Review: Mortal Kombat XL (PS4)

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Title: Mortal Kombat XL
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (31.2 GB)
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Mortal Kombat XL is also available on Xbox One.
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

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS4 coverage of Mortal Kombat X.

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 XL, NetherRealm Studios, headed by series co-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.

Releasing less than one year from the date of the original Mortal Kombat X, Mortal Kombat XL provides a full package including all DLC and update/balance tweaks.

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 XL 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.

The inclusion of Kombat Packs 1 and 2 bring the total character count to thirty-three, ensuring 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. Triborg, a robotic character whose variations are accurate representations of Cyrax, Sektor, and Smoke, has a secret fourth variation that mimics the likes of Cyber Sub-Zero.

Playing the game regularly over the past year has emphasized for me the importance of counter-picking. At launch, the variation system seemed like a waste of coding time because one variation per character would always prevail over the others.

… split-second decision making …
Most characters had one variation that was tournament “viable” and the others were rarely used or considered to be “lower tier”. As nerfs and buffs came to life through hotfixes and updates, “bad” variations were improved and players began to explore the variation system for matchup specific situations.

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.

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 other online modes in the multiplayer section below.

Some, but not all of the pestering, in your face microtransactions present with the game’s debut last year have been absolved with the packed in DLC. There’s no more “Press X to purchase Goro” on the character select screen as he is already unlocked and the best goodies from the Krypt are instantly yours.

Purchasers of Mortal Kombat XL get nine more characters than the game launched with, a ton of skin packs and more. Players that already own the game can upgrade to this sweet package for $19.99 if Kombat Pack 1 was already purchased and $29.99 if you’ve never splurged on DLC.

… costume details are brilliant in their subtlety …
Visuals:
Some fans were disappointed to learn that the CGI trailer used in announcing the original game 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 but because of the multiple delays, it came as no surprise when the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions were cancelled.

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.

Some other character skins 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 an inition of the Brutality animation, all without even a hint of a chug, definitely impressed me. Mortal Kombat XL includes stage fatalities and secret brutalities, some with hidden Easter Eggs, absent from the original game.

… the star of the auditory show …
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.

Online/Multiplayer:
There are a number of ways to enjoy Mortal Kombat XL 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.

… based upon the core community’s feedback and suggestions …
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.

A beta designed to test better technology regarding online play was launched during the months leading up to the release of MK XL. After receiving valuable feedback from thousands of die hard players regularly participating in the beta, the programmers and community managers came together to allow the March 1st release to include the vastly improved netcode. The game’s online component comes closer to the offline experience than it’s ever been and being defeated by lag is now almost a non-issue.

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 single 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.

Last year, Mortal Kombat X capitalized on what the franchise did best and added new features that only enhanced the experience. If your favorite character failed against a certain play style, you could try other variations before changing characters and it was those ideas that kept the game balanced and enjoyable.

This year, Mortal Kombat XL takes an already fantastic fighting game and rejuvenates it with a year’s worth of balance patches and DLC based upon the core community’s feedback and suggestions. They’re listening to us and it’s evident in the final product. The franchise’s staple violence and gore rests upon a foundation of solid fighting mechanics and a current gen filter woven into a trusted, tried and true formula.

Score:
9.5

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

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Written by Emrah Rakiposki

Emrah Rakiposki

– Food
– Video games
– Rap music
It has been my life’s work to properly order the list of this world’s greatest pleasures. There is no right answer.

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