Review: Mortal Kombat X
If I mention gruesome fighting, blood spill, spines torn and cracked, you will probably think Mortal Kombat, one of the most violent gaming licenses in the world. After almost four full years, NetherRealm is back to perfect its already successful recipe that was launched with the Mortal Kombat 2011 reboot, now dethroned by its youngest, yet goriest brother: Mortal Kombat X.
Announced with great buzz in June 2014, Mortal Kombat X is the logical continuation of the ninth episode. Using a modified version of the Unreal Engine 3, its technical realization pops to the eye, in the manner of what we had seen on Injustice: Gods Amongst Us (the studios latest fighting game, which we reviewed back in 2013). Like the previous opus, the title is set in a living dynamic 2D fighting area, littered with interactive elements, in which two Kombatant will fight each others (to a KO or a gruesome death), filled with great visual effects. The icing on the cake obviously, is the return of the X-Ray attacks (an anatomical destruction of a human body) topped with numerous fatalities (2 per person, excluding brutalities).
Nevertheless, with all this talk about next-gen graphics, I’ve noticed a weird shift in the framerate and visual quality between the cutscenes and the actual game. If the CGI flow beautifully, they are set in 30fps video encoding. Aside from that, MKX is beautiful and has a special artistic direction with the character design that may appeal to newcomers. The HUD and menus is a faultless minimalist interface that leaves much room for action and offers such quick access to the different mode, where we were previously offered a vertical menu.
On the merits, Mortal Kombat has not changed much. It borrows elements from Injustice in its own contextual actions within each arena, and recreated the triple fighting style variation once used in the 2002 release of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. The latter, for those who don’t know much about it, gives you the choice between three fighting styles for each character: Scorpio for example can therefore leverage his fire attacks abilities, focus on teleportation or the art of the katana. Between 24 characters and 3 variants each, this variety gives you some rather interesting matchups.
Moreover, while we are on the topic of characters, the roster is quite unusual and we feel that developers are pleased with their strategy. The notable newcomers are the western gunslinger Erron Black, the insectoid and poisonous D’vorah, the Colossus and child combo Ferra Torr, or even Takeda, focusing on keeping its distance, in a style similar to that of Whiplash in the Iron Man comics.
All this merry band finds in a huge pile of bloody fighting between the Underworld and the Earthrealm during the ten or so hours that offers the story mode. Without giving too much spoiler, the setting of the game is set twenty years after the previous Mortal Kombat (MK9), where Shinnok, an old acquaintance of Mortal Kombat 4, makes his return and assumes the role of big bad boss, alongside the infamous Quan Chi. As usual, each chapter of the adventure focuses on a specific character, on the good or bad side of the ranks, which play its role in the story, whether to conduct coups, gather forces or protect loved ones.
Wait a minute! Loved ones? Well, Mortal Kombat is also a gentle world where family values are important. Thus, we get to meet Cassie Cage, daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, or Jacqui Briggs, Jax’s daughter. The campaign is fun, and full with your typical Mortal Kombat cheesy scripts, and even has some QTE sequences, topped with a final boss fight that is less demanding than the previous episode.
Nevertheless, as much as it is close to the previous opus, Mortal Kombat X opens the door to a new concept: the faction wars. Upon booting your game, you are invited to take part in a virtual Mortal Kombat war; an endless battle between five factions based online. These factions are iconic and themed after the current “clans” of the series (Lin Kuei, Special Forces, Brotherhood of Shadows, etc) and by taking part in it, you get dedicated rewards from your faction. Basically, you are challenged to do several tasks to rank up your faction every week (such as perform x amount of fatalities with a precise character), and unlock new extras like factions fatalities. You will earn experience points to your faction with bonuses no matter what fighting mode you play, and make your contribution to a global community. There is a real sense of involvement and very pleasant bonus in the process, as you get access to new fatalities, the famous Faction Kills, just to vary your little sadistic pleasures in the game. The question is whether this new mode will effectively appeal to the community or not, but the game has been designed to offer a seamless never-ending experience.
What will for sure prolong the lifespan of Mortal Kombat X, is its unlockable content, whether they are skins, secondary fatalities, brutalities, exclusive artworks or even concept art… Like the previous episode, you unlock all of this via the Krypte, by spending Koins and breaking random graves. Usually, the higher the koins you spend, the more rewarding unlockables you get. For this Krypte though, NetherRealm wanted to improve the experience, by turning into a dungeon crawler. You’ll end up finding some interactive elements like opening a door with a specific key, or even a certain weapon collected throughout your exploration.
The tower modes (a succession of opponents to defeat under special conditions – poison, traps of all kinds, changed speed, etc.) are here for you to climb again. The classic towers are still there but we will focus more on discussing about the Living Towers. This is more or less the same except that the format changes depending on when you play. Thus, there are three distinct types: one that changes every hour, every day or finally a premium that changes every week. In fact, according to the Living Tower chosen, the number of enemies, modifiers and challenges varies.
If you more of a competitive player, you have your numerous online modes, including Versus (or no ranking), Team Battle, and other options like King of the Hill and online Towers, which I find particularly well made. In the first mode, several players are in a common room and the winner needs to hold as long as possible his throne and gain the respect of his peers. Indeed, at the end of the duels, viewers can assign a rating to the winner, which will serve as a reputation. We can also react via emojis during fights. The second, meanwhile, opposes several people facing the same obstacles in a tower, and at the end of it, the results are calculated according to each performance (time taken to complete the turn, remaining health, special moves used, etc.). Again a very competitive mode.
Mortal Kombat X successfully completes the perfection of the series. While it is a bit too serious in tone, it compensates by a globally successful redesign of its iconic characters. The new fighters are sufficiently varied to allow everyone to find a shoe that fits, and as usual, the game is filled to the brim of game modes and unlockable content, even if it is less than the previous episode.
Its gameplay is ultimately the real surprise of the title. Both close and different from the old episodes with its well-realized characters variations system, it stands out by building new foundations where the studio could never be seen as lazy.
Mortal Kombat X was reviewed using an Xbox One digital version of the game purchased by the review. The game is also available on PlayStation 4 and PC, and will release on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the Summer of 2015. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Great graphics
• New characters
• A great overall minimalist design
• The successful comeback of characters fighting variations
• Content and game modes that are both local and online
• A greatly rebuilt and balanced gameplay
• Online still relies on a low latency ping
• The story mode is still as goofy as ever
• The tone of the game is maybe little too serious for its own good
• Goro is only available via preorder and day one purchase