Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mortal Kombat X

Wow. The last (and only) video game I reviewed was Injustice: Gods Among Us for the PS3. That was a while ago. Granted I stopped posting on this blog for a good amount of time so it shouldn’t be too shocking. I just find it funny that the game I am going to review now was made by the same developer – Netherrealm Studios. They are the creators of the hugely popular Mortal Kombat franchise and some other games in between. The newest game in that series is today’s topic – Mortal Kombat X.

This tenth game in the franchise sticks to its roots just like every other entry with only minor tweaks to the gameplay, features, graphical quality and playable characters. That sounds like a criticism, but its not. Mortal Kombat has always been at its best when it doesn’t stray from its origins – a 2-dimensional fighter. We saw what happened when it tried to go 3D. Mortal Kombat 4 was and still is considered to be the worst game in the series. Sure the three following console games (Deadly Alliance, Deception and Armageddon) went for a mix of both styles with varying degrees of success, but with 2011’s Mortal Kombat for the PS3 and Xbox 360 the developers went back to their roots and made the best 2D fighter they could with the tools available. That Mortal Kombat is now one of my all time favorite games (behind Mortal Kombat II).
So what is different about this sequel and how does it take advantage of the PS4 and Xbox One’s newfangled capabilities? The graphics have been given a massive overhaul and the characters are MASSIVE on the screen. There are times where they take up ¾ of the vertical real estate and as the combatants move further away from one another they grow smaller and smaller to reveal the epicness of the backgrounds. Some of which are stunningly detailed. The game always moves at 60fps, the models are well animated and the lighting effects are more than a little mindblowing. All isn’t sunshine and rainbows in this department though. I’ll explain later.

For the most part the game controls flawlessly. They are responsive, fluid and very intuitive for one familiar with the layouts from the previous games. Some button combinations are quirky when it comes to the preset combos, but with enough practice they become second nature (take my word for it… I still have combos from 1994’s Killer Instinct memorized).
The multiple modes offered are super rad and diverse. There’s no goofy Kombat Karts racing or Tetris-style puzzle minigames. One of my favorite new modes is the Faction War. Basically when you first boot up the game you are asked to choose one of five factions you will represent online – Lin Kuei, White Lotus Society, Black Dragon, Special Forces or Brotherhood of Shadow. Whenever you participate in a fight, be it online or off, you rack up points for your faction. If you complete specific goals during some of these fights you earn war points. These points are then tallied online once per week and one faction is selected the winner. Those allied with that particular faction earn extra Koins and experience points. It’s addictive knowing that your efforts are part of an online collective and you are anonymously contributing toward a common goal.

A returning favorite diversion is The Krypt. Each fight you win earns you Koins which you can spend in the Krypt, a labyrinthine maze of gravestones and other oddness, on artwork and other items. You can unlock new Fatalities, Brutalities, costumes and more here. The exploration aspect of this mode is addictive as well as you are tasked to find items relevant to specific characters form the main game that will allow you to enter new areas to spend your hard earned money.
The ever present Story Mode returns here. I really enjoyed the plot of the previous game, which went back in time to explore the events of the first three games in the series in more detail. Mortal Kombat X’s story takes place 20 years later and most of the characters have hooked up and had children, all of which are playable. Some fan favorite characters are zombiefied versions of themselves in the employ of the villain, Shinnok. The overly convoluted plot (which is to be expected once you reach the tenth game in a series) centers around Quan Chi finding an ancient amulet to release his master, Shinnok, from the Netherrealm so he can conquer Earthrealm. We see multiple storylines play out, from new character Kotal Kahn thwarting Outworld rebels led by Mileena to a group of newbie US Forces soldiers led by Cassie Cage attempting to prevent a war between the realms. We also get a closer look into what makes Raiden tick and from where he derives his power. Some if it is interesting for a diehard fan such as myself. Other times it’s a bunch of overly melodramatic gobbledygook to pad the length of the story. It’s silly but fun.

