Mortal Kombat was always my favourite fighting game out of the two big titles from the early 90’s. I was never quite as good at Street Fighter, and much preferred the characters and settings of Mortal Kombat. I was a big fan of the series up to the PlayStation release of Mortal Kombat trilogy before losing track of them for quite a few years until Midway made a big push with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance on the various sixth generation consoles and have once again followed it closely since.
Midway’s closure and the series’ subsequent rebirth from new studio NeverRealm, made up primarily of former Midway developers, featured a more story oriented approach to the single player part of the game along with a number of multiplayer modes and challenges.
Mortal Kombat X follows on from the 2011 reboot title Mortal Kombat, where a future version of the Thunder God Raiden had altered the history of the original games. Replaying the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games but with different outcomes, the game again ended with the warriors of EarthRealm victorious over Shao Khan and the forces of Outworld, but with a huge number of the cast killed off in the process.
Set 20 years later but also giving a number of flashback scenes to fill in the gap, Mortal Kombat X fatures a mixed roster of returning and new characters. Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade in particular are quite different to their earlier portrayals, with Sonya now a very serious army general and Johnny having grown up quite a lot from a jerk Hollywood star to responsible leader – which I thought worked very well for him and made Johnny into one of my favourite characters in the game. Johnny leads a special forces team made up of descendants and relatives of many older characters, with his and Sonya’s daughter Cassie; Jacquie Briggs, daughter of Jax; Takeda, the son of Kenshi and Kung Jin who is the cousin of Kung Lao.
Over in Outworld, new Emperor Kotal Khan has taken over from the power vacuum left after Shao Kahn’s death and is a much more sympathetic and less straight up evil character than his predecessor. He’s also joined by new characters D’Vorah, a member of a humanoid insect species, a human cowboy called Erron Black and the bizzare duo Ferra/Torr which is made up of a hulking and childlike brute and his smaller more intelligent companion.
After being killed in the previous game, previous heroes Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Kitana and Jax have all been brought back to life as mind controlled zombies by the necromancer Quan Chi, along with series regulars Scorpion and Sub Zero. At the end of Mortal Kombat it is revealed that Quan Chi is working for the fallen Elder God Shinnok, and will launch an invasion on EarthRealm in the wake of Shao Khan’s defeat, and Mortal Kombat X picks up just a couple of years later with the invasion in full force before jumping ahead to the present day part of the story.
As I’ve come to expect from the last two NeverRealm Studios games (Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us) Mortal Kombat X has a very strong story mode, made up of a number of chapters following individual characters in an ongoing narrative. Each character gets four fights before moving on to the next, and there are a substantial number of cutscenes bridging each with over two hours of pre-rendered footage in the game.
NeverRealm once again prove that it’s possible for a fighting game to have an enjoyable and compelling story instead of the simple arcade mode endings of old that used to be a hallmark of the genre and I was gripped from start to finish. I did find it odd though that a couple of the new characters didn’t get a chapter dedicated to them, as it would have been nice to have them a bit more fleshed out but hopefully they’ll still be around in subsequent games for this to happen.
Occasionally the cutscenes will have a brief section with quick time events, with specific button inputs required to pass them, though I don’t believe this has an effect on anything past some slight changes to the fight animations in them. The game thankfully gives a slight warning before one of these scenes starts, with it switching to full screen from the widescreen video so you’ve normally got time to grab your pad again if you’ve put it down while watching the cutscene which is a nice change – so many times with these events I’ve been surprised by one suddenly appearing and wasn’t ready to hit whatever button was required, failed and then had to start the section over.
Outside of the story mode, single player game modes include basic single fights against the computer and a range of different towers, where you fight against a number of enemies. The fixed towers include a standard eight fight tower like the Mortal Kombat games of old; survival, which has you fighting each subsequent opponent with your remaining health from the previous match; endless, which as the name suggests keeps going until you fail; and the Test Your Might and Test Your Luck towers.
