Release Date: April 14, 2015Platform: PS4 (reviewed), XBO, PCDeveloper: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentGenre: Fighting
It’s fitting to me that Mortal Kombat X’s tagline is, “Who’s Next?” In this day and age, when media is so obsessed with mining the past, it becomes problematic going forward. The last Mortal Kombat game in 2011 was a sequelized reboot, yes, but it was mostly a nostalgic love letter. It took what we loved in years past, redistributed it in a modern way, reminded us of how cool it used to be, and raked in the money.
It reminds me of the recent movie The Muppets, where much of it was dedicated to how great the old Muppet stuff was. Then it came time for them to do a sequel and they couldn’t just go back to the well. They had to be new and move on. So who is next? What is next? How do we keep momentum?
Apples and oranges, sure, but Mortal Kombat X is certainly a better follow-up than Muppets Most Wanted. Mortal Kombat 9 ended up giving us a winning formula and Mortal Kombat X is able to capitalize on it while keeping it incredibly fresh. If Mortal Kombat 9 was about the past, then Mortal Kombat X is all about the future.
What made Mortal Kombat 9 so great was that they went and made it a complete package that’s only rivaled by Soul Calibur 2 and Guilty Gear X2. Not only did the gameplay work well both on a casual and tournament level (giving Mortal Kombat its very first major appearance at the Evolution Championship Series), but it had SO MUCH content. Mortal Kombat X knows to keep that ball rolling by keeping what worked and working on what didn’t.
The biggest change here is the variation system, which makes up for the slightly smaller roster. The game features 24 default fighters with Goro as a pre-order download and at least four DLC characters on the pipeline. Every character has three variations that alter the way they play. For instance, Scorpion can use Ninjutsu style where he has use of his katanas for added striking range and better use of combos. With Inferno, he can summon demons to attack his opponent from various directions. Or you can use Hellfire, which allows him a couple of key fire-based attacks like throwing charged fireballs or catching his opponent with an unblockable fire attack from the ground.
Each character has options and it’s up to you to decide which one works better for you. I’m not a fan of Kotal Kahn’s Sun God variation where he summons beams of life to heal himself and hurt his opponent, but I do love his War God variation where he goes to town with his giant saw sword.
Otherwise, the fighting feels like a merger of Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice: Gods Among Us. Much like Injustice, it features plenty of background gimmicks that you can interact with, such as jumping off a car to escape being stuck in a corner or maybe just picking up an innocent old woman and throwing her right into your opponent. Returning from Mortal Kombat 9 are X-rays, the three-level supers that are just nasty to sit through.
It’s way too early to see if the gameplay has staying power at high level, but NetherRealm has had a pretty great track record and the Fatal Eight tournament from last week (where expert players were given 2 days to train before going to town on each other) was very promising.
One welcome addition is Brutalities. Listen, I love Fatalities as much as the next guy and it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without them, but they get old. It’s a lot of emphasis on something that you get tired of after the second or third time you see it. Brutalities, on the other hand, are always great to see. By pulling off certain requirements, you can end your match with an in-fight Fatality based off of one of your specials. For instance, if Mileena hits her roll attack several times and then finishes the final round with said attack while you hold down, she’ll completely destroy her opponent’s legs and render them into bloody stumps. Everyone has 5-6 of these and they’re a blast to try and work. Plus they make for better bragging rights when you pull them off against a human opponent.
The animation has taken a step up, too. For once the characters don’t feel as janky and stiff as they move around. Similarly, the sound design is insane. Hearing Ermac telekinetically pull out someone’s intestines through their mouth and then roll it up in a ball sounds just as gross as it should be. The voice acting is top-notch too, especially in the pre-fight dialogue. Every possible character combination leads to a three-line exchange with about 4-6 sets for each pairing. Some of them are inspired, namely whenever anyone crosses paths with Johnny Cage. Especially when it’s Johnny Cage meeting himself.
The one thing that doesn’t come back this time around is tag team fighting. I never dabbled with it too much in the last game, so I’m okay with that, plus it makes Story Mode less cheap, since I don’t have to put up with having to fight Goro and Kintaro at the same time.
Story Mode is what you’d expect from the last few NetherRealm games. You have about two and a half hours of cutscenes told in 12 character-based chapters. In each chapter, your character is led to four different fights. The new thing here is quicktime events sprinkled here and there. It’s just there for fun and variety, since they don’t really affect the game in any way.
