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Mortal Kombat X

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Fighting
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Release Date: April 14, 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


Xbox One Review - 'Mortal Kombat X'

by Brian Dumlao on April 21, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Mortal Kombat X combines cinematic presentation with all new gameplay to deliver the most brutal Kombat experience ever.

Buy Mortal Kombat X

The ninth entry in the Mortal Kombat series is considered by some to be a high watermark, as it greatly pleased fans and garnered the attention of those who thought the series had run its course. It featured a major overhaul of the fighting mechanics, a plethora of modes that range from expected to brilliantly insane, and a story mode that is rarely emulated in the fighting game world. The development of Injustice: Gods Among Us cemented that idea, and while DC fans are content with a solid fighting game of their own, others awaited the studio's next move. That move turned out to the premiere of the series' 10th iteration on the current-generation consoles and PC, Mortal Kombat X.

Instead of going for a complete revamp to the core fighting mechanics, Mortal Kombat X  brings back just about everything that worked from the previous title. There's a bigger emphasis on hard-hitting moves as opposed to simple hits, but the system affords the user the ability to perform a limited amount of juggling and low-number combo work along with standard, low-damage pokes. All of this comes with copious amounts of blood being spilled with every hit no matter how minor it is, giving you a clear indicator of whether or not you made contact with that strike.

With a solid core in place, the team added a few things that weren't really new to the series but helped flesh out the mechanics even further. There's now a stamina meter to limit your dash abilities. The game also gives each fighter a choice of three different styles, à la Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, which is chosen after character selection instead of being switched on the fly. The style choices give you access to different special moves but keep the core set of attacks the same.

A mechanic borrowed from Injustice: Gods Among Us, fighters have the ability to interact with the environment for their fights. Depending on what you're interacting with, you're going to throw something at an opponent, use something as a jumping off point or as extra offense. Like running and dashing, using environmental moves is limited by your stamina meter, so you can't stand in one spot and bash opponents against statues for the entire match. You can also turn off the feature if you don't care for it.

One thing that players of the past game will notice is the overall speed of MKX. Even if you don't use dash and run moves in your matches, you'll notice that fights play out faster when compared to past games. Combos tend to connect more fluidly, and with a few exceptions, moves tend to get thrown and connect a little faster than before. The brutal nature of the hits is still intact, but the small speed boost is enough to trip up some veterans before they adjust.

Of course, one of the signature pieces is the Fatality, and MKX displays them in full force. Much like earlier titles, the dual Fatalities that the fighters can inflict on their opponents ranges from pedestrian to darkly humorous. Kano might blow a hole through an opponent's head with his laser eye while Kenshi slices off a face in slow motion. What sets these apart from the Fatalities in the earlier games is the graphics. The fidelity is at that point where you'll see entrails, brains, and severed tongues with the gross detail usually reserved for extremely gory horror films. This entry may turn away squeamish players.

In addition to the Fatality, the Brutality makes a comeback. Originally seen in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, this version of the Brutality has been upgraded, so it's no longer a clone of Killer Instinct's Ultra Combo. It has been enhanced to be a special move or environmental interaction that finishes off the opponent in a spectacularly bloody fashion. The player must hit a specific list of criteria to unleash the move. Each character has access to five Brutalities, though three can only happen when a specific fighting style is chosen.

Speaking of the roster, the game has a healthy collection of 24 fighters to choose from, including the unlockable Shinnok from the Story mode. Eight characters are new, and taking a page from Tekken 3, a number of them are related to other playable fighters. One common thing is that they're all rather speedy when compared to the rest of the roster. The only exception is Kotal Khan, who is a slow-brawling character.

One complaint that can be made against the title in this department is the constant tease for DLC. The front page news is fine, and the game doesn't seem to bug you about buying new costumes for the available fighters. However, Goro is currently present in the character lineup, and if you didn't already purchase him or get him with a pre-order, highlighting him reminds you that you can buy him at your leisure. It is annoying to see a constant reminder that you need to spend even more money to be complete, and there is a fear that the tactic will continue once the four planned DLC characters emerge.

Like the previous game, MKX is stuffed full of game modes, and a good number of them are expected in a modern fighting title. There's a practice mode for those who want to fine-tune their moves, and there's also a practice mode specifically for Fatalities. If you're completely new to the franchise or fighting games, there's even a tutorial mode to walk you through the basics. In addition to a standard versus mode, you've got the Test Your Luck version, where you get to fight under certain conditions. You may encounter singular ones, such as fighting while bombs are constantly thrown at you, playing upside-down, or playing in more confined spaces. You can also activate a combination of those effects.

Tower mode hides a number of the other modes. You have the Klassic tower, which acts like the traditional Arcade mode. There is a tower dedicated to Test Your Luck challenges as well as one comprised of Test Your Might challenges against different objects of various strength. Then there are the Endless and Survivor towers, which are essentially the same, with the only difference being whether your energy meter is refilled between matches. In all cases, each of the towers has a leaderboard as well as scoring system based on your performance.

Story mode received a lot of attention because it's so rare in the fighting game genre. Admittedly, the Story mode in 2011's Mortal Kombat was loved because it was a nostalgia trip. Seeing all of the familiar characters from the first three games in a new light was exciting, even if we already knew the tale. This story doesn't have that advantage, but it still stands on its own. Seeing a ragtag team finally pull together is familiar, but the new characters are interesting enough that you're willing to enjoy the ride without poking too many holes in the logic. One thing that might annoy some people is the constant use of flashbacks. It is something of a necessary evil since telling it in chronological order wouldn't work.

