Johnny Cage walks into an Outworld bar, and jokes that he just flew in from Earthrealm and, boy, are his arms tired. The humour is short-lived, however, as a veil-covered woman in purple teleports behind him, poisons him with a deadly kiss and brutally decapitates him into tiny little pieces. Welcome to the vicious world of Mortal Kombat.
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The latest iteration of the Mortal Kombat franchise makes its way to consoles almost two years after the last forgettable crossover game, which was instantly shunned by the series’ veterans in its claim to be a true successor to the bloody crown. Long-time fans and newcomers alike will be more than glad to know that this entry proves itself to be truly worthy in carrying on the gory legacy by preserving the brutality of its distinctive past; ‘distinctive’ in the sense that no fighting game comes even close to the matching the amount of blood and gore it sends flying in every direction.
The game starts off where Mortal Kombat: Armageddon ended – with Raiden and Shao Kahn locked in battle for the ultimate fate of the two realms. The story sees Shao Kahn emerging as the victor. However, just as the fatal blow is about to be dealt, Raiden, being the (cowardly) God that he is, goes back in time (without a DeLorean even) to the very start of the first Mortal Kombat tournament to try and modify the timeline. This serves as a reboot to the series and the story then tries to sort out the preceedings of the first three Mortal Kombat games with new twists and turns.
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Consisting of 16 chapters, with each giving the player control of a single fighter for 4-5 battles, the story mode spans roughly 5-6 hours, which is rather surprising for a fighting game, but a welcome change nevertheless, and does a good job of explaining the deep-rooted story of the MK universe. However, the unskippable cinematics, spanning a couples of hours in total, and multiple unfairly matched handicap battles (2 vs 1 and even 3 vs 1) tend to get extremely annoying at times. Yet, it is Shao Kahn, who is the undisputed king of The Annoying Universe, being the cheapest end boss in the history of fighting video games!
The single player experience also offers various other new modes, which seem like a godesnd during the current PSN outage. For starters, there is a tutorial mode that serves as a nice starter by explaining the controls and the gameplay mechanics in simple steps, and the Fatality Trainer, which helps players get the timing of the all-so-humiliating fatalities just right without having to actually beat opponents. Then, there are some modes that seem like pure gimmicks thrown in for fun, without much replay value. One of these, Test Your Sight, lets the player play a game of Russian Roulette MK style. Another, Test Your Luck, allows for battles with various modifiers applied, such as reverse controls. Finally, there are Test Your Might and Test Your Strike, which force the player to button-mash the face buttons as quickly as possible to raise a power bar to break stuff. Meh.
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What really stand out (apart from the story mode) in the offline modes are the Ladder and Tag Team modes and the Challenge Tower. Ladder is just the arcade mode with progressively difficult battles leading up a sub-boss and finally Shao Kahn, defeating whom shows a cutscene ending for the fighter. Tag Team allows for fun 2-on-2 tag team matches, where fighters can be tagged in mid-combo or by pressing the left shoulder button.
What really prolongs the single player experience is the Challenge Tower, which comprises an astounding 300-odd (skippable) challenges featuring strange and sometimes hilarious situations – warding off zombies using special moves, doing battle with modifiers such as inability to use arms, kicking the crap out of Johnny Cage’s film director, defending Mileena as Scorpion as she tries to force a teddy bear on you, etc. However, most of the challenges are simply fighting your way through the opponents and are unfairly matched. Imagine being forced to fight not one but three Shao Kahns one after another, using (this is the best part) Stryker! This is disappointing since the Challenge Tower had tremendous potential to really open up a lot more of the wacky side of the Mortal Kombat universe than it ended up doing.
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Koins earned during the battles and the Challenge Tower can be spent in an area called Krypt to randomly unlock alternate costumes, fatalities, modifier codes, artwork and music. The PS3 version of the game has an awesome addition in the the form of Kratos as a playable character. His special moves are ripped right out of God of War III, making him one of the strongest fighters in the game and a more-than-welcome addition to the strong 28-fighter roster.
