Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Mortal Kombat X

   When I buy a new game, I decide within just a couple hours whether it's going to be one I can't put down, or if it's going to be one I never pick up again. Games like Crysis 3, Vanquish, Resident Evil 6, and Dark Void are just a handful of games like this. Point being, I don't wait til I've beaten a game to review it. It should be apparent whether or not it's worth playing and is good or not, within five or so hours of gameplay. At this point, I've sunk at least ten hours into Mortal Kombat X, with little doubt it was going to be anything but excellent, and still my expectations were exceeded.

   I was a pretty big fan of the previous Mortal Kombat game, and I've played most of them. I still have Mortal Kombat I, II, and Ultimate 3 for my Sega Genesis, as well as Mortal Kombat Armageddon for my PS2. (For what it's worth, I also have the first movie on Blu Ray and VHS, I have the animated cartoon pilot on VHS, and I have the TV show, Mortal Kombat Conquest on DVD) I'm about as big of a fan as it gets. If I ever got a tattoo, the MK dragon logo would be it. Having said all that, I'm pretty critical of the gameplay in these games and I notice even tiny variations from title to title. Nevertheless, Mortal Kombat X handles near-flawlessly.

   The core combat mechanics are the usual well-polished beat-em-up stuff, but it branches out into different fighting styles- three per character, and a mix of new and varied gameplay features to boot. Where previous installments required special circumstances to actually interact with the stage, like landing a knock out in the subway stage or something, X takes this concept a smidge further, populating each stage with objects you can actually use to your advantage. Some are quick escapes for you to leap off of and put some distance between you and your opponent, and others are more damaged based. Grab an old lady from the crowd and hurl her into your opponent, or a jar, or a pot of lava, or maybe grab onto some vines and land a couple mid-swing kicks.

   It's simple and useful, but most of all, when you become familiar with the mechanic, mixing it into your combos is smooth and incredibly satisfying. This is another feature I hope becomes a mainstay, like the X-Ray feature that debuted in MK9, and returned in this one, proving it's worth once again in many, many ways. The first Mortal Kombat game could arguably be called 'standard' and even 'generic' if it weren't for it's trademark fatality finishers.

   For a franchise that made it's name on fighters splitting people in half, and ripping spines out, it feels only natural that the same brutal violence be carried over into the fights themselves and not just the finishers. While plenty of fighting games are moving more towards a style of gameplay that absolutely requires you to be fully versed in the elaborate combos and finishers in order to be even merely competent at playing... Mortal Kombat seems content to push in the opposite direction. It has streamlined it's once over-long combos and fatalities. Now there's even 'easy fatality' tokens you can earn in the game in order to reduce a five or six button combo, to just a simple button press or two.

   While some hardcore fans might have a knee-jerk reaction to the simplification, that concern is unwarranted. The game is easy to learn and play (more or less) but is fairly hard to master. And, at this point, 'hard' might not be the word. It takes dedication. If that's not your bag, if you're more into casual gameplay, Mortal Kombat X, has a robust story mode that puts it's competition to shame. It requires little to no knowledge of Mortal Kombat lore and mythology but, if you are a longtime fan you'll find a lot to love in this story. Character relationships feel real and full of history here, the voice acting is excellent and I was genuinely surprised with how good this was. The franchise isn't exactly known for it's compelling stories and it's well-written characters.

   Even the best of them are kind of basic archetypes in a way, but because the stories have been continually expanded on, the characters have grown and they feel more real now. Almost on accident it seems, but the game is all the richer for it. When Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade are at odds, it's not just the same coy boyish nonsense that we've seen from the characters for years, it's more mature. There's genuine history there. It seems built on real emotions. The story mode has flashback scenes that deepen the characters that much more. So when one of the fresh faces says to Sub-Zero "My father used to speak highly of you..." you get the sense of a rich backstory there, even if it is offscreen. Conversations over morning cereal, or cups of coffee. Cage and Blade telling their kid stories about saving Earthrealm? That's gold. It's an angle I didn't picture the franchise moving in.

   But now we have the Cassie Cage, Jacqui Briggs, and young relatives to Kung Lao and Kenshi. The new blood is charismatic, but they're also rookies. They've a lot to learn from their elders, and the story plays on that to great effect. As much as I just wanted to punch stuff and rip spines out, the story sucked me in and I found myself eager to get to the next engrossing cinematic. With that punctuated by excellent fighting gameplay, the game was very hard to put down. It's the Fast Five of the franchise, when it comes to the story at least. No longer is the story just a backdrop vehicle for the fighting gameplay. You won't want to skip these cutscenes. The story is exceptionally cinematic and bursting with personality. I've still got a ton of features to explore, but I've already tapped into The Krypt and the more standard gameplay features like towers and single fights. It's all solid and I look forward to many more hours of fun.

   Mortal Kombat X is an excellent debut for the franchise on current gen systems, it highlights all the fantastic aspects of the games thus far, and expanding on them. It's colorful, violent, gory, chop-socky, high-tech fun. It comes highly recommended from this longtime fan.

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