Despite feeling a bit jaded nowerdays towards gaming, I can still get hyped for a fighting game. I have mixed feelings on the Mortal Kombat franchise as a whole but was ultimately pleased by its ambitious reboot/remake/sequel/prequel Mortal Kombat in 2011 (not 9) and welcomed MK back as a name that could be taken at least a bit seriously when talking about fighting games. After fixing a broken franchise, can Mortal Kombat X (not 10) make progress when not supported by the nostalgia of a remake?
So the first thing I'll mention is the cinematic presentation. I'm aware this shouldn't be the top priority but this is the first fighting game I've got thats actually been developed for the PS4 and it looks fantastic. The personal intros are brilliant and are exactly the sort of thing I would put in a fighting game if I made one. I know it has nothing to do with the actual gameplay but it really, really helps build the personality of a lot of these characters. They're genuinely well written and pretty witty at times too. Thats right, I actually called the dialogue in a Mortal Kombat game witty! I laughed at a good number of these so props to whoever was hired to write these numerous exchanges. There's also good voice acting across the board (with the exception of Reptile who still sounds like a cartoon character). I also appreciate the cinematic touches. You can tell how the intros work; each character has two different animations depending if they speak first or second. But they work with the camera angles and use of focus so they look more like specially designed cutscenes rather than just canned animations meshing together (which they are). Of all fighting game franchises, Mortal Kombat probably has the biggest production values, and it shows. Every character has at least 3 intros from what I've seen, and this includes mirror matches and some alternative costumes. Thats commitment to a feature right there.
The game is like MK9 but quite a bit faster. The inputs feel a bit more liberal than MK9. Like all the Netherealm games, it uses delayed inputs, meaning you type in the command literally and not as the animation carries out. It takes some getting used to compared to Tekken or Street Fighter, but despite what some people may say- its not in anyway worse, its just different. There's only one big addition and I don't think is a particularity valuable one- the stamina meter is pretty pointless. Maybe I need to get better at the game but I keep forgetting about running altogether. Like MK9, the juggling feels like Tekken but on a 2D plane and with a super meter so I'm happy with what's offered.
I'm currently maining Kitana (Royal Storm), who was also my main in MK9. You can do some pretty liberal combos by stringing her fan lift with the air fan toss. Her defence is really good too with excellent air manoeuvrability and a projectile reflect. If you hold down the button for the reflect then it works against multiple projectiles, as I discovered by bouncing back Jax's double EX projectile. Still, I didn't buy a new game just to play as the same character. I have my eye on a few other characters that seem enjoyable to play- Kano (Commando), Kotal Kahn (Sun God), Sonya (Special Forces). The alternative styles has let the developers have some pretty creative and outlandish styles by having them balanced with more standard options. The differences are pretty substantial in some cases, Kenshi's 'Possessed' variant completely swaps out his special moves list, making him an entirely different character.
Fatalities? I'm so jaded on these I can rarely be bothered with them. The animations are cool the first time but I don't want to sit through them over and over again when progressing through a tower ladder. I'm not saying they're bad- in fact they're probably better than ever- I'm just puzzled why they're considered to be a big selling point for some people. I will say that some of them reach Eternal Champions-levels of disturbing. Its taken MK 20 years but hey, they finally caught up to a so-called 'ripoff'. On the other hand, brutalities are neat reward for doing something specific. I probably like them because they're short.
I enjoyed the story mode. It was never a reason for me to get the game but I was pleasantly surprised when I finally decided to plough through it. It kept my interest better than MK9 which was really just a retread of the events of the original MK Trilogy. I still like how MK9 can be labelled as a sequel, prequel, reboot and remake and they're all accurate. I was rather shocked by the characterisation of Kotal Kahn. The guy isn't just some evil dick and is actually pretty reasonable! Based on how he looks, I never would have guessed that. MK isn't exactly known for having morally ambiguous characters but Kotal isn't a flat out badguy like you'd expect. Any evil stuff he does is more... cultural for Outworld. I'll say now that Kung Jin is a fucking idiot for not recognising this. Kotal is also voiced by Phil LaMarr so he has that going for him too. Probably my favourite of the new cast.