When it comes to the characters I’m on the fence. Some of the choices made baffle me in the extreme. Sure there are 23 characters selectable from the start (you unlock Shinnok for beating the Story Mode and can pay to unlock Goro if you didn’t pre-order the game bringing the total to 25) and each has three different fighting styles to choose from, but the fact that if the developers intended to introduce a series of newcomers who are the offspring of past characters (such as Jacqui Briggs, daughter of Jax) whose abilities closely mirror those of their parents, why include them to begin with? Cassie Cage is a combination of both Sonya Blade, her mother, and Johnny Cage, her father. Why make either of them selectable since Cassie is the best of both worlds? Sure they’re fan favorites, but I want to see new and interesting characters. I don’t get why the developers are constantly feeling obligated to perform fan service in this fashion. Have some balls. So instead of two more new characters to choose from we get two completely redundant ones.
Some of the new characters are suspect as well. While I really enjoy playing as Erron Black, D’Vorah and Kung Jin (son of Kung Lao), I really couldn’t stand Kotal Kahn, Ferra/Torr or Takeda Takahashi (son of Kenshi). Even Goro isn’t all that fun to play. They seem to have a lag with the performance of their moves that really annoys me. For instance, Kotal Kahn (can we fucking stop reusing the names of other characters please!) is a tall, slow fighter and his move set is such that whenever you hit the button to activate a punch or kick there is some animation that takes place before he does so. You are left open and vulnerable during this time and I cannot progress at all when I play as this chode. His disc throwing special move is especially frustrating as he has to wind up for a full second before he actually throws the damn thing, and in that time Liu Kang has already lobbed two fireballs at my face. Lamesauce.

I mentioned that the graphics are superb for the most part. I still don’t think the artists at Netherrealm Studios have ever seen a woman before because all of the ones in this game look like dudes with breasts and massive chins. The same issue popped up in Injustice (Wonder Woman looked like a drag queen) and it still seems to be one. I don’t get it. Also, while the in-game graphics are exceptional at times, there are others where the limitations of the programmers show their ugly little heads. Example – take your standard fight. The characters are large, detailed and fluidly animated. Once a victor emerges and the camera moves in closer to their face the models are super shiny and look as if they are made from plastic. This issue never pops up during the cutscenes which use in-game graphics as well. I assume it’s to simulate sweat or some such, but it looks horrible and really takes me out of the game.
As usual the Fatalities are a major highlight. The few available at the start are all pretty gruesome and funny, but the unlockable ones are even better and uber creative. The same goes for the Brutalities… although I still can’t figure out how to execute one. There are also Faction Fatalities that I have yet to see. I wish there were background Fatalities as in previous games. Maybe there are and I just haven’t uncovered them yet.

Now I feel the need to talk about the black cloud hovering over this game… all the fucking in-game microtransactions. This is becoming more and more intrusive on home consoles and I really wish it had stayed in the mobile gaming business. What exactly is there to purchase, you ask? Well, for starters you are constantly prompted to use “Easy Fatality” points, which replaces the standard combination of buttons with the press of two simultaneously for all characters. You are given a handful of these points at the start, but once they run out you can buy more for $5 a pop. There are multiple costumes, characters and other options you have to spend real money on instead of being given the choice to use the in-game Koins. You can even unlock the entire Krypt for $20! Why even include the Krypt if you don’t even have to work to unlock its secrets? There’s even the Season Pass which costs $20 and will get you every future DLC character (Tanya, Tremor, Jason Voorhees and a Predator). Basically when you add it all up the cost of these in-game purchases could cost you an additional $60, which is exactly the cost of the game itself. I’m sorry, but I’m not in the habit of dropping $120 on a fucking video game no matter how awesome it may be (and I collect retro games). Although I shouldn’t complain since I already spent $5 to unlock Goro since I never pre-ordered the game (you got him for free if you did). But I don’t give a shit about costumes and all that. Eventually it will all be available for free so I don’t bother. But the bright side is that you don’t have to spend any additional money if you don’t want to. It’s just there… tempting you to do so.
So in the end this game is a supremely entertaining, yet flawed, video game experience. I treasure each and every moment I can spend in the Mortal Kombat universe, and Mortal Kombat X is yet another winner. Sure there are some issues, but what game doesn’t have them? I have yet to find a “perfect game” (well, Super Metroid definitely is), but this will definitely hold me over until another rad fighting game comes along.

I will say that playing as a Predator sounds intriguing…

4 out of 5

This is a review of the standard PlayStation 4 version.

#MortalKombat #MortalKombatX #NetherrealmStudios #FinishHim #Fatality