Preview: Mortal Kombat

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a real Mortal Kombat game. Before you’re up in arms, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe doesn’t count. With its lack of fatalities and gore and unwanted superhero appearances, it felt like a piecemeal attempt at fitting a square into a circle. All the more reason then, that Mortal Kombat make a proper return.

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Codenamed Mortal Kombat 9, this is a return to its roots, of sorts. The pace is more deliberate, having more in common with the 16-bit games that the franchise made its name on. Old-timers will feel that they’re playing nothing more than a modern day remake of gems such as MK 1, 2 and 3.

Everything we had come to love and expect is back. From the gruesome fatalities to the signature character moves, it’s all intact to the point where you’d feel it’s never left. Sub-Zero has his freeze, Kung Lao’s got his hat of serrated death, and Johnny Cage has his weird neon ball thing I never quite fathomed; all intact and untouched. It’s as if someone encased MK2 in carbonite and brought it back with a fresh coat of paint.

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Nostalgia and Star Wars references aside, there’s some new features too, such as tag-team play (that was sadly not available in the demo) and X-ray moves. There’s enough to warrant a tangible difference apart from the all-but-obvious graphical update. X-ray moves are the game’s version of super attacks. A character can only use it after a gauge at the bottom of the screen fills up, which it will when you hit or get hit. When it fills up, pressing the trigger buttons (provided you’re close enough to your opponent) sets off a satisfying, visceral combination of moves complete with slo-mo and an X-ray scan zooming into the organs that you’re destroying.

It’s a very cool addition that could very well change the result of matches if used well. More importantly, it makes you feel like a total bad-ass when you manage to pull it off, much unlike the game’s single player mode, where the AI didn’t offer much resistance even at Very Hard difficulty. However, we were informed that the build on display was two months old. Don’t be surprised to see the computer-controlled opponents giving you a run for your money when it finally hits shelves. The preview had just 12 characters versus the 28 (with 2 marked as DLC) in the final game.

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In terms of eye-candy, the game looks superb. Every time you get hit or your enemy does, it leaves a visible mark. Even at the end of a round, the damage on the character models are still visible to the point where pulling off Scorpion’s X-ray move on Sonya in the first round of a fight left her faceless for the remainder of the bout. It’s very well done, and almost takes away from the fact that there have been more significant technical achievements.

For the first time, this 3D Mortal Kombat game takes place on a 2D plane, similar to Super Street Fighter IV and Marvel vs Capcom 3. A wise choice by the folks at NetherRealm as it made the game a lot more fluid. Even without the new additions, Mortal Kombat is shaping up to be a solid title. Unless something goes magically wrong between now and it’s release, old-school fans and newbies are both in for a treat.

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