Mortal Kombat X

Screw the upsell, Mortal Kombat X is a good fighter regardless.

By Daavpuke, Posted 10 May 2015

It must be hard for any game to stay captivating after decennia and a dozen iterations, especially in the limited scope Mortal Kombat X has to work in. Side-scrolling fighters are tough to reinvent at this point and just jumbling content around isn’t as innovating as a full renewal. Still, the series stands as strong and resilient as ever, though it does also veer into cheap marketing tactics that obviously prioritize money before consumer satisfaction.

Mortal Kombat X,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One
Raiden is bad at tickling (also an annoying corner-pushing a-hole online).

One of the things Mortal Kombat X attempts to do is lead in the legacy of old characters with the introduction of their spawn. As such, the story sees parents guiding their child to the ways of the fatal fight, which is disturbingly juxtaposed when pairing a family against each other in different modes. Let’s just say grounding is taken very literally in the Cage household. Ultimately, the story briefly goes over an inter-dimensional war, resolved in a classic case of kid heroes going in and stomping on the bad guy. Consider the campaign a lengthy introduction in the form of a catchy cinematic experience, offset with fights of various brawling styles.

Naturally, what matters most in Mortal Kombat X is how fighting works. This time, mechanisms go for a slightly slower pace for most cases. A diverse line-up of characters is presented, though the slower ones are as sluggish as they come. More so, other options stick to a swift series of a few hits. Focus fluctuates between speedy flurries for bug princess D’Vorah or Liu Kang and ranged strikers like the spiritual Kenshi or supposed gay archer Kung Jin. Then there are straight up annoying manipulators like Quan Chi or Ermac, who can control the fight by trapping and launching opponents incessantly.

In Mortal Kombat X, fighters also get variations, which means their specialization is split three ways. While it’s not always a glorious success, there are many who can significantly alter the manner in which they’re played to complement basic or more advanced tactics. For instance, one version could render a character to become a straight puncher, while some may even go as elaborate as requiring phases to be activated. For instance, Liu Kang can meditate on either a light or dark side, which can be used to heal or throw what essentially becomes Dragon Ball’s Kamehameha. Additionally, the specialization offers a lot more content to the fighting game, artificially raising the roster with styles, instead of fully new characters and move sets.

It’s doubtful, however, that the sub-sections will win a lot of hearts, despite the creative technical design within. In particular, the roster’s youthful additions feel like a lot of the same bag of tricks, nearly all going for low-impact hit flurries. Cassie Cage and Jacqui “Jax” Briggs are nearly indistinguishable, Takeda is the lesser Scorpion, Erron Black comes from some Western fever dream; few are inspiring additions to the team.

Mortal Kombat X,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One
Just call me "Fan Service" Cage.

Regardless, fights are usually decided by precision and timing rather than sheer speed and large strings. As such, most combos don’t exceed six or seven hits but are more reliant on getting that first tap in. If an opponent becomes airborne, then all the better to keep a juggle going. Mortal Kombat X allows for creative variety to keep trapped bodies aloft, switching combos and special attacks seamlessly. At times, it can become quite staggering and disorienting to keep up, certainly as the pace is otherwise slower. Those bursts of speed will happen, however, which can make victories turn on a dime. Bouncing carcasses is where the actual playtime satisfaction lives. There’s no better feeling than trapping that character, knowing the beatdown that will ensue.

Performing special activities rack up a meter that is gauged in three ways. Fill the bar completely and it’s possible to strike for a devastating X-ray move that stops play for a short captured moment where the victim is splayed at a significant health cost. Alternatively, gauge segments can be used to enhance normal specials for more potency, but often also to gain more juggle abilities, which makes for a good wagering element, to either go for that extra string option or save up for one potential massacre. In down times, two bars can trigger a combo breaker, should the enemy be too overpowering to stop otherwise.

A beaten foe can be taken down in two ways. Fatalities perform a gruesome execution with another captured moment, where blood and guts get copiously used for shock imagery. Anything from dissolving faces to tearing out entrails comes to pass. Alternatively, a match can be abruptly ended with a Brutality, which is triggered by completing certain objectives and using the final move exactly as described. Particularly in online play, it can add such a subtle hint of tactical insight, seeing an opponent trying to get to that final strike, just to humiliate their adversary a little more.

Mortal Kombat X,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One
And there goes your head.

To keep longevity in the game, Mortal Kombat X has several other modes with modifiers and challenges. Fights can become preposterous events where the screen wobbles, ducking costs health, rockets fire onto the field or characters suddenly fall asleep. Anything goes. These modes work for pure divertissement or to test adaptability. Towers can present their own objectives, some changing every hour, other sticking to a static theme. There’s also a faction section, where five different groups compete to become the best overall fighters. Online options have plenty of modes, some even bonding teams together. Spectator theaters and player info are readily available during matches, so opponents can be scouted before a fight. Bouts can even be scored as if it were an Olympic sport. Additionally, picking fights for basic modes online is as easy as beckoning an adversary, so there should be no whooping shortage any time soon. These are all great design choices to keep the attention going for weeks on end.

There are, however, also lesser choices to force extended play time. Most notably, Mortal Kombat X introduces the Krypt, a cobbled together dungeon crawling experience where tombs need to be shattered by accruing coins. Move around, pay the fee and pop a crypt, then move on; that’s the whole thing. While not awful in itself and even enhanced with random encounters and an exploration element, it’s what’s inside these gated tombs that’s off-putting. Each stony money bag hides a Fatality or Brutality option for the roster, which should be standard in the game, but isn’t. So, instead of getting everything upfront, it’s necessary to play the game in repetition, explode some graves, hope to strike gold and not some useless trinket, then repeat the process by slowly churning out more currency. Luckily, it’s possible to perform fatalities that aren’t yet visible, though it doesn’t make the Krypt less of a hateful inclusion made for the sole purpose of funneling out more money from consumers. No one likes seeing a ton of question marks and store prompts in menus.

Mortal Kombat X,Review,PC,PS4,Xbox One
Mileena Fatality, best Fatality.

Despite some callous priorities in ensuring paychecks, Mortal Kombat X is a sturdy fighter with sound technical design and enough auxiliary choices to stay exhilarating for dozens of hours. Especially for newcomers, the varying character styles and goofy modes will ensure good times and gory decapitations for all. Online bouts have their own quality for more serious combatants.

PC-specific disclaimer: We were given the PC version for review. By far, the PC version is the worst option to pick. Its positive side is that the visuals are smooth and detailed, but also scale perfectly for moderate setups and high-power rigs alike. Mortal Kombat X is going to look great on any PC. The downside is that glitches and stuttering are consistently present in every cutscene, as well as online, making it infuriating to play at times. Downloads to fix errors have been a nightmarish scenario too. Crashes happen regularly, which again affects the online community. It’s bad. Feel free to knock off several points from the main score for the PC version. Ten, twenty points; however many is necessary to make up for a lesser port. Consider getting any other version instead or be prepared to have a lot of patience.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Warner Bros
Developer(s): Netherrealm Studios
Genres: Fight
Themes: Gore
Release Date: 2015-04-14

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