For the longest time, the popularity of Mortal Kombat was entirely due to its outlandish violence, which outraged millions of concerned parents in the 90s and led to the creation of the ESRB rating system. Subsequent games ramped up the violence while the gameplay got consistently worse with each iteration, especially during the 3D era. Because of this, MK was always seen as the black sheep of the fighting game community, which heavily favored games like Street Fighter and its kin and considered MK a gimmick fighter. All of that changed in 2011 with the release of the Mortal Kombat reboot, a beautiful reimagining of the first three games in the series which happened to also be a pretty good fighting game, and that finally got the series the respect it deserved from the FGC. So Mortal Kombat X had a lot to live up to, and it does, and then some.
Mortal Kombat X
Pol: Ah, the sweet, gory trumpets of Mortal Kombat sound once again to gather players all around the world with the sole purpose of eviscerating and beating their rivals to death. Mortal Kombat X does this, and delivers it in an almost flawless (pun intended) way.
Right off the bat, MKX changes the way it plays, feeling a little faster than its predecessor and adding, in my opinion, the most interesting feature of the whole game: variations. Each of the 24 playable characters possesses 3 variations, which you can choose after selecting a character. What this does basically is to modify the characters’ move set and combos in a subtle way, giving you different approaches for a same fighter. So, for instance, let’s say you like Sub-Zero’s core mechanics (freezing projectile, sliding tackle, etc); with the variation system you can go Cryomancer, giving him the ability to summon ice weapons for a damage increase within all of his combos, or maybe you prefer to play more defensively and go Unbreakable, that grants our favorite blue ninja the ability to create an ice armor to reduce damage and an ice barrier that works in a parry fashion. As you can see, the mechanic is pretty cool and makes experimenting with characters a whole new deal in comparison to previous versions of the game.
Manu: Gameplay on MKX expands greatly on the foundation set by MK9. Movement feels almost exactly the same, with a greater emphasis on smooth animations and better transitions this time. Characters still have short dial-a-combo strings that can be linked with specials in order to get longer strings. The meter system from MK9 is also back, which means X-Rays and EX specials are too. And, since we can run again in this game, the stamina bar also makes a return.
The main new mechanic introduced in MKX is variations. After picking a character we’ll chose between three different variations, which drastically change the way our character plays. Some of these change the special abilities and add new combos, some turn combo heavy characters into zoning machines, and others seem to have been made only for the purpose of trolling the opponent. While they make for an excellent addition, some of them are borderline useless and will likely see little use outside of casual play, while competitive players will stick to their favorite ones. Still, their addition is very much welcome and brings some great variety to the game.
Netherrealm also seems to have taken some of the things they’ve learned from Injustice and applied them to MK, namely environmental interactions (which can be disabled, don’t worry,) as well as character variety. It’s nice to see that there’s more than one body type in MKX, and now fighters come in all sizes and colors.
P: Let’s talk about the presentation, as it had a major overhaul and I love it so much. Long past are the days of the ugly life bars and awful menus; MKX’s revamped interface gives the franchise its most polished presentation up to date. The new font, the simplified life bars, the character selection screen, it’s all carefully put together to give us a very stylized end product. And of course, talking about presentation leads me to graphics and music. Man, are those graphics beautiful or what? The grade of detail put in almost every character and on the backgrounds is outstanding (pun intended x2). All stages look gorgeous, especially the Sky Temple, which at 1080p/60fps definition, never drops a frame, regardless of all the rain pouring down during the fight. Character design and their translation to 3d models are at very high level too, like Takeda’s cyber ninja look, Reptile’s armor of bones or Kotal Kahn’s aztec props and tattoos. It’s a shame though that not all the characters have the same level of detail like Jacquie or Sonya, but then again, they are “regular” humans part of the Special Forces, so I guess that limits the artists when designing those particular characters. However, it’s worth to note that Netherrealm finally nailed with female character design, as they now look as actual women, so props to that.
Sound department wise, it has one of the best sounds effects I have ever witnessed in a game. The bones crunching sound so real it is scary, and the gut spilling effects are just hideous, but in a good way. If you add all this to the fact that the game looks VERY realistic, you end up having the best fatalities set ever created. They are gruesome, gory, disgusting, all with a touch of humor. They are simply awesome.
M: On the graphic/presentation side, Mortal Kombat X looks gorgeous. NRS really outdid themselves this time. Character models are really detailed (although some more than others, for some reason,) backgrounds are amazingly done and filled with detail while keeping a consistent 60 fps on consoles, and the menus and GUI look great too. NRS opted for a minimalistic approach for the bars and text and it works incredibly well with the darker tone the game has going for it. Every single background also seems to have its own shaders which makes for a really unique look, making up for the lack of stages compared to MK9. A fair tradeoff, I’d say. Also, women actually look like real women now instead of strippers with fake boobs and man shoulders. They’re also wearing a bit more clothes than the series’ standards, which is a nice touch.