The story itself starts off right where the last game left off, with an alternate timeline version of Mortal Kombat 4’s events. Without Liu Kang around, it’s up to Johnny Cage to stop Shinnok from destroying the world. It then goes about 25 years into the future where the threat of Shinnok begins to rise again along with his army of zombie warriors. Through this plot, we’re introduced to the eight new characters.
Really, I’d argue this is the best new Mortal Kombat roster since Mortal Kombat II. On one side, you have the second-generation warriors. Cassie Cage (daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade) and her best friend Jacqui Briggs (daughter of Jax) represent the Special Forces and team up with Kung Jin (cousin of Kung Lao) of the Shaolin and Takeda (son of Kenshi and student of Scorpion) of the Shirai-Ryu ninja clan. Meanwhile, Outworld is now ruled by honorable Mayan god Kotal Kahn, who is flanked by insect lady D’Vorah, mysterious cowboy mercenary Erron Black, and Master Blaster knockoff Ferra/Torr. The Outworld crew is way cooler, but everyone has their charm.
Story Mode is a bit of a tease as they give you some opponents who aren’t actually playable in the main game. Baraka, Sindel, and Rain show up to fight you here and there and an incomplete version of future-DLC Tanya is there too. They have no variations, but they do make you feel a bit shortchanged knowing that they’re only there to pad out the four fights per character storytelling system.
When you aren’t doing Story Mode, you can still get your lore fix in Traditional Tower, which is basically your average arcade mode. You fight ten opponents, ending with Goro as the subboss, Shinnok, and then Corrupted Shinnok, who is thankfully only your opponent for a single round. You don’t have to deal with two out of three rounds of end boss bullshit for that guy. Corrupted Shinnok’s Fatality is…certainly something special.
Interestingly enough, they have non-canon versions of characters to play as in Tower and Versus, such as middle-aged Liu Kang and Kung Lao as well as the classic demon version of Scorpion. Screw that, though. I only want to play as human yellow ninja Hanzo Hasashi and his sweet middle-aged beard. That’s a big thing about kombatants getting old, by the way. A lot of them grow beards. I approve.
Like I said, there’s so much content at your disposal. The Krypt, where you use in-game currency to unlock various things, returns as a bit of a game in itself, but it also brings a bunch of jump scares that can go screw. Jerks. It also has the return of Challenge Towers, only that’s a little different from the last game. In the last game, you had 300 missions to play through with different objectives. It was a good time and made you feel like you were working towards something. Now there are differing towers where one changes by the week, one by the day, and one by the hour. It’ll give it more replay value, but doesn’t have the same feel of completion as the last game. Call that a wash.
The towers also play into the Faction War system. Faction War has you choose from one of five factions (Lin Kuei, Special Forces, Black Dragon, White Lotus, and Brotherhood of Shadow) and has you earn points through matches and playing through the towers. As it is right now, most of the players have been joining up with Lin Kuei and we’ve yet to finish the first week of this system, so I can’t really say if it works out or not.
It does earn you extra Fatalities that can be used by any character, but are specific to your faction. For instance, with Lin Kuei, you can kill your opponent through a throwing star ambush or have Smoke pop in to cut their head in two.
The unsung hero in all of this is Test Your Luck. Oh my God, I love Test Your Luck. You and your opponent are given 1-7 modifiers that will do random stuff, giving you a ridiculous three rounds. You might have a match where you can’t block, your opponent can only dive kick, there are random earthquakes, balls of ice fall from the sky, the lights keep going out, and everything’s in slow motion. This is where the replay really lies. Screw the core game. Test Your Luck is what I want to see at Evo 2015.
The game has kept up the momentum of the last game better than I could have hoped. It’s such a solid package that I can’t complain about much other than those goddamn Krypt spiders. I’m also rather shocked by how progressive it suddenly got. The women are no longer wearing embarrassingly scant outfits to the point that Mileena actually has pants on! How messed up is it that Mileena wearing pants in-game feels like this revolutionary concept? Oh, and Kung Jin is the first confirmed gay Mortal Kombat character, which is pretty neat too.
It used to be that Mortal Kombat was the popular-yet-inferior black sheep of the fighting game genre. Now we’re reaching the point where you look at Capcom’s releases and wonder, “Why couldn’t you be more like the kid from down the block?” Mortal Kombat X has impeccable style to match its impeccable substance and gives players something to focus on for a long, long time.
Mortal Kombat X wins. Qualitality.
Gavin Jasper is forced to give this game such a perfect score based purely on Cassie’s selfie Fatality. Follow Gavin on Twitter!