It’s as if Netherrealm Studios hit a reset button on the series, taking away all the crappy 3-D antics and over-the-top features (hello, run button) and instead sticking with the 2-D basics that worked so well in the first place. But by no means is the gameplay ancient – it has a few new tricks up its sleeve. First off, the gory combat we’ve come to love about the series has once again made a return. You’ll slice and dice opponents with combos and special moves, and stain yourself into something red in the process. This effect really adds to the meatiness of the overall Kombat, without taking away from its appeal. Secondly, the power meter at the lower part of the screen is definitely worth a mention. With this, players can choose to accelerate certain special moves, perform a crunch-inducing combo breaker, or activate an X-ray attack. By doing this, players can grab their opponents and deliver some bone-crunching tactics, with skeletons crushing apart in real time. It’s an effect that has to be seen to be believed. Mortal Kombat plays very well, with lots of combo-riffic action no matter what type of controller you’re using.
Obviously, the Tournament Stick by PDP is well recommended for this sort of game, but fight pads and regular controllers do the trick if you’re on a budget. The only downside to the gameplay is that the bosses are ridiculously cheap. Shao Khan won’t hesitate to taunt you and then go into a cheap shoulder shove just when you’re ready to attack. The game supports local play, but you can also go online and battle against others. While online doesn’t run 100 percent smoothly, hooking up with opponents isn’t a laborious effort, and you can easily rack up a win streak…if you’re good enough that is. But if multiplayer isn’t your bag, there’s lots to do in single player, too. Story Mode is worth going through for each character; Training teaches you the basics not only on special moves but also fatalities (about damn time too); the Krypt offers hundreds of unlockables, including new fatalities, babalities (they’re back!) and alternative costumes; and the Challenge Ladder has 300 specific tasks to complete in order to call yourself the true Kombatant (including the return of Test Your Might and other skill games). The King of the Hill mode is lots of fun to play around with, too. Just try to stay on top – if you can.
Visually, Mortal Kombat makes a return for the better. Though the game doesn’t display in 3D (like the PS3 version can), it does look spectacular. A lot of the environments really get gritty, from the fire-lit pits (and the fight going on in the background) to the molten lava beneath Shang Tsung’s fortress. They’re well done all around. The character animation is equally impressive, especially the close-up X-Ray moves. You may never look at a normal X-Ray ever again after seeing someone’s jaw smash to pieces or rib cage cave in on itself. And, of course, the blood flows like wine, and the fatalities are absolutely grotesque – and awesome. Our favorites are Noob Saibot’s “Half Off” and Sheeva’s “Skin Rip” (those are our names, by the way). As for audio, it’s traditional Kombat style. The voicework isn’t actually that cheese this time around, fitting in with the same kind of style as the first movie (and, thank God, not the second). The music is very fitting for tournament combat as well, with lots of dramatic themes. We would’ve liked to hear more from the recently released mix album, but oh well, you can add those via the XMB and play them to your heart’s content.
Shao Khan returns to make some thunderous announcements as well, though we preferred Shang Tsung’s subtle voice. Two more things worth noting. First, the Xbox 360 version of Mortal Kombat doesn’t have an exclusive character to call its own, unlike the PS3, which has Kratos from God of War. That’s not a dealbreaker by any means, as there are 26 characters to choose from, with more coming via DLC. Secondly, you will need to activate an Online Pass in order to take on folks online. This might be bad news to those who rent the game or opt to buy it used, but, hey, it’s not like WB Games invented this practice. It’s just following along. Despite tough-as-hell bosses and some occasional online lag, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy Mortal Kombat right now. It plays superbly, looks fantastic, has features galore for both single player and multiplayer, and has all the gore and fatalities you missed so much in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Welcome back, Kombat.
Developer: Warner Bros.
Platform: Reviewed for PlayStation 3
Release Date: April 19, 2011