And yes, the violence looks better than ever too. Fatalities and finishers are disturbingly gruesome. The character’s innards have been painstakingly modeled and we’ll see them expelled from their bodies in all their gory glory. There’s a certain beauty in watching your enemy getting their limbs cut off, decapitated, gutted or just chopped into little pieces. It’s all so ridiculous and over the top you can’t help but laugh at some of the more graphical stuff. There are also new finishers like Faction Kills (more about that in a moment) and Brutalities, in a new revamped version that’s nothing like their classic UMK3 counterpart.
P: As for game modes, there’s one main Story Mode that follows the now “classic” Netherrealm formula; a story divided in chapters, each of them from a particular character point of view. The story is told by cinematics, having the player interact with it via some quick time events and, of course, actual battles. I personally really liked the story mode as a whole, as it takes us through different time lines and gives closure to some of the franchises most popular stories (which I will not spoil).
M: While MK9’s Story Mode was a retelling of MKs 1 through 3, MKX’s finally moves the story and lore forward by showing us the new generation of fighters, many of them sons and relatives from the old heroes. While shorter than MK9’s, Story Mode is a worthy addition to the series’ lore and does a great job at introducing the new characters. It also got rid of 1 vs 2 battles and flimsy excuses to get characters to fight each other. Good riddance.
P: Other modes include the classic Mortal Kombat towers, that have a major boost thanks to the newly added Living Towers, which are towers that change with time; you have an hourly one,a daily one and Premier one. This towers feature modifiers or certain restrictions at the time of tackling them, keeping the game somewhat fresh. Online mode still needs polishing as the netcode, while better than MK9’s one, still have some issues like not showing your rivals connection status, thus resulting in some laggy matches that will make you yell and curse from time to time.
M: The Challenge Tower from MK9 has been revamped as well, replaced by the Living Towers. These are basically series of fights with a modifier that will affect our fight. Stuff like inverted controls, one hit kills, explosive mines, anything goes. Unlike the Challenge Tower though, there are no minigames to speak of, only regular fights. Whether this is a good or a bad thing will be up to the player, in my personal opinion I miss some of the variety the minigames provided, even if some of them were pretty trivial, or badly designed. There are three towers in total that are constantly renewed: a hourly one, a daily one, and a weekly one. The weekly one allows us to play with DLC characters even if we haven’t bought them. A nice way of letting us try the characters, or just a shameless DLC plug? You decide.
P: It’s worth noting that all the activities you perform impact towards the brand new Faction War system. At the very beginning of the game you are prompted to choose between 5 factions. Once you have chosen a faction, the war rages for a whole week and at the end of the week a winner is declared, giving the members of the winning faction a bonus for XP and Koins until the next Faction War ends.
Yes, I said Koins, meaning the Krypt is back, and better than ever. For those new to the franchise, the Krypt always worked as the place you go to spend your Koins in order to unlock fatalities, costumes, concept art, brutalities and all kinds of goodies. The main difference with this iteration is the fact that the Krypt works almost as a standalone game, that puts the player into a first person perspective, letting you navigate creepy catacombs and caves in the search of new unlockables. It’s really fun and a breath of fresh air for a classic feature.
At the same time, you can pay u$s 20 and unlock all the contents within the Krypt. And you can pay for easy fatalities… and to skip fights… don’t know what Netherrealm were thinking when they came up with those ideas (well in fact, I know what they were thinking), but at least they don’t break the game and you can totally skip buying them.
M: There’s quite a bit of DLC in Mortal Kombat X. Before the game even released, Goro was announced to be a pre-order character only exclusive to some retailers. Not having Goro results in the game plastering his face all over the main screen, and goes as far as putting a big “PRESS X TO BUY GORO” when you hover over him in the character select. There are also four additional characters that have been announced, and can be purchased already with a season pass. On top of that there are retailer exclusive character skins, some that can only be unlocked by playing the companion phone game, and, in some of the most transparent moneygrabbing schemes I’ve seen in a full retail game, consumable easy fatality packs. These are basically one-use items that allow you to do a fatality with a simple button combination (or simpler, since doing a fatality in MKX is already as easy as it gets.) This, plus the option to unlock every item in the krypt for $20 are frankly disgusting. While they don’t take from the main game (since everything is still accessible by regular play,) profiting from people’s laziness is a really low move for WB/NRS.
P: Should you play it? If you are into fighting games, you definitely need to give MK X a chance, as it is a major improvement from the previous iteration, both from a gameplay and presentation perspective. Also fatalities are gory as hell, and that is always good.
M: Overall, Mortal Kombat X feels like a step forward. Every addition has been for the better, and every change feels like a step sideways rather than backwards. Even casual players can pick up the game and get a ton of content right out of the gate. NRS has delivered a beautiful, fun game filled to the brim with content (kontent?) that takes everything MK9 did right and makes it even better. Probably the best Mortal Kombat game to date.
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