Mortal Kombat: Deception

Review

posted 11/5/2004 by Cyril Lachel
other articles by Cyril Lachel
You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get when it comes to a Midway fighting game. Is it going to be a bona fide classic, like Mortal Kombat II; or a full-on disaster, like War Gods, Primal Rage, or Mortal Kombat Advance? Loyal fans have been through the worst of times; they deserve a sequel that delivers on all the potential created a dozen years ago.

Mortal Kombat Deception might not end up being everything the fans have been waiting for, but it comes pretty darn close. After all these years, and an extremely awkward jump from 2D to 3D, Mortal Kombat is better than ever with more extra modes, characters, levels, and surprises than you can shake a giant spear at.

The game play is largely unchanged from that of Deadly Alliance two years ago. Each combatant is offered three different fighting styles, one of which includes their own weapon. New to Deception is a combo breaker, a move that will stop just about any series of attacks, but can only be used three times per match. This, along with a few other minor upgrades and additions, makes Deception the best playing Mortal Kombat game since its launch a dozen years ago.

But no matter how good it plays by Mortal Kombat standards, the fighting system still feels years behind the likes of Virtua Fighter 4 or Soul Calibur II. The moves, especially punches and kicks, look clumsy at best, the animation lacks any kind of smoothness or finesse, and I’ve never been a fan of the whole dial-a-combo system Midway insists on including in their games. But even with better playing fighters on the market (for a fraction of the price), Deception manages to feel different; for better or for worse, this plays exactly like a Mortal Kombat game should.

Where Deception really takes hold is in its amazing level designs. Not only are these stages dark and eerie, but they are also extremely large and full of surprises. Like Dead or Alive 3, Deception’s levels extend farther than just one room, you can break through walls, fall off roofs, and much more. Using the environment to your advantage is a major part in this Mortal Kombat, and is easily one of the most rewarding aspects of the game.

Not only has Midway added a bunch of new levels, but also brought back some of the best-loved stages from previous Mortal Kombat games. The acid pool level from Mortal Kombat II is reintroduced for a new generation, except this time you won’t have to wait until the end of the match to kick your opponent into the acid. Each level has a set of unique traps that can literally stop a match dead in its tracks. There is a new pit level, but this time around the stage is doing everything in its power to make you fall to your demise. These traps are especially effective when playing against unsuspecting friends, and really add to the over all chaos found in Deception.

There are 24 characters to choose from, 12 from the start and 12 you’re going to need to earn. Along side the returning characters, like Sub Zero and Scorpion, are a bevy of new fighters. There’s Ashrah who looks like a female Raiden, but has a few surprises up her blouse. Hotaru looks cool and is sporting flags, but seems to be limited by only having two special moves. And then there’s tough girl Kira and tough guy Darrius taking the place of Sonya and Jax, but not really adding much to the roster. The new characters are fun to play with, but they just don’t seem as interesting or creative as some of the past combatants.

Of course, it’s not all new characters in Deception, as a lot of past favorites make their first 3D appearance. Here we have the return of Baraka, one of the most popular characters from Mortal Kombat II. He still sports the long blades that jet out of his arms (think: Wolverine, except with long swords), but somehow a lot of the brutality has worn off. I had similar problems with some of the returning Ninjas, like Ermac, Smoke, and Noob Saibot, who just didn’t do much for me this time around.

Deception also plays host to the return of Nightwolf, the Native American character that seemed to embody every bad stereotype you could think of. Kabal also finds his way into Deception, but like Nightwolf, just seems very out of place in this Mortal Kombat universe. Ultimately these characters add very little and don’t warrant leaving out many of the best characters from Dark Alliance, like Kung Lao, Kano, Reptile, and others.

Even if there aren’t all the characters I could hope for, at least they feature more fatalities and special moves than ever before. Unlike Dark Alliance which only featured one fatality per character, here all of the fighters have two different finishing moves. For the most part these fatalities are better, and of course gorier, than those found in past Mortal Kombat games. New to Deception is the Hara-kiri, which allows the dead party to end their own life before the other person has time to finish them.

Being a Mortal Kombat sequel you’d expect a great deal of hidden items, and Deception is not going to let you down. The problem is, to earn these extra characters, stages, and costumes you’re going to have to endure the Konquest mode, a painfully boring adventure mode that can’t decide whether it wants to be an exciting quest or a straight up tutorial. Early in the game you are given access to a portal that will take you to various realms of this Mortal Kombat universe – Earthrealm, Chaosrealm, Netherrealm, etc. – where you will solve mysteries, fight aggressors, and constantly train. You see, most of the Konquest mode is made up of you learning every move, combo, and throw for every single character in the game. It’s one tutorial after another, painfully ripping all the fun out of what should be an exciting bonus feature.

When you’re not learning how to perform a 12-hit combo you can search around the various realms for hidden items, treasure chests, and floating Kombat Koins. You can also talk to the town folk and see if they are in need of your help, usually resulting in a quest to find a specific item or deliver something. You can also challenge various Mortal Kombat figures scattered throughout the realms; here you will be forced to fight under their rules, which generally gives them an unfair advantage.


I like the idea of the Konquest mode, and found myself having a pretty good time with it after the various tutorials were over, but I can’t help but notice that there’s some unmet potential here. This mode could have fleshed out the various levels you fight in, or offer some depth into the history of the Mortal Kombat universe, but instead it feels tacked at the last minute. It also looks horrible! The various objects use extremely simple textures, and most of the realms are pretty boring to look at. I suppose the graphics get the job done, but for not much more than minimum wage.

The good thing about the Konquest mode is that when you grow tired of doing the same thing over and over, you can always move on to any one of the other slightly out of place extra modes. Puzzle Fighter, for example, is a perfectly good rip-off of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo that you can take online. Like Capcom’s puzzler you choose from a limited selection of Mortal Kombat characters, which fight at the bottom of the screen while you try to eliminate various blocks and colors. The result is humorous, especially when you see how they’ve adapted the levels, but Puzzle Kombat is not nearly as addictive as the puzzle games it’s playing homage to.

You can also try your hand at Chess Kombat, which combines the game play of classic games like Archon and Battle Chess with the button mashing that is Mortal Kombat Deception. Although not completely original, there’s something fun about playing Chess with Mortal Kombat pieces. There is enough new here to warrant more than a few plays, especially with friends.

But at the end of the day, the more rewarding new feature in Deception is not a gimmick or a bonus game, but rather the addition of Xbox Live support. Although the Xbox Live has been around for a couple of years now, Mortal Kombat Deception is the very first 3D fighting game to allow you to play gamers anywhere in the world. While I did run into a few games plagued with laggy connections, my experience online was usually pretty stable, and a whole lot of fun. Fighting games have always been meant to be played against real people, and with online play you should always be able to find somebody to fight with.

Even with a few faults, Mortal Kombat Deception has a lot going for it. There is quite a bit to collect in the game, a number of fun multi-player modes, and an online component you’ll keep coming back to day after day. I wish the fighting system was a little tighter and didn’t feel so much like button mashing, but generally speaking, this is a step in the right direction for Mortal Kombat.




B-
If you can forgive some sloppy controls and a few other hiccups you’ll find an entertaining fighting game that manages to set itself apart from the competition. Throw it an online mode and a bunch of mini-games and you have the best Mortal Kombat game in years.