When Mortal Kombat re-emerged last generation on PS3 and Xbox 360 it made quite a splash. Not only did it manage to completely revive interest in the series, much like what we saw with Street Fighter IV, but it also redefined what a single player fighting game can be thanks to its new take on story mode. Now, with the latest consoles in mind, Ed Boon and NetherRealm Studios has returned with a new found swagger in their step ready to unleash the latest in this long standing franchise: Mortal Kombat X.
Mortal Kombat X was unveiled back at E3 but since then, they revealed a few additional characters and some new stages to fight in. While, unfortunately, we still known nothing about the story mode (though the appearance of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade’s daughter certainly leaves us wondering) but we have had a chance to go hands on with the games versus mode.
For Gamescom they chose to introduce Kano and a new stage taking place in a jungle environment. The slow trickle of carefully targeted information seems a bit silly at this point but the actual new content revealed is quite solid. The new stage, full of dense foliage and interactive pools of water, is absolutely gorgeous. The current roster that has been revealed now consists of eight characters and four stages. While we didn’t have time to sample every character we did have a chance to fight across all four stages.
First and foremost, Mortal Kombat X plays a whole lot like Mortal Kombat 9 but with a handful of changes and improvements slotted in. It’s clear that the time spent on Injustice: Gods Among Us gave the team some ideas for the MK franchise and it’s made most clear in the form of interactive stages. It sounds gimmicky on paper but it actually seems to have a lot of potential and allows the selected stage to move beyond simple background scenery. All of these actions are triggered with a single button press when positioned in the right spot. This feature manifests itself primarily in the form of quickly distancing yourself from an opponent, escaping the sides of the screen, and dealing damage. In the jungle stage, for instance, it was possible to grab vines and swing quickly past your enemy while another stage allowed you to grab an old lady in the background and use her as a meat club (yikes).
The fighters are a bit different this time as well. When you select your character you can now choose between three different styles which have an impact on the move-set available to you. Certain styles may focus more on ranged attacks while others deliver a fury of close proximity strikes. It will be interesting to see how this ultimately plays out as it effectively increases the roster. In some ways it feels like an attempt to reconcile all of the different forms of these characters that have existed at various points in the series.
We did sample a number of fatalities here as well which are incredibly gory to the point of being cheesy but that’s not a complaint. The series has looped back around on itself to the point of pure absurdity and it’s clear that the team has had a blast creating some of the wildest things you could imagine. That goes for the X-ray attacks as well, by the way, which have also returned. It did seem as if the commands for executing fatalities were simplified for the press, though, with all fatalities being executed with a simple down-down-square command.
This is Unreal
With WB recently doubling down on its commitment to Unreal Engine 3 it’s no surprise that MKX remains based on this workhorse of an engine. There have been huge strides made to the visuals, however, producing results that far exceed what we saw last generation. Naturally the fighters and backgrounds are more richly detailed but the addition of Tekken Tag 2 style motion blur dramatically enhances the games appearance in motion. We also see a nice use of bokeh depth of field highlighting certain camera shots and very sharp texture work throughout. Even at this point, the game effortlessly cruises along at 60 fps on PlayStation 4, which is the system on which we played it. The introductions and X-ray attacks are still updated at a lower frame-rate, unfortunately, but this does appear to be a stylistic choice as opposed to a technical limitation. NetherRealm is fully dedicated to the PS4 and Xbox One versions of this game, thankfully, with the last generation ports being handled by High Voltage Software; the crew which handled ports of NetherRealm’s previous fighting games to PC and PS4 as well as, more infamously, the original release of Zone of the Enders HD. Seems like they’re going to have quite a challenge ahead of them with porting this one.
So that’s Mortal Kombat X. It’s more Mortal Kombat as defined by Mortal Kombat 9 and it’s looking great. It feels like a very confident game. I’m sure, when developing MK9, the team really felt the pressure to get it right and restore the brand to its full glory. Now that they’ve achieved that, it really feels as if they’re going all in with this latest game. They’ve leaned in to every feature that made MK9 a great game and the beautiful new coat of paint really makes the whole thing feel fresh. We can’t wait to see how it turns out.