Everyone has that one game franchise that they love unconditionally; the one that they manage to find enjoyment in, no matter how bad the individual release. For me, that is and always has been Mortal Kombat. This has been my go to series from the moment I first laid eyes on the original arcade release. Over the years, the franchise has certainly had its share of good, bad, and really bad titles. Even still, I’ve always found myself running back to programmer Ed Boon’s creations without hesitation. Thankfully, Mortal Kombat X (MKX) doesn’t look as bad as some of the titles the franchise has dropped in the past (cough, Special Forces, cough). In fact, considering the glimpses that NetherRealm Studios has given us of the game, it looks absolutely amazing. After getting my hands on the final version last week, I can assure you that it more than just looks the part of an excellent game, it is an excellent game.
Fans of NetherRealm, and veterans of their previous titles, may already have a sense of just how much content this package has in store. Although the fighting game genre can be considered shallow, this developer always seems determined to flesh out the total experience to something that goes beyond mere pugilism. There is more to this game than just fighting and blood; a lot more. This game is packed full of modes and features that will keep you occupied for hours upon hours, easily, whether you are looking to play by yourself or with friends.
The first stop for most players is likely the franchise’s now-patented story mode. The story mode, albeit a bit shorter than the previous edition, has shown that NetherRealm is definitely the master of the solo fighting game experience. This isn’t just a series of random encounters between characters, but rather a lengthy, interactive tale that has you controlling things both in battle and out. Even during the cutscenes, you have many moments where you will interact with button presses that control the direction of the action. These aren’t plot-altering events, but simple, quick time events that dictate how a non-playable fight or short scene pans out. Thankfully, the game doesn’t rely on them too heavily; they are very brief and meant solely to keep you on your toes and embedded in the action.
The story does a really good job of tying together the 25-year gap between MK9 and MKX, although it does stray all over the place at times. There has been a lot happening in these worlds, and you get to see it from a bunch of different viewpoints. The chapters playout through a combination of flashbacks and modern events that plot the course most of the characters have taken to the current situation. The story and its dialogue do get extremely corny at times, especially considering I saw the ending coming about 20 minutes into the game, but I mean that in the manner that the franchise has always had a bit of a corny side to it. Johnny Cage, for example, is always full of cocky one-liners that bring out as many groans as they do laughs.
While this isn't an Emmy award-winning story by any means, it is a very entertaining four to five-hour romp that will suck you into the lore of the Mortal Kombat universe. I do wish that there had been a little more variation in who you get to play with throughout the story mode. While you will touch on a wide variety of characters, it's really a perfect opportunity to introduce players to every character in the game. That doesn’t happen here. There are some key players on the roster who simply appear in the background of the tale that I feel could have made interesting additions to the story’s playable cast, given their situations within the context within the story. At the same time, there are major players in the story that don’t appear on the playable roster; it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The fanboy in me gets a little upset that I don’t get to take control of some of my favorites, like Rain or Baraka, either in the story or in the game as a whole. But at the same time, I know that we're not going to be able to get all the characters that we all want every time. You can probably expect to see some of these as DLC down the road. Either way, NetherRealm has done a wonderful job at tying in a lot of other familiar faces into the adventure, as you will see a lot of people you did not expect to see throughout the story arc.
If you have seen any screenshots or video footage of the game, you know just how amazing it looks. This isn’t just the best-looking fighting game on the market (sorry, Guilty Gear Xrd, you had the title for a few months), it is one of the best-looking games, period. The amount of detail that is in each character and level is mindblowing, and it all runs silky smooth at an incredible 1080p and 60fps. The only time that I noticed issues with the visuals was occasionally during the cutscenes of the story mode, which were obviously crafted using the in-game engine. Some of the shadows were incredibly blocky at times, and there were some issues of textures clipping and disappearing into one another. This never happened during the action though, which is what you will be looking at most of the time.
Obviously, the crux of the gameplay, both in the story mode and out, is one-on-one combat. The basic fighting gameplay has really been fine-tuned over the last iteration of the series. All of the new mechanics that MK9 introduced, such as the three-level super bar at the bottom of the screen and X-Ray maneuvers, have returned, along with a slew of new features. Boone and company have done a lot to change the way people will play the game, which could cause a bit of a shake up on the competitive scene. Traditionally, fighting game strategies are heavily based on timing and reading your opponent's moves; with MKX, players have the ability to alter the timing of many moves and character recoveries. If you want to stall the process of standing up after being knocked down, you can. Many characters also have the ability to delay their special moves, such as their projectiles or attacks that launch them towards an opponent. This can really go a long way to throw off the timing of your opponent. It really adds a different element of strategy to the game I did not expect, forcing players to rethink how they engage their opponents. It makes confrontations more tense.
