Released: April 14, 2015
Plaftorms: PS4, XBox One, PC(Steam)
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Price Tag: $59.99
Rated: M for Mature
WARNING: I will be describing certain fatalities in detail, so be warned: These fatalities are graphic and extremely violent.
Before I really get into this review of the latest iteration in the Mortal Kombat video game franchise, I would like to say that I’m a massive fan of Mortal Kombat. I’ve been playing the game since it first showed up in arcades in 1992. Before Mortal Kombat showed up, video games had been considered mostly kids’ toys. It was something they did after their homework was done. Violence in those games was really cartoonish and not realistic. Then Mortal Kombat comes along and everybody loses their shit. This was the same time Street Fighter II was released, but MK(Mortal Kombat) was different in that it featured digitized actors on a 2d fighting plane. It was certainly different. It handled pretty well with some interesting characters including a thunder god, a Bruce Lee-inspired character, and some ninjas. But the one thing that really separated MK from the pack, and was really criticized for, was its display of ultra-violence. By ultra-violence, I mean fatalities. These are techniques in which you perform a sequence of button presses that would kill your opponent in particularly gruesome fashion. The most notorious of the bunch was Sub-Zero’s spine-rip fatality in which he ripped off the person’s head with the spine attached. Parents and politicians alike were outraged that somebody could make such a violent game. As a result, the ESRB(Entertainment Software Ratings Board) was established. Over the years, the game has gotten multiple sequels, movies, TV and Youtube series(I reviewed Mortal Kombat Legacy). It is one of the largest and most popular fighting game franchises in the world to date. With the release of Mortal Kombat X, there are a number of issues and controversies plaguing the game at the time of release, particular for the PC version, which I am currently reviewing. But before I delve into those issues, I’m going to go over the game itself and what it entails.
Mortal Kombat X is the latest and quite possibly the goriest entry into a franchise that goes back over 20 years. The previous entry, simply titled Mortal Kombat, which I will refer to as MK9, came out in 2011 and was essentially a kind of a reboot for the franchise after the fairly controversial release of the crossover game, Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe. I didn’t think that was a particularly bad game. Unfortunately, the folks over DC didn’t want to see their characters get eviscerated by Scorpion or Raiden, so they forced the producers to scale back on the brutality and blood of the fatalities. For those of us were fans of the ultra-violent finishing moves, this came as a shock. Mechanically, the game was fantastic, it played like a Mortal Kombat, minus the fatalities. MK9 did a 180 and gave us not only a graphically improved game, but it also returned to us the brutality that the series is known for. It garnered great reviews and was a solid fighter in its own right. MKX is also a very solid fighter and a blast to play. The mechanics are very solid with combos being fairly easy to pull off. The game features a selection of over 20 characters at the time of this writing, including series regulars like Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Jax, Reptile, Raiden, Kung Lao, and the four-armed Goro. New to the series includes the sons and daughters of some of the characters, including Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, Takeda, and Kung Jin. Other new characters include, D’Vorah, an insect-inspired character; Ferra and Torr, which is a kind of a two-for-one, Kotal Kahn, the new Emperor of Outworld and Erron Black, a gunslinger from Earth Realm. Each character has three different variations, effectively giving the game a total of over 30 characters. Each character comes with his or her own set of special moves. Scorpion has his iconic spear that you can use to grab the opponent and bring him closer to you so can so some pretty severe damage. Sub-Zero has his famous ice ball which freezes people in their place allowing you to deliver some major punishment. Each variation of each character comes with its own set of moves and combos, making this one of the deepest entries into the franchise. It’s absolutely amazing how much detail went into making each character and variation unique. The combos are easy to pull off. It is surprisingly satisfying when you can juggle these guys and just lay waste to them.
