Check out our video review:
I like violence in video games. As far as I’m concerned the more extreme the better. Let me stab that guy in the eyes. Let me tear his heart out of his chest and crush it in my hand. Let me slit his throat ear to ear and watch him bleed to death while his body squirms. Let me cut him open so I can watch his innards spill onto the ground. Let me blow him up so I can watch bloody chunks and body parts fly through the air. I’m never going to do this shit in real life so let me go all out in a game. Mortal Kombat is a series that lets you do shit like this and I’ve always enjoyed it. The Super Nintendo version of the original Mortal Kombat was the first fighting game I ever played. I’ve played some of the other games in the series over the years but didn’t dedicate serious time to any of them until the series was rebooted in 2011. Developed by NetherRealm Studios and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Mortal Kombat was released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in April, 2011, Vita in May, 2012, and PC in July, 2013. For this review, I played the PC version, specifically the Komplete Edition which comes with all of the DLC. I bought it on Steam some time ago and found out recently that it was pulled from the storefront in March, 2020. Mortal Kombat is a reboot or soft reboot of the series and continues the series tradition of letting players destroy their opponents in extremely violent and gruesome ways.
The story opens during the events of Armageddon. Most of the fighters are dead and shortly before Shao Kahn kills Raiden, Raiden sends a message to his past self as a warning. From that point on, the series plot is basically retconned. It’s like a retelling of the events of the first three games. That means it covers the original tournament, the second tournament held in Outworld, and the resurrection of Shao Kahn’s wife Sindel which would allow a new invasion of Earthrealm. You don’t really need to know about the events of prior games to follow the story which does make this a good starting point for newcomers. Many of the characters from the original three games are present and new to the roster is Cyber Sub-Zero and Skarlet. Mortal Kombat does include two guest characters; Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare on Elm Street film series and Kratos from the God of War series who is exclusive to the PlayStation 3 version. The story plays out in chapters with cut scenes in between each to advance the plot. The voice acting is hit or miss, some of the dialogue is certainly corny, and the story has a campy quality which compliments the over-the-top violence nicely.
Before getting into the gameplay, I want to be clear and say that I am not very good at traditional fighting games. I’m the kind of guy that frequently consults the move list in the middle of a fight and every time I have the chance to perform a fatality. Memorizing a character’s move set and practice is required if you want to be good or competitive. Luckily, there is a decent training mode and you don’t need to be great to beat the story mode. It can be challenging but it’s not impossible and you can lower the difficulty if you’re struggling. Each chapter forces you to play as a different character. This is good because it lets you try out multiple characters but that also means you’ll be forced to play with a different move set in each chapter. I would say the only fights in the story I considered unfair or cheap were the Shao Kahn fights. He inflicts a good amount of damage, can break your combos and blocks, and stun you. I ended up cheesing both fights to win.
Mortal Kombat distances itself from its recent predecessors and goes back to its roots in some ways. You can no longer side step around fully 3D arenas or stages. Instead, while the characters and environments are rendered in three-dimensions, the fights take place on two dimensional playing fields just like the classic games. During a match you can step forwards and backwards, dash, duck, and jump. You can perform a front punch, back punch, front kick, back kick, and block. You can throw opponents, perform combos, and juggle opponents. Each character can perform unique special moves, some wield weapons, and others utilize different types of powers. For example, Kitana wields fans, Stryker can fire a pistol, and Sub-Zero has ice powers. Some characters can teleport around and others unleash projectiles. Special moves can be offensive or defensive and timing is important. You have a super meter that fills during the course of a match and its split into three sections. With one section filled, you can enhance your special moves which makes them more powerful. When two sections are filled, you can break a combo. And when the meter is completely full, you can unleash an X-Ray attack which inflicts a lot of damage. These are violent sequences of attacks where you get to see bones break and organs get crushed.
A standard match plays out in rounds and you need to win two rounds to claim victory. In typical Mortal Kombat fashion, just beating up your opponents, setting them fire, spitting acid in their face, and electrocuting them isn’t enough. Outside of the story mode, you can perform Fatalities and Babalities after landing the final blow to win the match. Your opponent will be stunned and you can destroy them with an extremely violent finishing move or turn them into a baby. The former is more enjoyable in my opinion. Some stages allow for stage fatalities where you use part of the environment to execute your opponent. Each character has unique Fatalities and you can unlock additional ones. As you play the game you’ll earn Koins which act as currency. These can be spent in the Krypt to unlock alternate character costumes, fatalities, concept art, kombat kodes, and music. The Krypt is split up into multiple areas and you never know what you’re going to unlock unless you look up a guide. You can visit the Nekropolis to view what you’ve unlocked and it also provides bios and stats for each character.
Despite the emphasis on blood and guts, Mortal Kombat is a fighting game with depth. If you just mash buttons, you’ll probably lose if up against another player who know what they’re doing. Mastering your character’s move set, timing, spacing, and blocking are all important. Winning fights in the single player modes can be accomplished by practicing or cheesing. You can fight normally or exploit certain attacks. I would often do the latter if I was getting my ass kicked repeatedly. The difficulty throughout most of the story mode is pretty consistent and fair. The Shao Kahn fights are the exception because they’re just cheap. Most of the story fights are one on one matches but others have you up against two opponents and these fights always have you at a disadvantage because you never get a partner in the story. The game does allow for tag team matches and during one, you can switch characters at the press of a button and perform swap attacks and assists.
