Review: Mortal Kombat X (PS4)

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Title: Mortal Kombat X
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (31.2 GB)
Release Date: April 14, 2015
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99 (Standard Edition) / (Premium Edition)
ESRB Rating: M
Mortal Kombat X is also available on PlayStation 3 (Summer 2015), Xbox One, Xbox 360 (Summer 2015), PC, iOS, and Android.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2015
– Best Fighting Game (PS4)

Very few video game franchises can celebrate a rich history over twenty years long. Since the release of the first Mortal Kombat in 1993, this controversial series has made headlines in censorship debates, given birth to some iconic characters, and innovated on the way we enjoy the fighting genre as gamers. With Mortal Kombat X, NetherRealm Studios, headed by series creator Ed Boon, cherry picks the best components of their last two hits and adds some new features that balance the game, enhance replayability, and deliver an experience that is enjoyable at any skill level.

Gameplay:
Jumping on the 3D hype train made possible by the cutting edge technology of the PS2, a few Mortal Kombat games suffered some missteps during that generation. Like Injustice: Gods Among Us and Mortal Kombat 9 before it, Mortal Kombat X finds a comfortable place among its 2D roots. Taking the spotlight off of side-stepping and movement along a third axis allows for cleaner mechanics and a more focused match.

Launching with twenty-four characters (twenty-five including Goro as paid DLC day one) and at least four more in the pipeline, there is no shortage of kombatants to master. To add even more complexity (or balance depending on your own personal assessment) each character has three different variations to choose from. Characters will share combos and special moves between variations but there are variation-specific attributes that can give you a new twist on your familiar play style.

During the three weeks that I’ve had my hands on the game, I’ve gravitated towards Raiden. Because his Displacer variation adds a teleport to his repertoire, it’s more effective against zoning players. When my opponent cannot overwhelm me with projectiles, I opt for the Thundergod variation because of some higher damage combos.

… dodge falling ice balls or deal with narcolepsy …
Mortal Kombat has traditionally been considered a more accessible fighter than competitors as technical as Street Fighter. The folks at NetherRealm are masters of creating fun for everyone as they include frame data and resets for the pros while allowing some forgiving timing and flashy x-ray specials for casual players. The ever-present meta game of meter management forces players to keep a close eye on not only their own bar, but their opponent’s as well. Fights are won and lost amidst the super moves, enhanced specials, and combo breakers allowed by the split second decision making of effectively managing your meter.

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I’m pleased with the trend that fighting games have been setting regarding single player content. We’ve begun to see lengthy story modes, challenges, and other creative features to break up the monotony of player vs. player matches. NetherRealm has been at the forefront of the movement but this time around, the story mode in particular lacked focus, length, and interesting writing.

“Test Your Might” allows players to try breaking everything from pine boards to golden beasts through button mashing. “Test Your Luck” applies up to seven of over fifty wacky modifiers to the fight, causing players to dodge falling ice balls or deal with narcolepsy while the chaos ensues. There is also a fully fleshed out Krypt complete with unlockable goodies, puzzles, and quick time events. We’ll delve into the other online modes in the multiplayer section below.

… this publisher wants more than $60 for a game …
There have been some uproarious complaints about the microtransactions in Mortal Kombat X since its release. From the PlayStation Store advertisements which are front and center on the main menu, to the “Press X to purchase Goro” message as you scroll over him on the character select screen, to the “Easy Fatality Coins” and $19.99 price tag of unlocking the whole Krypt without any grinding, the nickel-and-diming is a bit overdone. On the bright side, it’s never forced or necessary to gameplay and it doesn’t allow any form of “pay to win”.

With the recent announcement of the $40 DLC pack for Batman: Arkham Knight, also a Warner product, it’s apparent that this publisher wants more than $60 for a game. Ed Boon did however reveal on a NetherRealm stream that “Easy Fatality Coins”, in game currency that you can purchase with real money in order to perform fatalities with less inputs, were a direct request of focus groups. Microtransactions in games may be here to stay, but Pay Per View charges much more money for much less exciting fights than the ones in Mortal Kombat X. 😉

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Visuals:
Some fans were disappointed to learn that the CGI trailer used in announcing the game last year was not actual gameplay footage even though it never claimed to be. At first, I was alarmed that the game’s visual fidelity would be compromised by the last-gen ports and it was almost a relief to hear that the PS3 and 360 versions were delayed. High Voltage Software, the people behind the last gen and PC versions, seem to be struggling and their track record isn’t the best. Only time will tell how this game will look/run on anything other than current-gen consoles.

