Mortal Kombat X
NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
PlayStation 4 (reviewed on), PlayStation 3, Android, Xbox One, iOS, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
April 14, 2015
When Ed Boon introduced Mortal Kombat 9 in 2011, it was actually the beginning of the franchise in many ways. An arcade fighter game stepping out of its realm to tell stories and connecting dots so that every single showdown looks like a heated rivalry. This was one of the greatest games to ever grace my older console, and with the turn of 2015, I knew what was koming, the age of Mortal Kombat X. Mortal Kombat X is complex, fun, over the top gory, and all that comprise a good game. But before even we jump into praising the game, let’s also delve on some kriticism.
Mortal Kombat X is not just an extension of a tenth chapter in the history of the franchise. The X stands for a new generation, the generation X that is the heart of this modern fighting game. Boon had to sacrifice tons of fan favourites, sometimes he had to settle for NPCs within the game, like Baraka and Smoke, to introduce what he essentially wanted to introduce via MKX. It is said that heroes aren’t made, they’re born, and so rose the unofficial heroes of this new Mortal Kombat edition. From Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade’s daughter – Cassie Cage to late Kung Lao’s cousin Kung Jin to Jackson “Jax” Brigg’s daughter Jacqui and Kenshi’s abandoned son Takeda Takahashi. These characters tell richly explored back-stories that define the reason why they are fighting for Earthrealm, and will leave you in awe.
Cassie Cage borrows neck-snapping moves from her mother, but by virtue she is a cockier Johnny Cage (yeah imagine that!), redefining her father’s famous nut breaker move and Cage one liners. Sonya was torn between being a mother and a field marshal, and therefore left Cassie and Johnny to their ends until this war on earthrealm united them. She is one of the most adorable characters Mortal Kombat has ever produced, particularly evident in her body language and her Fatality move – Selfie.
Kung Jin is a fascinating new character, not a big fan of his heroics because he can really spam you in a corner with his duck and stick smash move. After Kung Lao was lost at the last Mortal Kombat, Kung Jin is set to avenge for his deceased cousin, and during the course of the game bumps into what is now a corrupted version of his childhood hero.
Jacqui Briggs, daughter of Jax the hammer, packs punches just like her old man. And shows how this new generation of fighters replicate the famous move set of their heroes and parents, it fascinates me so much in this new Mortal Kombat. It actually makes me happy and sad that the generation of fighters I spent my childhood on are actually old veterans now.
And Takeda is more than just my favourite new Mortal Kombat character. His back-story is one of the finest ever told in the franchise, and instead of portraying like his father Kenshi, Boon spins his story like he did years back with Hanzo Hasashi, Takeda’s godfather. Trained by the Shirai Ryu clan and left to his own when he wanted to be sealed with the Ryu mark, abandoned Takeda takes his father as his first opponent in the game. Blending moves of both Batman and Nightwing from Injustice: Gods Among Us, Takeda wins my heart at the end of the day.
The story of Mortal Kombat X isn’t one of the greatest stories ever told, however it tries to handle one the biggest issue these days: sequel baiting, and narrates a story that can move into multiple renditions in the near future. And I won’t have a problem with even one of them. Mortal Kombat X starts where Mortal Kombat 9 ends, the fall of Shao Kahn, the rise of Shinook and Quan Chi and mass destruction on earthrealm. Cage and Blade, along with their young Special Forces and Kenshi are forced to fight out Scorpion and corrupt Sub Zero. And that leads us to the inner war between the Elder Gods, Fujin and Raiden versus the Fallen God Shinook and his league of undead Kombatants, namely Liu Kang, Kitana and Kung Lao. Boon introduces us to the world after Shao Kahn, led by Kotal Kahn and his group of overseers – D’Vorah, Ferra Torr, Erron Black, Ermac and the always unfaithful – Kano. There is a fight between the followers of Shinook, the leaders under Kotal Kahn versus the forces from earthrealm, all for one single piece of amulet – that can reawaken Shinook and cause mass destruction on opposing sides.
The story blows up big at places and even though there are a few QTE sessions, it doesn’t seem to go completely over the top or The Order-ly, in order to give you those feels. There is a natural balance between what happens before and what happens next, and keeps all glued to the screen, just like Injustice: Gods Among Us. However, there are a few places where Boon may have gone overboard, like the end of the Shirai Ryu and Lin Kuei clan, with just a one-line reference to cyber-zeros. And definitely the way the game ends, it ends unlike any Mortal Kombat story that precedes it, it’s cheesy, dramatic and unnecessary. Also an untrained, haven’t-seen-the-tournament-but-will-still-fight-the-odds Cassie Cage beats up a Demon version of Shinook in the end, because it’s all about the script.