Another addition to the gameplay isn’t groundbreaking for the genre but it is new to this franchise: The stamina bar. This small meter, which lies under each health bar, dictates how often your fighter can perform certain physical feats. This applies mainly to dashing and running, but also to the new interactive environments as well. Just like NetherRealm’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, each environment contains items and stationary objects that the characters can use for a tactical advantage. This ranges from objects they can boost jump off of to items that can be picked up and thrown across the screen (including a poor old woman at the Outworld markets). You don’t have to worry about someone spamming these and taking advantage of them constantly.
Perhaps the addition to the game that I love the most are the new and improved Brutality moves. I have to be honest: I was never a fan of the Brutality as it was known in the previous Mortal Kombat games. These finishing moves always felt very stupid to me and seemed like nothing but ripoffs of the Ultra Combo maneuvers in Killer Instinct. In MKX, their name describes them best, as they are simple displays of utter brutality. The moves are now more violent versions of regular moves and they fit in perfectly with the flow of combat. I particularly like how many of them can be discovered in manners similar to the old arcade days of the original MK games—by accident as well as trial and error. While there are specific requirements that must be met in order to pull them off, the requirements don’t force you to do ridiculous things, such as playing without blocking or restricting yourself to one class of attack buttons. It's more of a matter of successfully pulling off a certain move or combo multiple times within a match and then completing the match with that action, which is something most players will do organically.
One of the things that can make or break a fighting game is its roster. In that department, MKX not only meets but exceeds all expectations. Although the base roster only consists of 24 characters, the introduction of multiple variations goes a long way to make it feel like a ton more. Each character’s three variations make a huge difference in how they feel and play. There are numerous instances where I find myself liking one variation of a character and completely despising the others. I can definitely see a competitive benefit to learning and mastering the basic, shared strategies of a given character and being able to rotate through their variations, given your opponent's strategies.
As I said earlier, there are a ton of modes and options available for players. In addition to the story and traditional versus fighting, both the Krypt and the Tower modes make a return from MK9, and we have the new Faction Wars option to play with. The towers are going to be the lifeblood of the extended solo experience. This mode is no longer restricted to a set number of levels to complete, where once you're done there is nothing else to see. Now there are multiple tower options that change constantly and compare your results to other players on your friend list. The weekly, daily, and hourly challenges all provide fresh objectives and ways to play the game constantly; plus, you’ll earn yourself both koins (in game currency) as well as points for your faction of choice. I have already found myself checking in with the game at random points in the day just to see what the current hourly tower has in store for me.
The Krypt has also evolved and it has almost developed into a miniature game of its own. It plays out as a bit of a roguelike adventure now. You not only spend earned koins to unlock graves to access additional fatalities, brutalities, artwork, costumes, and music, but also collect items that allow you to access new areas features in the Krypt. It really has become a world of its own, as you are no longer inhibited by the amount of money you have earned, but also how much exploration you have done and which tools you have acquired. There are even combat sequences against random enemies, such as spiders or wolves, although they are extremely simple.
Faction Wars is an interesting concept that should keep the community involved for months, if not years, down the line. This weekly in-game war really helps give you reason to play outside of just battling it out. Earning rewards for Faction kills and battles, plus the various daily challenges, gives you a little something extra to work for each time you turn on the game. I love getting little bonuses for both my personal profile and my faction because I managed to hit a certain number of hits in a combo or landed a certain type of move for the hundredth time. It is these little milestones that give players extra incentive in battle and makes things just that much more interesting.
The weakest part of the whole package is probably the online play. While it has plenty of options, and I love the ability to chill in a room with a bunch of players and challenge others at will, the actual in-match performance leaves a bit to be desired. The gameplay looks silky smooth, but there is a noticeable lag most of the time in the controller inputs. There doesn’t even seem to be a rhyme or reason to it either, as I have had better matches with players on the west coast than those that are in my region or area. Hopefully this is something that gets some fine tuning and improvement over the next couple of weeks, as the game gets adjusted to the online demand.
MKX doesn’t just look amazing, it is amazing. Boon and his crew have crafted an excellent fighting game that really sets their franchise apart from the pack when it comes to the current lineup in the genre. Complete with both extensive solo and multiplayer experiences, MKX is really a new take on fighting games, and should push other developers to up their game in the future. There are some great ideas in place here that transcend the usual fighting game experience, and as long as NetherRealm continues to support and improve the game, it will be hard for another developer to knock it off the genre’s throne.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Guess who's back!!! If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, former certified news monkey. I still consider myself all of those things, just maybe not in the grand scale that I once did. I’ve been blogging on the industry for more than decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die (in some form or another).
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it (at least once).