Test Your Might is the return of the classic button mashing minigame where you have to hit the attack buttons quickly enough to break an item, and something that I have always been rubbish at because I just can’t hit the buttons quickly enough. Test Your Luck, on the other hand, is similar to a standard tower with a number of opponents to fight, but with a random selection of modifiers. These have effects on the gameplay, such as reduced health, inverted controls, poison, bombs being thrown at you and so on. Some are quite amusing, like the screaming Tarkatan heads raining from the sky, while others such as taking damage while jumping are more annoying than anything else.
Finally, there are also three ‘living’ versions of the towers, that change on hourly daily and weekly schedules respectively. The hourly towers each use a single modifier, and completing the tower also unlocks that modifier for you to select in custom fights, while the daily versions have a different modifier for each fight. The weekly tower finally, is a themed tower which currently is based on the original Mortal Kombat and just featuring fighters from that game.
The only omission from the last game is the challenge mode, where you would progress through a number of stages requiring you to win in a specific method which is a shame as that was normally quite fun, though I assume this was dropped in favour of the living towers.
On the multiplayer side, you can play same system versus matches in either standard or custom modes, with custom allowing you to select from your unlocked modifiers.
Online multiplayer includes these options, as well as ranked versus matches and king of the hill which has you fighting to stay the winner. The current king keeps playing while rotating through a number of opponents until defeated, at which point the victor becomes the new king.
New for Mortal Kombat X is the faction system, which gives players the choice of joining one of five groups from the Mortal Kombat universe. Each player’s actions, from playing multiplayer matches and towers as well as completing daily challenges, contribute towards that faction’s standing with a champion being crowned each week. The current champion faction has a tower themed on them that players can take on to earn points, and at various times there will also be invasions from other realms such as Outworld or the NetherRealm that add further towers as well as a ridiculously hard boss fight where players slowly chip away at the boss character’s health over the course of the day. Players earn both regular and faction experience for fights, which increase both their player and faction level respectively. Gaining levels unlocks additional items for the player card, which themselves have extra boosts like earning more XP from each fight.
The final main game mode is the Krypt. The last few Mortal Kombat games have had this feature, where it’s typically depicted as a graveyard or something similar and earning Koins (sigh) through gameplay allow you to open Krypts (again, sigh) to unlock additional Kontent such as Kostumes for the Kombatants (I give up) and extra finishing moves, concept art, music and so on. The Krypt this time around has had a major overhaul and is a game in of itself, playing like a classic first person dungeon crawler. You navigate around the Krypt, finding key items of characters from the series such as Scorpion’s spear and Sub-Zero’s ice attack to gain access to new areas that have more items to unlock and so on. Periodically while moving around you’ll suddenly be attacked by wild animals or monsters which you can fend off with a quick time event for some additional Koins. The atmosphere in this mode is really quite impressive which some very detailed areas, particularly the spider cave.
Oddly, even once you’ve unlocked everything the game keeps giving you Koins even though there’s nothing left to spend them on. The Krypt also has a gambling statue which is required to unlock the last few items, and once this has granted you everything it too will just give you more Koins. It would have been nice if there was an option to trade these in for experience.
Back when the first Mortal Kombat came out, it gained notoriety for the high level of violence, blood and gore and particularly the bloody Fatality finishing moves that you can use when you’re victorious in a fight. As is to be expected, these return here along with the X-Ray special attacks from the previous game. These are ridiculously over the top and in many cases incredibly violent, and are the main reason for the game’s 18 rating. The button inputs required for these seem quite a lot easier than in previous games in the series, while I used to struggle with them I’ve had no problem with pulling off every character’s Fatality this time around.
From a gameplay perspective, it all plays very well. NetherRealm wisely realise that they’ve had the formula right with the last two games, so the controls are basically identical and everything responds quickly and smoothly like it should. I was initially a bit worried when I heard about the character fighting style variations, fearing a return to the style switching gameplay of Deadly Alliance and Deception, but thankfully this was not the case. On selecting your fighter, you have a choice of one of three presets for them that give some different special moves and combos which with knowledge of your opponent can help you to choose a stronger style to fight them with but aren’t changeable on the fly in a match. Each variation also gives a slightly different look to each character so you can tell what variation you’re fighting against quite easily.
