Playing Mortal Kombat with non-gamer spectators looking on is hilarious. Consider this: Sub-Zeo’s fatality is that he freezes the bottom half of his opponent’s body, summarily pulls off the upper half of it with one hand, and then presents it, as if a trophy, to the virtual audience of you and whoever is looking over your shoulder. My girlfriend was flabbergasted, our roommate even more so. I, on the other hand, was enjoying every single moment.

Indeed, Mortal Kombat is back. Those years hoping Ed Boon and his creative teams at Midway and now Warner Bros. Games would go back to the series’ roots of pure murder, mayhem, and disgusted-face-inducing violence have been validated—the reincarnation of the fighting franchise for the PS3 and Xbox 360 delivers what we all love and cherish in a Mortal Kombat game. And here’s why...

By Troy Mounis

While the last few iterations in the series grasped at straws in trying to put together something narratively cohesive, Mortal Kombat makes no bones (broken or otherwise) about what it is...or isn't (i.e., Shakespeare). But there still needs to be a baseline, a rockbottom reason why these 28 fighters (for the PS3 version with God of War's Kratos included as an exclusive character) are crushing sternums, cracking skulls, and rendering one another paraplegic corpses.

The ninth title in the resurrected series is essentially a remake, allowing anyone who could have amazingly never played Mortal Kombat I through III, or watched the cheesy but serviceable live action feature films, to relive the plot: Raiden, about to be smitten by Shao Kahn, sends a godly transmission back in time to himself that his and his followers’ survival depend on a certain fighter’s ability to win the Mortal Kombat tournament held by Shang Tsung. The story is told through a fluid set of fights and setpieces that incorporate enough wit, wisdom, and clarity about the relationships among characters to bring even the most novice of virtual pugilists up to speed.

There is an overarching theme interwoven every part of this game: Over-the-top violence. No, not just the showing of blood or the ridiculous amount of broken bones via the new X-Ray attacks, but some of the most gory finishing “Fatality” moves we have ever seen. (Yes, this also means we’ll have the numbnuts at CNN blaming video games for causing murder any second now.) Bodies will be rendered limbless, heads will be severed—and internal organs? Well, they’ll find a new home outside of bodies.

Everything that made Mortal Kombat a hit back in the day (and by "a hit," we mean that "a controversial enough game that congressional hearings were conducted") has been ratcheted up and thrown into the mix. Each of the fighters has their own set of kombinations and juggle maneuvers, which makes each new character a semi-different experience in learning how to fight within the framework of the game. Most of them will be easy to pick up, like Sub-Zero and Scorpion, who have seemingly never had their move set changed over the past decade, while others—like the PS3-exclusive Kratos, a more plodding and left-to-right fighter—will require some time to get used to.

Perhaps the biggest issue many had with the MK series after the third title was the incorporation of the 3D fighting plane. In short, it was a mess, something the series never really recovered from even as it attempted to continuously revise and revamp the look and feel. And, perhaps that’s where the biggest “improvement by devolvement” has happened in this remake: Mortal Kombat simply belongs on a 2D fighting stage and its return in this newest game is much appreciated. There are still some 2.5D elements, namely when an opponent goes flying through the air and the camera sometimes follows the action by strafing instead of staying fixed. But, other than that, this is a beautifully 3D rendered environment that works flawlessly within the 2D fighting platporm.

It’s safe to say that this is the most content we’ve ever seen in a Mortal Kombat game. Taking a page out of past MK games, the Krypt returns and allows you to unlock 299 pieces of new content over the course of your career—from additional fatalities/babalities to artwork—through the accumulation of koins, which can be won by performing fatalities, winning matches, or playing through the story. We aren’t huge fans of putting red tape in front of usable content such as fatalities, but it does put more emphasis on playing through all of the game’s modes and rewarding the player when executing well.

Those who have been eager to play a dedicated Mortal Kombat game over the Internet may find a mixed bag when it comes to the multiplayer. We experienced some lag—almost a dealbreaker in a genre based so much on timing—and it was a bit of a drag trying to rejigger our strategy to make it work. At the very least, the developers spent some time thinking about what makes the arcade experience of MK cool: looking on and waiting for your turn to take down the king of the arcade cabinet. Hence, the aptly named “King of the Hill” mode. Fight in a series of matches and, while waiting for your next opponent, jeer/cheer them on (via your virtual avatar) alongside other players. If the straight 1v1 matches don’t satisfy you, KotH will at least make the experience better.

We already told you a bit about story mode and the multiplayer, so let’s focus on some of the other goodies tucked away in the game, namely the new and improved Challenge Tower and tag-team matches. Challenge Tower is hell, and it is amazing. Imagine 300 different missions featuring all of the game’s fighters—and not just “OK, now you fight with your hand behind your back” kinds of missions either. It’s more like “OK, now your arms have been severed and you have to fight using only your legs.” Each completed mission rewards you with koins, making it a worthwhile way to not only learn how to play the various character, but also an easy way to rack up the unlockables. And, yes, you’ll be able to hit up the “Test Your Might” and “Test Your Sight” booths here, as well as two new mini-games called “Test Your Strike” and “Test Your Luck.”

More surprising is the 2v2 tag-team mode thrown into the mix, once a feature excluded from the tried and true 1v1 MK experience. Not just that, but you can play 2v2 with four separate players, which we haven’t seen in any fighting game previously. It’s an interesting concept, one that played out as two friends playing against each other and the other two screaming at them in order to psych them out between tag-ins. In that sense, it may be the bloodiest party game ever, and we have no problem with that.

Yes, Mortal Kombat is back and better than ever. It’s delivers the blood-covered goods that fans have been waiting for for many years, from awesome unlockables to bone-chilling (and -breaking) fatalities, and throws in a couple of surprises with tag-team matches and King of the Hill online. It’s a worthy entry into the series, one which plants the seeds for even more hellish debauchery in the future—hopefully one that retains its over-the-top purism and resists the urge to third-party itself back into oblivion.


This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.

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