I know it gets bashed a lot but I like MKs silly plots. The odd mashup of Asian (and Azetc?) cultures is part of its appeal to me. Maybe its nostalgia, but I've always got a kick out of its background and setting and maybe I'm odd for liking cutscenes of Outworld politics but it was more interesting than just doing the typical Earthrealm invasion story again. MKX shifts a lot between different time periods. For the purpose of establishing a particular setting, I wish they just stuck with one, the tower mode is a strange mish-mash of old and young characters as a result (like the young Johnny Cage costume meeting the daughter that shouldn't have been born yet).
What don't I like? The characterisation of the new 'young generation' of heroes. Individually they're fine but I think their personalities are a tad too similar to one another. All four of them (Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, Takeda and Kung Jin) all have the same smart-ass attitude. Again, this is fine but I don't need all four heroes to fulfil the mouthy cocky role. I get they're all young but being young doesn't mean you're super confident all the time. Why not give Kung Jin more shaolin discipline? Why not have Takeda a bit more repressed because his god damn mother was murdered?
Interestingly, some non-playable characters show up in fights. They're not just reskins, they retain their moves from MK9 and AI has some combos that use them. I don't know if any X-Rays carry over, the CPU never used them in my playthrough. I won't say who these characters are but I will say that Baraka is still booked like a complete jobber. Bottom tier in both gameplay AND story.
Some of the characters that actually are playable also kinda... just show up in the story and don't do much. I was waiting for certain ones to have a big moment, but they never happened. Some Deadly Alliance characters I completely forgot about show up in cutscenes which made me chuckle. Their new designs suggest a potential their lousy debut game immediately cut off.
Oh and its 2015 and developers still think QTEs are still a good idea. Enough of that shit, I just want to enjoy the cutscenes, it shouldn't be a damn reaction exam.
The Final Boss
They certainly did a good job keeping the final boss a secret because I didn't even know the game had an NPC final boss until I stumbled across him. He's the final opponent in both the story mode and the standard ladder towers. I won't say too much in order to preserve that secret but he reminds me a lot of Abyss from Soul Calibur III, both visually and with the voice. I liked Abyss so consider this a positive from me. He's less cheap than Shao Kahn too.
Another surprise- I keep being surprised by the game despite following it pretty closely prior to its release. The whole thing is a vast maze played from a Legend of Grimrock style first-person perspective. Its a real dungeon crawler. Seriously, there's a damn inventory you need to access certain areas. I had some fun running around the different areas, getting the different items to progress. Sadly it doesn't seem to accomplish much. I may be missing something but the final area you can reach seems to have exactly the same shit as the graves where you start. There are also random QTEs that'll give you a heart attack when you first go into this mode not knowing what to expect. You can thank me for that heads up from me. The items you unlock here aren't particularly special, just the same fatality commands, concept art etc you always get. Still, its nice to get some alternative costumes that aren't DLC. Also: the graphics in the krypt are fantastic. Strange praise going on here, but its true.
Yeah, speaking of DLC, this is dumb but to be fair, other genres have done this before. The easy fatalities are a consumable item you can pay for with friggin' real money. Its dumb, especially considering you're paying for something that's already available for fake currency (koins) in the krypt. Its common to sell unlock bypasses/cheat codes in games now. Its stupid but with KOFXIII selling individual character colours and the Street Fighter X Tekken gems catastrophe, this isn't that shocking in a modern game. This game clearly cost a lot of money to produce in a still relatively niche genre (??) so I can... sorta... kinda... overlook this? Not really. Whoever buys them is still a friggin' idiot.
The functionality is all over the place for me at the minute. I don't know if its bad netcode, bad servers at launch or my PS4's internet connection. I've had a mixed bag of matches but I've spent most of my time thus far in single player. I'll report back with this once I've had more experience. After being spoilt by the superb quality of Tekken Tag Tournament 2's netcode, I'm not expecting much in this regard.
If MK9 was the series getting back on its feet, then MKX is the series starting to break into a stride. I don't think its a full sprint yet (if this analogy makes any sense) but its getting there. MK9 felt like a remake of the PS1 Mortal Kombat Trilogy, so to me this is the first completely new Mortal Kombat in several years. A big factor in my enjoyment of MKX is that its so different to the Japanese fighting games. It tries different things and has a lot more content (kontent?) than typical ports of arcade games. MK has always done its own thing (for better or worse) and I unlike certain other Western-developed fighting games (cough-skulllgirls-cough) it doesn't just try and emulate Japanese games. Basically, I'm saying I like it a lot and now if you'll excuse me, I'm still trying to pick a main.