Review: Mortal Kombat (PS3)

Title: Mortal Kombat
Format: Blu-Ray
Release Date: April 19th 2011
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Netherrealm Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99
Extras: 3D Compatible

Since its grisly birth into arcades almost 20 years ago the Mortal Kombat franchise has made court room appearances, kept our mothers worrying at the psychological stresses we fans must be incurring on ourselves performing so many perfectly executed fatalities on each other, it’s reinvented itself as a 3D fighter, found a savior in Jack Thompson, wreaked bloody havoc on our spell check systems, and now… has finally come around full circle in full 2D retro-death-match glory.

Is this the Mortal Kombat game fans have been waiting for?

I’m thinking the grown men – and women, if indeed there were any – who stacked quarters on the original Mortal Kombat cabinets back in the early grunge-era are going to find so much more competition waiting for them when they hop online and take the new Scorpion out for a test drive.

This is our Mortal Kombat – its arcade ancestors would be proud of this new fine grandson. What we loved is still here: the insane speed, the high-low game, the character roster, the signature moves, the finishing moves – I even heard the sweet sing-song of Dan Forden’s “Toasty!” when I drilled Reptile in the chin with an uppercut.

But in the current absence of a market for 3D fighting games – one that was ruled over by the Dead or Alive series, the Tekken series, the Soulcalibur games and the Virtua Fighter titles – the second dimension is back and hotter than ever.

Today’s stable of fighters don’t mind the narrow footing any more. Street Fighter 4 and the new (absolutely gawdamn GORGEOUS) Marvel vs. Capcom 3 manage to pack in all kinds of depth and creativity into their fight systems. That this new Mortal Kombat game – a game series built from the same fabric as Godsmack records, truck balls, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and those horrible tribal tattoos – manages to do the very same thing using the exact same dimensional restrictions… well, to be honest, I wasn’t expecting that.

Like I said in the first paragraph Kombat alumni – expect an entirely new generation to join in the tournament this time around. This is a game built with the old school and the new school in mind.

I’ve spent the last three days trying to get inside of this new Kombat game. I’ve managed to learn – not yet master – two characters in that time. As of this writing I’m still finding hidden secrets in their arsenals. And when I put the two (I started with the much improved Stryker and Ermac) into a tag match together…? The TV screen literally melts into a frenzy of combat I barely feel like I’m in control of – but somehow I am at the same time.

In one tag-team match against Reptile and Liu Kang Reptile dropped in the fight to unleash one of his massive, gelatinous mega balls before jumping off-screen again. As Kang and I fought I couldn’t ignore this gigantic green bomb trailing behind him slowly – the combination of the two ultimately put me in the corner where Liu Kang beat me half to death before the mega ball ended up finishing me off. The addition of the tag-assist and tag-attack combinations add an almost unlimited resource to an already adept fighting system.

The new fight engine in this manifestation of Mortal Kombat is the perfect hybrid of the original 2D games blended with the button combos from the 3D generation. Netherrealm dumped the 3 stance/weapon system they developed for Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and simply added some of the weapons and better combinations to the new control layout.

Folks used to three or four button press combinations – not normally experienced in the Street Fighter/Marvel vs. Capcom games – are going to find some easy company with this system. You can still play the poke and high-low game like you can in any of Capcom’s fighters, and you can also string together some long button combinations like you did in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and the Tekken games – but with the addition of an extremely creative cancel system the combination engine is pretty much wide open and inexhaustible into what you can come up with all on your own.

If you’re fast enough – and I’m not the spring chicken I was back in 92 – you can literally input any of your character’s special moves on your fight stick while doing any of their normal, designated button combos.

Example: Scorpion’s spear throw is just as great as it ever was – it’s also expected by now so it usually ends up bouncing off harmlessly from a well-timed block. But drive your shoulder into the opponent’s face using his Gravedigger button combo, (triangle, triangle+square) and somehow jam in his spear throw (away, away) on the stick in time with the square button hit of the combo…?

Watch your opponent get knocked back off his feet into the air as he would during any hit from the Gravedigger – the only difference is that Scorpion’s spear will immediately follow the combo and grab the poor bastard right out of the sky, pulling him back in for more punishment.

