Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros
Release Date: Apr 14, 2015
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
I’ve been a fighting game fan for years. Though my dad made me take it back to the store, I had the original Mortal Kombat on Sega Genesis back in the day and I’ve poured more hours into Street Fighter II: Champion Edition than I could ever recount. Though my time with the genre has waned by comparison since childhood, I’ve still spent my fair share with Street Fighter IV and, more recently, Mortal Kombat 9. When I heard that Mortal Kombat X was unveiled, and that it would feature the likes of Jason Voorhies and Predator, I immediately wrote it off. However having spent some time with the game, I’m glad I decided to pick it up. It’s just too bad there’s no gore filter.
Years after the defeat of Shao Kahn, the fallen Netherealm being Shinnok leads an invading army into Earthrealm. After a scuffle with several of combatants, Johnny Cage and friends make their way to Raiden’s temple. There, they confront Shinnok, trapping him in his own destructive amulet.
Fast forward two decades, and Earthrealm seems to have gotten things under control. Many of the warriors we all know have settled down (somewhat), gotten married, and had children of their own. Unfortunately, things aren’t as calm in Outworld where Mileena fights to regain the title of emperor from Kotal Kahn and his forces. Suffice it all to say, the chaos quickly bleeds over to Earthrealm and the forces of good must once again conquer the forces of evil.
With the storytelling that Mortal Kombat 9 introduced, I had high hopes for Mortal Kombat X. Fans of the series may tell you MK9 had one of the best told stories of any fighter game to date. While they’d be right, MK9 merely retold old stories where Mortal Kombat X expands the narrative and adds a slew of new characters. Although the story may never win any awards, it stands head and shoulders above anything in its genre. I thoroughly enjoyed the time it took me to work through each chapter as well as the character variety and narrative exposition. Short of its predecessor, you’d be hard pressed to find anything as well executed in a fighting game today.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. The Mortal Kombat franchise has always been known for its excessive gore, clear back to its origins on the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. As time has marched on and hardware has become more powerful, the level of detail Ed Boon and friends have been able to express in their viscera has only gotten more sickeningly realistic. The violence and gore are so extreme, one has to ask if it’s meant as a sort of satire set in place to make folks like me cringe and gag. Beyond everything else, consider this— the game’s match-ending special moves are some of the most grotesque cinematic work I’ve ever seen in a video game. This content should not be consumed by anyone under 18.
Beyond the repugnant, sickening violence, the game has its fair share of strong language. Expect anything you’d hear in an R-rated movie to be present here.
As the series is wont to do, many of the ladies are dressed in revealing attire. Some costumes, like Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, and Sonya Blade have respectable tactical gear instead of bikinis, but NetherRealm did nothing to lessen their objectification of the feminine form for this entry.
For the uninitiated, I’m sure Mortal Kombat X looks like a big, bloody brawl between a series of off-the-wall, outlandish warriors—most of whom crawled out of someone’s nightmares. While that’s not necessarily far from the truth, Mortal Kombat initiates will find the game to be much more than that. The team at NetherRealm Studios has actually delivered a fun, finely balanced technical fighting game with some unique gameplay mechanics.
Since its origin, Mortal Kombat has been about one-on-one kombat…erm, combat…to the death. As with its less gruesome 2-D cousins, characters can move around, jump, block, and attack their way to victory. While most fighters stop with hand-to-hand combos and some projectiles, Mortal Kombat X ratchets things up a notch.
With a cast of 29 playable characters (including 5 DLC characters), there’s a tremendous breadth of content here. Given the sheer number of characters, odds are that you’ll be able to find someone to suit your play style. On top of the size of the cast, each character has three separate play styles you can toy around with, ensuring you find something that suits you.
While fighting games in general are about exacting force and strategy on your opponent, MKX gives you some interesting tools to pull that off. As you execute special attacks and combos, you build up a meter. When that meter is full, you can execute an “X-ray attack” for some massive damage and a cringe-worthy bone-crunching animation. On top of that, MKX features environmental objects you can interact with. They can include everything from a traffic light or road sign with which you can strike an enemy to a brazier full of burning coals to tree limbs and more.
Above everything else, Mortal Kombat X excels with the feel of combat. Every hit carries a satisfying weight and pulling off a high damage combo is rewarding. For each rapturous victory however, you’ll feel the humiliating sting of defeat. Few things can enrage a being like the feeling of helplessness you get when an enemy is crushing you. I believe, in this case, that’s an excellent thing. You’ll get emotionally invested because the combat is so engaging.
On top of a thoroughly enjoyable fighting system, there are quite a few ways to enjoy Mortal Kombat X. The game showcases an excellent campaign that’s bolstered with several features. The “Faction Wars” aspect adds an interesting twist to online play, allowing players to earn points for their faction and rewarding the leading faction with neat perks (like bonus gold) each week. There are also several competitive online modes like a winner-stays King of the Hill, as well as the new Living Towers hosting objectives which change hourly. The game also rewards you with the Krypt, a place to spend your hard-earned “koins” to unlock new moves and artwork. This content makes for an incredible gameplay package that is only marred by the intense gore depicted in the game.
Mortal Kombat X looks and feels great, barring the ever-present gore. This is undoubtedly the best looking game in the series. The environments are fun to fight in and interact with. Character models look sharp, and animation and effects are slick as glass.
The soundtrack is largely forgettable. The sound effects, in contrast, do an incredible job conveying every bone-crunching kick and punch. Added voice work from industry veterans Troy Baker, Steve Blum and up-and-coming talents Ashly Burch (a great job bringing the characters to life, even in a preposterous world.
Overall, Mortal Kombat X is a wonderful value for adult fans of fighting games. Honed, satisfying combat, varied cast of characters, well-told story, and plenty of extras round out one of the best tournament fighters to come out in recent years. It’s a shame the folks who do play it may have to keep a bottle of Maalox and a barf bag handy, though. The series that built itself on that disturbing shock factor shows no signs of slowing down.
The Bottom Line