Story mode does a great job, so all of the battles have a purpose, the pacing is quick, and the overall run time feels right. The journey is a little over two hours of film time and five hours including gameplay, but it feels brisk without dragging on in parts. One annoyance that can creep up is that some cut scenes feature Quick Time Events. The scenes won't catch you by surprise, since the game goes from letterbox mode to full screen, and the prompts give you an ample amount of time to react.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all of the returning modes is the Krypt. The current iteration still lets you unlock extras but acts more like a first-person dungeon crawler in the same vein as Legend of Grimrock or Etrian Odyssey. You'll move through environments one square at a time and open up spots with the koins earned throughout the game. Access to certain areas is handled via puzzles, so there are some artificial restrictions on where you can go initially.

The game has a few significant new modes. Living Towers is something of a play on the normal tower system. You have three towers to choose from, with a roster of opponents that change over time. The hourly tower has you facing off against six opponents with various Test Your Luck elements that change on the hour. The daily tower increases the number of opponents but is less likely to employ the random match element. You can play with DLC characters here even if you haven't purchased them yet, giving you a chance to take them for a spin before spending money.

Faction Wars is another addition that has a more far-reaching influence. When you start the game, you're given the chance to choose one of five factions based on the major groups in the game's universe. Choosing any of the factions gives you access to a new universal Fatality type called the Faction Kill. In exchange, a good portion of what you do counts as experience that's donated to the Faction, whether it's completing the daily challenges, conquering a tower, or fighting and winning online. There are also times during the war when special Faction Towers appear with randomized challenges and specialized fights. At the end of the week, the winning Faction gains a bonus, and the leaderboard resets.

Governing everything is a dual XP system similar to what some fighting games are starting to adopt. Everything you do gives you XP, and there are even XP bonuses for reaching cumulative goals. Alongside XP is Faction XP, which helps you unlock specific faction-related items like different Faction Kills, providing you with incentive to keep playing.

Beyond the Faction Wars, MKX still has a suite of online fighting modes. You have standard one-on-one fights in Ranked, Player, and Private varieties. There's a Team battle mode for both Private and Player matches in both 3v3 and 5v5 variety, done in either round robin or sequential order. King of the Hill also makes a return, where everyone gathers in a room and waits to dethrone the reigning champ. There also happens to be a multiplayer tower where players have to go up the tower as fast as possible and with as many points as they can. There's no direct fighting, as matches are against the computer, but with a more secluded leaderboard, it's an interesting mode.

The online performance can be best described as spotty, which has unfortunately plagued the series for some time. Over the course of the review period, only top-notch connections had smooth, lag-free matches. Anything below that had a 50/50 chance of being lag-free or experienced enough lag to have moves register a second later, making Fatalities harder to execute. The team seems to be cranking out patches to curb the issue, and matches made later were rather good on the worst connections.

Few can accuse MKX of being light on modes and features, but those who have played the previous title will notice a number of missing things that are bound to disappoint. Babalities are no longer here, so the option of unleashing tame finishing moves is gone. Also gone is the ability to unleash environment-specific Fatalities. Minigames like Test Your Sight and Test Your Strike are also missing. Unlike the previous game's Story mode, you'll fight against some rather notable characters, like Baraka and Rain. With no known way to unlock them and with the upcoming DLC only featuring two characters, it's very disappointing to see fully featured fighters locked away instead of being added to the roster.

Aside from the aforementioned detail in the Fatalities, the graphics are stunning. The modeling and animations for the characters are done well, but like many games in this generation, much of the praise can be given to both the lighting and particle effects. Texture work is also excellent here, as it provides a great amount of detail to things like clothing and skin for characters, bystanders and materials in the environment.

Speaking of environments, each one looks alive and features plenty of movement, whether it's marketplace vendors minding their stores or Special Forces soldiers escorting refugees. There are two curious parts, however. The first has to do with battle damage, which has been severely toned down here. You'll get splotches of blood on your character after a grueling fight, but you won't find shredded clothing and bruising. Also, the game holds steady at 60 frames during fights but goes to 30 during cut scenes. The transition is smooth, but the game treats both X-Ray moves and Fatalities as cut scenes, and while it makes them truer to their cinematic nature, players may find the framerate shift to be a bit jarring.

From an audio perspective, the game nails it. As always, the sound effects are just right, and the blows land with just the right kind of thud, while other things, like the movement of chains and bone breaks, are as sharp as ever. The music is still the heavy kind of orchestrated material reserved for action movies but with subtle hints of Asian flavor. Interestingly, it comes in loud and clear during Fatalities and other cut scenes but gets toned down during fights.

The voice work is top-notch, with lots of top-tier voice talent lending their pipes to characters both old and new. What's more impressive is the pre-fight banter between opponents. Instead of going for generic lines, each fighter has a specific line of dialogue or dialogue sequence for each opponent. There's even dialogue specifically recorded for when they meet their doppelganger. Dialogue isn't limited to one set of lines, so it can take several meetings between two characters before you exhaust all of the dialogue. While it is nothing more than a small touch in the overall scheme of things, no other fighting game has attempted something of this scale before.

Overall, Mortal Kombat X is great. The small improvements in the fighting system make a huge difference for the better, and the new fighters feel like they fit perfectly with the old cast. Despite missing a few modes and features, this is still one of the most packed fighting games as far as content goes, with enough hooks beyond the Story mode to keep players engaged. More improvements need to be made to the online performance, however, and the constant presence and reminders to purchase DLC characters can be off-putting.

Score: 8.5/10

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