To pull-off these kinds of intricate augments takes days of practice and an excruciatingly finite amount of perfect timing. I’ve already spent hours – those hours best used paying off some of that accrued sleep debt – practicing a single combo/cancel move. That’s just one move for one character in the many still unknown to me. Add the tag-assist factor into these created combination strings and the pain any one practiced player can bring to his enemies is pretty much limitless.

Not everything’s perfect in the new Mortal Kombat. But even the less than savory stuff is just that – less than savory. It’s not terrible by any means.

Johnny Cage is still built from the same ingredients he always was: water, vinegar, antiseptic chemicals. The guy’s still a douchebag. In the new game Netherrealm also decided to make him look like a low-level boss character from Data East’s Bad Dudes arcade game. Johnny hasn’t aged as well as his brothers.

And speaking of his brothers…

Klassic Kombat players will find the 28 character roster a bit on the familiar side. Playstation 3 owners get the addition of Kratos – and Kratos is awesome, Golden Fleece, Head of Helios freeze, Bow of Apollo projectiles, Zeus’ Rage real-time-event-button-prompt combination and all – but the MK cast is pretty much how it was back in the late 90’s. Street Fighter 4 brought fans the additions of Abel, Crimson Viper, Rufus and El Fuerte. Super Street Fighter 4 added Juri and Hakan to the stable.

Mortal Kombat addsKratos.

And only if you bought the PS3 version of the game. I have no complaints about the classic fighters from the series, or what they’re capable of now – but players like new faces and fresh fighting styles. At least this one does.

One addition to this new game is the X-Ray move system. It’s basically Ed Boon’s version of the Super and Ultra moves from Street Fighter 4 – with a little of Sonny Chiba’s Street Fighter film from 1973 thrown in. The problem is… they’re far too easy to pull off for how much damage they end up doing. If you fill up all three blocks of your Super Meter, hit L2/R2 together at the right moment and watch a major chunk of your opponent’s health dissolve. It’s that easy.

As far as the rest of the content is concerned, this new Kombat console title is absolutely packed with extras. There’s a 300 tier challenge tower that will turn any player inside out before turning them into the elite Mortal Kombat Jedi they never knew they could be before.

There’s a story mode that will familiarize new players with every character as they complete all 17 chapters – this is also the only way to unlock Cyber Sub-Zero and Quan Chi. The Krypt also makes a return for those hungry for extra finishing moves and costumes for their favorite fighters. And back again are the “Test Your Might” and “Test Your Luck” mini-games for players looking to raise some extra Koin-age for Krypt unlocks.

Like the modern transfiguration of Jessica Simpson this new Mortal Kombat got fat. The 60$ price tag buys much more in this fighting game than just about anything else like it on the market right now.

The graphics might not appear at first to compete with what’s happening over at Capcom – but during one fight in the Temple stage I noticed that light through the stained-glass windows that surround the level blanketed the characters in color patterns I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a fighting game before this. If you can look past the over-the-top gore and violence there really is a beautiful game underneath all that blood.

The desert stage is absolutely gorgeous as well.

Those who remember the shock of stepping up for the first time to Mortal Kombat 2’s arcade cabinet and hearing the blast of the Williams DCS sound system coming through in amplified mono(!) will be pleasantly surprised how 18 years of audio evolution has added to the already terrific sound design in these games. The new Mortal Kombat sounds like it hurts when you smack somebody upside the head. Toasty indeed.

As of right now the online game is a work in progress. On my end I couldn’t get into a game that didn’t have horrific frame-rate issues. There’s a ton of content for the online multi-player portion of this game – the King of Hill stuff looks like it could be a good time, if only the frame-rate could keep pace with the action.

Hopefully Netherealm will fix these issues in the near future. It’s a major buzz-kill spending hours tacking down a lethal combination/special cancel move only to have it lost in an online chopped-up frame-rate disaster.

Ed Boon created his master work with this new game. I’ve always been a fan of this series – this is the first Mortal Kombat game that ever made me feel like an entry level rookie. There’s so much depth here that needs to be examined, uncovered, played with, explored, studied, practiced – and hopefully mastered – that it certainly feels like this is a fighting title worthy of major money tournaments and years of online speculation and strategy.

Some new characters would have been nice, and the online is sticky with frame-rate issues – but a few well placed DLC packages and a patch should fix these problems nicely.

Mortal Kombat 2011 is the culmination of 19 years of evolution, knowledge, and technology – the result is an almost undefeatable killing machine. Buy this game if you haven’t already – you will not be disappointed.


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