In addition to the obvious classic tower setup, we have a story mode which is essentially an interactive movie with some QTE events. QTE’s are Quick Time Events. You have to push certain buttons at a certain time to avoid getting damaged and to progress the story. It’s not a mechanic that I particularly care for, because it can take you out of the story. I’m not going to delve into the story of the franchise, because there really isn’t a whole lot there, and that’s not why we play these games in the first place. But it is nice to see NetherRealms put that in. It’s surprisingly well-done, but woefully short. I completed the story mode in about 3.5 to 4 hours. The previous game gave me twice that. Normally, I would complain about it, but it was surprisingly engaging and visually pleasing. In this entry we have the offspring of some of the main characters, so that adds kind of a family element to the story, which is surprising and it works. The motion capture for the story mode is incredible. This game is awesome to look at. It’s a good-looking game. The backgrounds for the fights aren’t static like they were in some previous games, but feel organic and very much alive. They are also pretty interactive, because you can use certain objects to pummel your opponent with. The X-Ray moves, which were introduced in MK9, are basically pre-animated combos that feature graphic depictions of bones break and organs being brutalized. It’s gut-wrenching, yet very awesome at the same time. Now this brings me to the fatalities which is the most iconic technique that the franchise is known for. These moves are BRUTAL. For example, one of Scorpion’s fatalities involve him using a fireball going through an opponent leaving the heart attached by a few strands of flesh. Gruesome, yes? He’s not done yet. After that, he takes one of his swords and slices his opponent’s face off. It’s extremely detailed and very graphic. Unfortunately, that brings me one of the biggest issues facing the game. The game itself runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second, but when you pull off an X-Ray move or a fatality, it jumps to 30 frames per second. That is a severely noticeable drop, and unnecessary thing to do. It takes you out of the game when you see such a violent shift. I guess somebody thought it was a stylistic choice. Well, it didn’t work.
Outside of the single-player story mode and traditional tower modes, we have an online section of the game which you can use to play with other people around the world. I’m not a multiplayer kind of guy, so I kind of skipped over the whole online thing, but there are people out there who really enjoy that. So, I couldn’t honestly tell you about the multiplayer component. One of the more interesting online components is in the Living Towers mode. This is very interesting, because one of the towers is updated on an hourly basis with different challenges according to what NetherRealms has in store. Another changes on a daily basis, while the third changes on a weekly basis. That allows for a great deal of variety, and is a welcome addition. These towers are often challenging but can be rewarding at the same time. When you first start up the game, you are asked to join a particular faction, whether its the White Lotus, Special Forces, Lin Kuei, Brotherhood of Darkness, and the Black Dragon. Each faction has its own unique perks. For example, each faction has its own set of fatalities that you can use, and there is a meta-war going on between the factions that you can actively be a part of. You don’t even have to play against another person. Everything you do as part of that faction goes towards the overall score for the faction. It’s wild. There are also a different set of finishing moves called brutalities that require you to meet certain criteria in order to execute them. This truly adds to the replayability of the game. There are also mainstays of previous games including a Test-Your-Might mode in which you have to smash certain objects by button-mashing essentially. You get rewarded with gold coins. If you fail, you get treated to a fatality. It’s darkly humorous. It’s gory, but it is funny at the same time. You get gold coins for everything that you do in the game, including combos and fatalities and beating stuff. Those coins can be used in the game’s Krypt mode, which lets you explore cemeteries, caves and temples. You can unlock skins, fatalities, brutalities, concept art, music and some new Easy Fatality tokens and Skip Fight tokens. The Easy Fatality thing is a major issue which I will discuss towards the end of the review. It’s controversial, to say the least.
The game isn’t perfect, I can tell you that. I had pre-ordered the game so I could get Goro as a playable character. However, because I pre-ordered the game on Steam, which is a software platform for games that you can buy and download digitally, MKX was broken on release. I’m not kidding. Valve, the guys behind Steam, decided to try a new method of delivering games to their customers by essentially allowing them to play the game while it’s downloading. It’s not necessarily a bad idea if executed properly. Blizzard’s been doing it for years with Starcraft II and World of Warcraft. They have it down to a science. Valve has no idea what the hell they’re doing. The game downloads in DLC packs. DLC is Downloadable Content. See, DLC is used to add stuff to a game that wasn’t in the initial release. The problem with the PC release is that when the game pre-loaded, we got 3 gigs at the start, but the rest of the game didn’t start downloading until a couple of hours later. When it did, and we were allowed to start the game, it was broken. Horrendously broken. The only modes available were training and single fight. The bulk of the game was NOT available at the time it was released. So, most of the people, including myself got screwed at the beginning because Valve failed to test their new method properly. A lot of people weren’t even able to start the game. I didn’t get to play the game properly until around 5 PM that day, when they finally fixed the game. Now, they fixed it relatively quickly, as it could taken about a week or so for most companies to get their shit fixed. The damage had already been done. Tons of people took to Steam and delivered either sarcastic reviews or just plain ripped on the developers and Steam for a such a botched release. This is easily the single worst release for a Mortal Kombat game I’ve ever seen. See, PC users don’t usually get a lot of fighting games. That’s generally a console thing, so we have to take what we can get. Another glaring omission is the lack of stage specific fatalities, where you can use the background as a way of murdering your opponent. It’s been a staple of previous games, so the lack of it here is puzzling.