The gameplay is old-school with traditional 2D gameplay (no sidestepping) with gorgeous 3D models and environments, and the most nostalgic roster of fighters from its 19 year-old history. There are also 3-4 move combos for each fighter and special moves which help in making each fighter unique. However, it seems almost everyone had some kind of a teleport move in his/her arsenal, and if Wesker from MvC3 seemed annoying to you, Mortal Kombat is definitely not the game to get. No corny special moves like Klose Kombat, etc are carried over from the previous game, but there is a 3-level super meter, which fills up by dishing damage or being at the receiving end, each level of which can be used to perform an enhanced special move which does more damage than usual. This meter can also be used to perform a special block for situations where the opponent is getting a bit too aggressive. When full, it can be used to perform an exceptionally brutal and cringe-inducing X-Ray move, which usually doles out more than 30% damage and can certainly turn the tide of any battle.
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The animations are smooth throughout, but there are times when your moves (especially true for throws) will surprisingly not connect because the opponent is still finishing his attack animation. The controls are bit altered, with face buttons controlling the front and back arm and leg attacks and R2 (in the PS3 version) being the dedicated key for block (as opposed to the almost industry standard of using the back movement arrow for the same). Also, it seems that the D-Pad does a better job in movement than the analog stick. These changes seem like a chore getting used to initially, but work out just fine in the long run.
The character models are well detailed and doing enough damage to one will see the fighter, for the rest of the duration of the match, getting covered with blood, and bruises, run around in torn and tattered clothes (don’t get too excited here) and have eyes almost hanging out of their sockets. The stages’ backgrounds (most which will feel familiar to series’ veterans) are pretty lively, though non-interactive in the sense that one can’t break through the floors and the walls like one could in MKvsDC. The voice acting is good enough for the cutscenes and for the screams and shouts during battles. The music is, strangely, barely audible during battles and comprises of mostly electronic tracks.
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Multi-player review (Xbox 360) by Rishi Alwani
Adopting EA’s online pass method, you’re required to log in a bunch of digits present with your game’s packaging to access the online modes. It took a good 20 minutes or so to find someone for a ranked bout and just about the same for a non-ranked one. I ended up finishing four chapters of a book while waiting to get into a game, before giving up. Thrice. There’s a King of the Hill mode that mimics the coin-operated arcade experience in the sense that you (as your avatar) watch others playing, and you can interact by booing or cheering on the current combatants or even take it a step further by lobbing tomatoes at the screen. It’s meant to be a nostalgic addition, but for the majority of us who’ve never experienced the arcade, it’s a novelty at best and suffers from the same long durations that getting into a match suffers from.
However, if you don’t mind the potential NSFH (not safe for home) chatter, you could dive into one of the game’s many public lobbies and challenge unsuspecting foes to a taste of your might. This ended up being the best option to experience the game’s online offerings. And yes, while it took a while to get into a game, after being challenged or receiving a challenge, it was well worth the wait. For most part, the gameplay was as smooth as the CWG minus Kalmadi and Co, so much so that all that was missing was the presence of Fettuccine8 and robertsm in person to cuss at (damn you both!). The hit detection was spot-on and pulling off moves, from simple punches to X-ray moves was a cinch. There wasn’t even a hint of lag. Getting there though, is another matter altogether.
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The ninth iteration of the brutally unforgiving Mortal Kombat franchise can be compared to one of its infamous antagonists – Mileena. It’s fleshed out as an amalgamation of its previous sources, and yet it feels fresh; it’s an attractive package, albeit with some ugliness under the hood; it’s most unrelentingly brutal, and has an underlying deadly charm that is impossible to resist. Simply put, the new Mortal Kombat is ‘Fight Club’ on crack, with teleporting ninjas and vixen babes thrown in for good measure, and it achieves the distinction of being a wet dream for the average testosteone pumped video game audience surprisingly easily.