Visually, it’s a very pretty game. My first experience with it was running on a PlayStation 4 at the booth at Insomnia 54 where it looked amazing and while my aging 7770 isn’t quite up to that level of shininess it still looked very good. Each character is very detailed and well animated, and the stage backgrounds all have a nice amount of variation between them – though admittedly it would have been nice to have a few more of them as I’ve now seen each one many, many dozens of times.
If you’ve played a Mortal Kombat before you’ll already know what the game will sound like as all the sound effects and music are very much in the style of what’s come before which is perfectly fine. The voice acting is quite a bit more polished this time around, with a number of high end voice and TV actors lending their talents to the game.
Sadly, the PC version at least isn’t without some quite significant bugs. On launch day it had been decided to test a new streaming install service, where the game would download in chunks, theoretically allowing you to start playing the game while it downloaded. Only, this didn’t work very well. Parts of the game that weren’t yet downloaded didn’t give any indication of this and would just crash to the desktop if you tried to select them, and even when everything was downloaded the story mode and online play were still greyed out. Both these issues have since been fixed, with the steaming install now abandoned, and all game modes being fully playable. But that’s only the start of the problems, unfortunately.
Players generally report pretty poor performance ingame – while the game didn’t run in high settings very well for me I think that’s more down to the age of my graphics card than anything else, but people with high end cards have also complained of low frame rates. The online functions seem to just break randomly, and not even consistently. At one point I was trying to play multiplayer with a friend and while I was able to connect to the online portions of the game he couldn’t do anything other than single player, and another session had us both unable to log in. Often the online portion of the game will simply stop when trying to load the online stats and would require quitting the game and restarting it. The faction server, where you can track the daily challenges and see your standing in your selected faction, would also simply stop responding without warning, often when I had just been into it and could then get back into it again a couple of minutes later. Prepare to see this a lot:
Finally, and the worst for me, was the loss of my save data. It could be a problem with the game or with Steam’s cloud backup service but one time I loaded the game and my progress was simply gone, and of course this would happen to me with the main game finished and all items in the Krypt unlocked. I’ve also heard reports of this happening with the console versions of the game, leading me to think it’s a problem with the game itself and not Steam. Frankly, had I not been playing the PC version of the game where I was able to recover a save file only a little behind where I was that would have been it for me and Mortal Kombat X. As it was I had only lost a couple of hours worth of progress, but even that is unacceptable really.
NetherRealm Studios and High Voltage Software, who developed the PC port, have been releasing regular patches to the game since launch (with a whopping 15GB patch only days after release) and do seem to be working hard to fix all the issues players are having but it’s still very disappointing to see a major title released in such a state and that this is becoming the norm for game releases.
There has also been some discussion online about the microtransactions included in the game with the ability to buy skip fight or easy Fatality tokens that, as you might guess from the names, allow you to either skip a fight that you’re having trouble with or do a Fatality with a single button input. You’re given a number of these through progression in the Krypt and can buy more if you wish, and there’s also an option to pay to have all of the items unlocked in the Krypt though this itself is nothing new as I remember various games having complete unlock options as downloadable content. Personally, none of this was a problem for me as I didn’t use any of the tokens the game gave me and had plenty of fun unlocking everything myself but I did put a lot of time in to do it and I can’t really begrudge anyone wanting to be able to play with everything if they have less free time and more money to be able to do so.
Like Injustice before it, Mortal Kombat X is supported by a mobile version of the game and features similar gameplay to that title’s mobile version and I was hoping to review this along with the main game, but the Android version has at the time of writing still not been released for download in this country.
It really is a shame that the technical issues that the game has seen so far have marred what feels like it should have been the best Mortal Kombat game to date. Hopefully these will all be under control soon and won’t be a problem for new players, but those of us playing from the start will likely always remember them and have that reflect poorly on the game as a whole.
When everything is working properly though, there’s a lot to love about Mortal Kombat X and it’s involved story and more accessible gameplay mean it’s a good match for both long time fans of the series as well as newcomers, but you might want to hang on a little longer for it to receive another couple of patches.
Mortal Kombat X is out now on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, with Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions due to follow in later in summer.