By Ian Boone. This is Load File, always digging into digital gaming and entertainment. This week, Ian is killing it with Mortal Kombat X, out now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
My first real fight took place in front of a Mortal Kombat cabinet. The place was coincidence, the fight over anything but the machine. But fueled by the emenating sound effects and the caffeine surging through my preteen frame, I blindly lashed my way to victory. Yep, Mortal Kombat has always had a special vibe with me since that fateful middle school band banquet.
Netherrealm Studios is now on the tenth entry in their fighting series with Mortal Kombat X, and age has born mixed results. With advancements in graphics, multiplayer, online, and a higher bar for storytelling, Mortal Kombat is trying to sell an improved arcade experience for our living rooms. But despite its best efforts, I come away shaking my head at the greasy, awkward stranger this franchise has become to me…
Mortal Kombat X has the onerous duty of being the sequel to a series reboot. In the ninth Mortal Kombat, thunder god Raiden undid the complete timeline leading before, and succeeded in defeating the evil Shao Kahn. But there’s always a bigger baddie, and Shao Kahn’s death fuels the invasion of the Earth-realm by Shinook, an evil elder god with an army of undead former Kombat characters at his beck.
A new generation of fighters has cropped up on every side of the conflict to get their share of action. Johnny Cage and Sonya have a daughter named Cassie that has her mother’s precision and her father’s energy. Kung Lao’s cousin, Kung Jin, is in the mix, laying down the smack with a versatile archery set. All of the new Earth-realm fighters have familiar backgrounds to draw from, but the new cast from Outer-realm and Nether-realm are pitched more out of left field. The new ruler of Outer-realm is Kotal Kahn, an Aztec war god who came out of nowhere but Ed Boon’s imagination. Kotal is served by majordomo D’vora, an insect woman, and Erron Black, a Western gunfighter-lookin’ chap.
New and old, there are twenty-four fighters on disc to eviscerate. Being a Mortal Kombat game, the offerings don’t stop short at just 1 v 1 fighting modes and story. There’s a first-person dungeon called the Krypt to explore where you can unlock certain extras. The Challenge Towers have been upgraded to Living Towers, offering rotating matches against foes under specialty rules. There are three towers, changing on different time intervals, so you have to check back regularly to get those dailies done.
Before any of this noise opens up, players are faced with a choice of a faction to represent. These five factions are based on coalitions of Kombatants, and compete to unlock in-game special moves and other bonuses. The whole idea is that it’s a metaplatform competition for everyone playing Mortal Kombat X, no matter their hardware. It doesn’t seem to do a ton in casual inspection, but if this game is your kareer I could see your pick of faction mattering.
Mortal Kombat does the ultra-violence, it does. Even minor throws result in broken limbs and spit teeth. As combos connect, an X-ray gauge is filled to charge up particularly gruesome beatdowns where we are treated to implausibly severe internal injury. And reliably, there are a myriad of Fatalities to perform on foes, rewarding victors with sickening executions on the vanquished.
Characters and environments look sticky-slick in 60 frames at 1080p. There’s a shiny glossiness to solid matter, but the particle effects look great. Charring, electrocuting, and otherwise blasting opponents is visually scintillating to a point.
After a while, I found the surge of excitement at all of this to be rapidly diminishing. In between the elaborate grossness, the mechanics of the game’s fighting striked me as clumsy. Fighters range way too much in balance. Some, like the aforementioned Kung Jin, have powerful and simple combos that seem to just flow like water. Others, like Kotal Kahn, move like a dog learning to walk in cement shoes.
Each character has three variant move sets to choose at the character select screen. This adds a little more consideration with picks, and keeps super moves from becoming sprawling lines of button input. But another unintended result is that each character’s utility feels more shallow. I’d like a Scorpion that burns, impales, and summons minions all at once, please.
After fifteen hours split between playing the story and multiplayer, I begin to wonder why games like this are still being made. Not fighting games, per se, but hyperviolent fighters definitely had their heyday. The shock value in a lot of moves is lost when the same fractures and impalements are witnessed over and over.
Fans of the Mortal Kombat series will probably dig into this one with mixed reactions. There’s ample fan service packaged with a ton of gameplay content to explore. But there is definitely a case of content gouging going on here. Several characters fought during the story missions cannot be played, and are believed to be purchasable in the future. Rain hasn’t even been confirmed, and therefore must be considered MIA. (My Prince obsession abides.)
Oh, but did you hear that Predator and Jason Vorhees are appearing as guest characters? Yeah, that’s where those franchises are now. They’ll cost another ten dollars a pop too, unless you do the season pass and net all four announced future fighters for thirty.
I hate to harp on the pricing of these things,but paying close to a hundred dollars for the Komplete Kombat experience doesn’t seem right. The professional tournament scene on it seems too niche, the true gore fetishist gamer too rare. With an inevitable self-proclaimed “Game of the Year” edition bound to come out, the casually curious are better served to wait for that.
It’s still Kombat though, served up steaming and sticky-sweet. It still churns that stomach, but it puts a lot more hurt on the wallet.