It seems Ed Boon took the core essence from Injustice: Gods Among Us, and made the move set even sleeker to deliver a quick, gutsy Mortal Kombat experience that beats all its predecessors in its style of combat, err kombat. In this edition of Mortal Kombat, you can choose any of the three styles that are available with each character; it is revolutionary and keeps the game slightly more tactical and less of a spam show. My all time favourite MK character Raiden is now an unstoppable beast, especially if you can tame his combos and counter openers and mix the lightning dash move and a quick body shock to end the match in a flawless victory. In one of his styles, he can place shock trap mines and shock the opponent for a brief second, damaging severly and also acting defensively. Kung Lao, my second favourite all time MK character simply because of his all important hat moves, is one of the most sleekest MKX characters to play with. His style variants all range from hat throwing styles, the Buzz Saw making the hat deadlier and quicker, the Hat Trick making it a fatal projectile and with his Tempest set he causes much damage with his iconic wind movements. Kung Lao in motion is impeccable and almost unstoppable. Additionally there are other variants complementing player styles and character attributes that leave their mark on the game. Liu Kang can heal himself amidst a fight, Jax combines his melee set with a Gotcha finisher and Johnny Cage can bring in a clone to double up the fight. Additionally, MKX works up on the existing environmental usage from the old Injustice game. And MKX gives you hot pots, rigged axes and even an old lady in the Netherrealm bazar to throw at. It is insane, over the top, but all in good Mortal Kombat humor. The opponent grab move has also returned from Injustice and works magically to turn the tide in your favour. It keeps all the action points seamlessly connected to one’s play style and additionally sets a bar for spectating. It has all it takes to make a solid e-sports show.
But what’s Mortal Kombat without Fatality right? Mortal Kombat X is a jaw dropping, flesh eating experience when it comes to its Fatalities. The bragging rights belong to the one who can set things right by turning a losing round into a winning spree and end it all with a massive fatality, be it Jax ripping open the lower jaw and stubbing his cigarette or Johnny Cage ripping out the insides and claiming ‘Here’s Johnny’. In the ideal world, the gore is just sickening, but in a Mortal Kombat world, it is your ‘Oooooh did you see that?’ moment. It never fails to impress, and each character handles Fatality in their best way. Add to that there are Brutalities that can be activated during certain junctures and flip open the sequence of the fight making the players spam less and look for more opportunities. The combos are a little hard to master, especially with iconic characters like Scorpion, and I feel that the cue is to immediately jump into the shoes of the new X age kombatants.
Aside from the aggressive offensive openings, Mortal Kombat X deals a lot in delivering an experience that leashes out equal amount of defensive retaliation if need be. You can now successfully block an opponent’s charged move and draw some life out of him. Make friends with the right shoulder button as your blocks become the reason why you may come on top of a fight. The block movement isn’t a 100% safe option, and you do some amount of health, but then an uppercut and a dash combo can sort out the equation for you. Does it not? There is a balance of short range characters and long range damage dealers, also fast paced vs slow behemoths like Goro, and it just mixes up two contrasting styles to deliver a flawless experience.
The game has great replay value, and when you are done with the story, done with playing with characters you least favoured, you can jump into the actual tournament action with One vs One rounds, Test Your Might (QTE based object breaking mini games), Test Your Luck (randomly generated kombat conditions) and the Endless challenges that bolster your strength so that you can take on the biggest challenge MKX has to offer:
The Living Towers. A competitive always on online tournament wherein you will be pitted against similar skilled players in a lobby. Fight each match like it’s the end of you, come on top and be crowned the King of the Hill. When you are not playing a versus match in the lobby, you can watch how others are playing, reading their move sets or simply practice your own moves. This online mode justifies everything that Mortal Kombat has ever stood for, and brings fun and flair to the otherwise not so online me.
Mortal Kombat X packs a solid ratio of frames per second to deliver a fight that is brutal to look at and almost impossible to miss out on the details. From the damage done to the environment to the body movements to each player’s special move set, each element is drawn out beautifully and rendered with maximum visual power to keep the level of immersion alive.
The soundtrack isn’t what a true fan would expect, like the Immortals collection of MK character songs. However, it stands true to what the franchise expects it to be, adrenaline pumping and ragingly epic. Luckily none of the Wiz Khalifa or System of a Down stunt ever made it to the actual game screen, so I am happy with what I got, even if it was something lesser than my expectations.
MKX suffers from direct cash-in problems like ‘spend real cash to unlock easy fatalities’ and a certain buy feature that kills one of the best assets of this MK game – The Krypt. The Krypt has been retouched and rendered as a separate identity, wherein players go with their hard earned Koins and spend unlocking special fatalities and costumes for their characters. The buy back option on PSN states that with a few more dollars, one can unlock the whole of the Krypt. Not cool, Netherrealm, and no thank you. The game length was a serious bugger in my way of an otherwise peerless MKX experience, as it failed to live up to a for-4-years-I’ve-been-waiting game length. The arena maps were drop dead gorgeous and richly detailed, but I feel there could have been more maps to experiment with, as we know that even game maps can dictate which fighter is going to win.
Just like most AAA games, MKX has made it to iOS and Android as a free-to-play variant. Fighting games are primarily button mashers, and the touchscreen can never get you that feel. The mechanics of the mobile versions are pretty straight forward, tap the screen to punch/kick or perform kombos. You’ll have to rely on the game system to perform the correct move. Then, in between fights when you’ve successfully performed a kombo, you get QTE sequences where you’re supposed to swipe the screen and perform the pre-judged move. Even fatalities are are QTE sequences. With that, add the elements that plague 99.9% of free-to-play games: Koins, Upgrades, Kards etc. Same old same old, upgrades in the later stages takes time, which can be overridden by, guess what, buying Koins with real money. I should pass the Moral Kombat X mobile version off, and move on to something more original.