At 1080p and 60 frames per second, the game is gorgeous on the PS4. Character variations sometimes come with visual cues, like the chain around Jason Voorhees’s neck in his “Unstoppable” variation, and those costume details are brilliant in their subtlety.

… all without even a hint of a chug …
There have been some downloadable character skins that push the limits of awesome costumes and it’s obvious right from the first Story Mode cinematic that this game’s production value far surpasses that of its predecessors. So many moving parts in the beautiful backgrounds that host the fights make the arena come to life. A lush jungle or a destroyed city block complete with interactable objects accentuates the tone.

Fatalities can be gag-inducing as characters’ entrails are dragged across screen, leaving behind mangled bodies and missing limbs. Players have to satisfy certain requirements throughout the match to achieve a Brutality. With Kung Lao for example, the final hit of the match needs to be a connected throw during which the player must press Square or Triangle fifteen times during the throw’s animation. If done properly, the opponent’s head will be punched clean off and the whole “Finish Him” bit is entirely skipped. The game’s ability to recognize all those inputs during the second-long throw sequence, react to those inputs with a darkening of the screen, and initiate the Brutality animation, all without even a hint of a chug, definitely impressed me.

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Audio:
NetherRealm does a great job obtaining source sounds for squishing guts, stabbing eyeballs, and breaking bones. If the visuals aren’t cringe-worthy enough, the sounds will certainly amplify the tasteful grossness.

Before a match begins, the characters have some back and forth banter that is unique to that specific pair and the voice-acting at those moments really captures the characters’ personas. There is some fantastic fight music that changes with the stage and provides an adequate background to the sound effects which are the star of the auditory show.

… I gather my friends and try to beat the piss out of them …
Online/Multiplayer:
There are a number of ways to enjoy Mortal Kombat X online, from ranked and private matches to modes like “King of the Hill” that emulate couch competition. You can join rooms full of players and analyze their stats while making note of the provided percentage that indicates your likelihood to win.

Much like the rest of the game, online play takes the best of previous iterations and builds upon them with additions the community had been clamoring for. Entering practice mode while waiting to fight definitely alleviates boring downtime.

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The Faction System allows players to choose one of five groups from Mortal Kombat lore and contribute to your faction’s success with every action you perform in the game, both online and off. If your faction is declared the winner, you’ll receive the spoils which include Kombat Koins and bling for your Kombat Kard.

You can even asynchronously play Mortal Kombat X online by completing Challenge Towers and competing with friends for the high score. With solid netcode in place and an ambitious foot forward in the online space, it’s unfortunate that the hyperfast gameplay and precision timing of couch sessions cannot be replicated through average connections.

Conclusion:
I get excited about Mortal Kombat releases because I know they’ll provide months, if not years, of steady entertainment. I learn something new about the game every time I boot it up and exploring my own personal limits with every character’s unique abilities provides countless hours of fun.

I spend most of my time with the game in the fleshed out training room, honing my skills, trying out new ones, and practicing for “MK Nights” where I gather my friends and try to beat the piss out of them. I feel compelled to stay connected to the game even when I’m not playing it by watching pro tournaments online and checking out insane combo vids.

Mortal Kombat X capitalizes on what the franchise does best and adds new features that only enhance the experience. If your favorite character is failing against a certain play style, you can try other variations before changing characters and it’s these ideas that keep the game balanced and enjoyable.

Much like Mortal Kombat 9, this game will only get better as more hours are pumped into it, new characters are introduced, exploits are discovered, and the competitive scene continues to heat up. In Mortal Kombat X, the franchise’s staple violence and gore rests upon a foundation of solid fighting mechanics, added content with community features, and a current gen filter weaved into a trusted, tried and true formula.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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