Mortal Kombat does support multiplayer with up to eight players online and four players offline. I tried getting into an online match but was unsuccessful. Luckily, there’s plenty of single player content to enjoy. In addition to the story mode are several other single player game modes. The Ladder is classic Mortal Kombat. And there’s also a Tag Ladder variant. You fight your way up the Ladder until you reach Shao Kahn. Kick his ass and you win and each character has a different ending. It does get more challenging as you move up. The Challenge Tower is another game mode consisting of three hundred individual challenges so it should keep you occupied for quite some time. Each challenge requires you to meet a specific set of conditions. It’s actually a great mode for practicing because the challenges will force you to perform certain moves or win fights under certain hazardous conditions. Some challenges are more enjoyable than others and some are very difficult. Completing a challenge unlocks the next one and if you’re struggling with one, you can skip it at the cost of Koins. Some of the challenges are mini-games like the classic Test Your Might along with some new ones. These mini-games have their own game modes with their own challenges but each challenge needs to be unlocked in the Challenge Tower first. Then there’s Test Your Luck where you fight opponents under randomized conditions.
Mortal Kombat looked pretty good in 2011. I did play this on a 1080p monitor and the pre-rendered cut scenes do appear bit blurry. The gameplay presentation holds up much better. The character models are detailed and the animations are fluid and smooth. You’ll get to fight in multiple diverse stages and most of them are updated versions of classic ones. All of them include detailed backgrounds like creatures moving and flying around, spectators, distant battles, and destroyed buildings and structures. Fights can be fast-paced and look brutal thanks to excellent visual and gore effects. Blood will fly through the air and land on the ground and bodies will show visible damage during matches. The sound effects are fantastic and include satisfying sounds of strikes and slashes, you’ll get to hear bones crack during X-Ray attacks, and nice squishy sounds when bodies are mutilated. Characters will shout, grunt, and groan when they perform attacks and get hit and scream in agony as they get destroyed. Many of the songs sound dramatic which helps heighten the tension of some of the fights. On the technical side, the gameplay was consistently smooth throughout my entire experience. The pre-rendered cut scenes on the other hand showcased some frame rate dips, normally when they would start. Other than that, no major issues.
When I first played Mortal Kombat back around the time it came out, I remember thinking it was amazing and that future games in the genre should follow in its footsteps. It’s more than just a multiplayer-focused game with some basic modes that can be enjoyed solo. It’s got a full blown story mode and plenty of single player and multiplayer content. If you look beyond the gruesome violence, Mortal Kombat is a great fighting game. It’s rewarding when you land a successful combo, break one, juggle opponents, and/or send them flying across the stage. Achieving flawless victories will take practice but Mortal Kombat is accessible. People who suck at fighting games like me and those well versed in the genre can get a lot of out of it. It’s a fighting game I frequently got frustrated at but, ultimately, realized the losses were my fault. Fuck Cyrax and his net, fuck Sub-Zero and his freeze attacks, and fuck any character that likes to teleport around and attack me from behind. It’s fine when I can do it but fuck them. The reality is fuck me because I suck. Usually after losing a few times, I would win and it felt rewarding. I never wanted to give up and for two reasons. The fighting is fun and watching these characters get the shit beat out of them never gets old. The only time I called bullshit and meant it was when I was up against Shao Kahn. It’s probably possible to beat him without cheesing the fights but fuck him, fuck his hammer, fuck his overpowered bullshit, and fuck his wife, too.
Mortal Kombat is a series known for it’s violence and some say it’s always pushed the envelope. I say the developers should keep pushing it. I want to see characters covered in blood and brain matter. I want to see them fight with their intestines hanging out. With their eyes coming out of their sockets. I want to see them fight with blood gushing out of their assholes. And that’s because I like watching these characters get beaten, mutilated, and executed. It’s just so absurd. It’s also fantasy. Mortal Kombat takes place in a world with magic, demons, a race of four-armed creatures, and cyborgs. The X-Ray attacks are an awesome addition; an extra layer of violence because it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without excessive violence and gore. It may be more graphic than previous entries but the fantasy and absurdity certainly outweigh any realism. Brutally executing opponents has been a series staple from the beginning and it’s always been comical. It’s comical because it’s always over-the-top. Even the fighting here is over-the-top. You’re cracking skulls, crushing organs, shoving blades through people’s eyes, and they’ll get right back up and continue to fight. It’s ridiculous and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Best of all, it’s fun. Whether you’re good at fighting games or not, it’s a fun game to play.
I would absolutely recommend Mortal Kombat to fans of the series and genre. It sucks that you can’t get it on Steam anymore but you can still find the console versions for pretty cheap as of this review. I think Mortal Kombat is great for newcomers and veterans and underneath all the blood and guts is a fantastic fighting game. It’s got a large roster of characters to play as, fun game modes, and plenty of shit to unlock. Definitely check it out.