or occasional input lag can make things a little frustrating for both parties. This is obviously the case in many games, but players are only shown an opponent’s ping at the same time as a message informing them that quitting now will result in a loss: an ability to filter weak connections would be useful.

Despite this online stumble, Mortal Kombat X is arguably the best game in the series so far. Those looking for a massive new-gen leap over the ninth game will be a little disappointed, though considering the massive stride MK9 took it was always going to be unlikely this would be similarly revolutionary. Instead it admirably builds on that already impressive accomplishment, and makes for a solid entry in the series.

8
No flawless victory, but the closest attempt yet