Anyone worried that this latest entry into the Mortal Kombat franchise is going to follow the ‘family friendly’ template employed by Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe should be pleasantly surprised. Mortal Kombat circa 2011 is set on returning to the series’ roots. Roots that dictate content be 18+ in nature.
Blood is back, gore is back, the overbearing atmosphere of ‘evil’ is back and, most pleasingly, fatalities are back.
Let’s start with those fatalities because, let’s face it, that’s what everyone wants to read about, right? (Plus, I spent a good 20 minutes to half an hour perfecting them during my hands-on earlier this week so you’re going to hear about them.)
As they should be, they’re vicious, bloody and sadistically humorous. Each character has three to choose from but, in the content-locked build of the game I was playing, I could only experience one from each character. My favourite was that of Johnny Cage who simply punches the head off of his opponent before proceeding to rip the torso from the legs, throw the upper half away disparagingly and then hold the deformed head aloft in celebration.
Elsewhere, Mileena possesses what is probably the most disturbing of those I’ve witnessed thus far – after sticking a couple of throwing daggers into her foe’s chest she rips their head off and starts chomping hungrily away at it. Jax uses his metal arms to crush skulls, Scorpion cuts bodies into three clean sections and Noob creates a clone of himself to help him pull opponent’s legs apart until their body splits in two.
While fatalities are still the most difficult moves to pull off, they’re not as difficult as I remember them being back in Mega Drive era. The move list displays the relevant button combo (which is never any more complex than one of Street Fighter IV’s super combos), meaning the most difficult thing to master is learning at what distance each character needs to be from their target – Sonya, for example, needs to be positioned very precisely in order to deliver the gory goods.
In order to minimalise the amount of trial and error, the training section features a mode dedicated to helping you master your fatality skills and displays exactly where you need to be standing to execute them. Indeed, the whole game seems to be aiming to be accessible as possible. Attacks can be turned into combos with minimal effort and things seem to be more about timing than memorising Soul Calibur-esque strings of button inputs. There’s also a generous range of difficulty settings which provide a safe environment for newcomers to pick up the basics.
Accompanying the trademark fatalities are ‘X-Ray’ moves which can be conservatively (and accurately) described as ‘bone crushing’ – literally giving you an ‘x-ray’ view of the damage you’re inflicting to your opponents’ skeleton and internal organs by switching their skin and clothes from opaque to transparent. This allows you to watch as Sub-Zero thrusts his fist into an abdomen, freezes the liver and crushes it into shards. Or, perhaps you’d prefer to watch as Ermac suspends his opponent upside before pile-driving them into the floor – crushing the skull and twisting the neck.
It’s all very ‘E for Everyone’.
X-Ray moves are performed by simply pressing the L2 + R2 buttons simultaneously (on the PS3) and hoping your adversary isn’t blocking. The difficulty isn’t in the execution it’s in the acquisition as, before you can perform them, you must build up a three-tiered ‘special’ meter to its maximum level. This is achieved by attacking, defending and taking damage, meaning it builds up fairly quickly and usually provides at least one chance per match to witness the internal damage you’re inflicting.
If you want to make use of the special bar more frequently you can deplete it one tier at a time by adding a little extra oomph to your standard selection of special attacks i.e. a standard fireball becomes a double fireball, Johnny Cage’s cheap shot to the groin is performed with added venom and Scorpion’s ‘Get Over Here!’ attack is made more deadly by the flames that lick their way along the length of his spiked chain.
The actual experience of fighting is, as we’ve come to expect from a fighting games that operates on a 2D plane, very snappy – fighters react quickly to your inputs and each attack tends to deal significant damage which makes for quick, intense bouts.
This intensity is amplified by the hellish aesthetics at work. Arenas are almost exclusively dark, dingy, nightmarish places and the design team with clearly revelled in the freedom afforded them to depict all manner of horrors amongst their backdrops. One stage sees bodies being dipped into a pool of acid and coming back up a mangled mess of melted flesh and bone while another is set in what looks like a medieval dungeon with stark white, piercing eyes ogling you from behind rusted bars.
The way each fighter becomes bloodied, brushed and broken as the fight progresses mirrors perfectly the horror on show throughout the arenas. Torn clothes, brusies and ripped flesh all remain ‘intact’ throughout the course of the battle meaning the longer fights last the more dilapidated the character models become.
Again, it’s all very ‘E for Everyone’.
Accompanying the standard one on one battles are tag battles which, most unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed full access to but (from what I picked up from the tag team tutorial option) works in much the same way as Tekken Tag Tournament in that you can simply switch between your characters or use them to launch double-team combos. How everything else works (health regeneration, for example) remains a mystery for now.
While the new additions such as tag mode and X-ray attacks are all well and good, the best thing about finally getting hands-on with Mortal Kombat is that it has confirmed the team are very clearly aiming to bring back the essence and attitude that made the series so popular in the first place. The gloomy atmosphere, the vicious attacks and the seemingly complete lack of self censorship all hark back to ‘the good old days’ in which you would spend as much time hiding your ownership of such a game from your parents as you did playing it.
It also makes you realise just how watered down and how very ‘un-Mortal Kombat’ MK vs. DC Universe really was.