There’s another issue that isn’t just restricted to Mortal Kombat X, but it’s one that truly needs to be addressed. I mentioned earlier that in the Krypt you can get tokens that will make performing fatalities easier. For PS4 and XBox One users, there is DLC that you can purchase that will give you a certain number of Easy Fatality tokens. For 99 cents, you get 5 tokens. For 5 bucks, you get 30 tokens. A lot people have issues with that because, when you use those tokens, they’re gone, until either you find more in the Krypt or you pay more. That’s called a microtransaction and it really has no place in a triple-A title. Another one is where you can pay 20 bucks and unlock EVERYTHING in the Krypt. In the previous title, the DLC was limited to new characters which were NOT included on the disc. The DLC for this game is ridiculous. For DLC characters, we are getting Tanya from Mortal Kombat 4, we’re getting the Predator from the movies, Jason Voorhees and Tremor. The characters I don’t have a problem paying for because some of them I really want. But the skins, the tokens and the unlock I DO have a problem with. It’s a blatant cash-grab. That’s what it is. This is not necessarily a developer issue, but it is definitely a publisher issue. They get away with it because the consumers are willingly paying for it. For a game like Mortal Kombat, though, I’m starting to see people lash out at these business practices. Look, I have no problem with DLC as long as it’s substantially worth it. All new characters? Definitely worth it. Skins? Not so much. This kind of business practice isn’t limited to Mortal Kombat X, but the game definitely highlights a major problem within the gaming industry. The publishers aren’t the only ones at fault here. You also have to blame the consumers for allowing it happen. There is no single entity to blame for this fiasco. I’m as much at fault for buying into this stuff as anybody, so I’m not a special snowflake. I understand that the publishers are in it to make money, but nickel-and-diming the consumer isn’t really the most ethical way to go about. Make no mistake, these publishers are nickle-and-diming us with these microtransactions and useless DLC. The PC launch I can blame squarely on Valve, though. That was a mess and it didn’t need to happen.
At the end of the day, Mortal Kombat X is a very solid and competent fighting game. It’s loaded with content and visually spectacular. It has a number of interesting modes and the faction thing is a very cool idea. It’s very playable and for people familiar with Mortal Kombat, it’s easy to get into. For people who are new to the series I would recommend going with an earlier title so you can actually develop a feel for the system and how the games work. Honestly, though, you can’t really go wrong with MKX. It’s a really good game, but a lot of factors keep it from making it a great game. If you love the franchise, the game is a no-brainer, provided you don’t fall for the microtransaction BS. NetherRealms Studios delivered another solid game, but Warner Bros. is starting to behave a lot like EA Games and I really wish they wouldn’t. Personally, I would still recommend Mortal Kombat X despite some of the issues and controversies because it’s just that damn good. It’s not perfect, no game truly is, but I feel the positive aspects of the game outweigh the negatives. So what is my score for Mortal Kombat X? A video game is a vastly different beast than a movie and I can’t treat them the same way. A movie plays out the same way for everyone, so it’s easier to give a proper score. People have different experiences playing a game, and don’t play it the same way, unless it’s Rambo: The Video Game. But you shouldn’t be playing that turd anyway. That’s my outlook on Mortal Kombat X, so if you disagree with me, feel free to leave a comment or question.