The tenth game in the Mortal Kombat series is sick and twisted, but also the finest fighting game to come along in years.
If you can look past the buckets of blood and gore that splatter across the screen, and fatalities that will have even fans of the torture porn that passes as horror these days feeling green at the gills, you will find that Mortal Kombat X is an incredible fighting game.
It delivers everything fans of the previous nine games expect, but adds in some brand-new flourishes that round it out and have it feeling like a worthy addition to the franchise’s storied history.
At its core, MKX is a fighting game, and to deliver on that premise requires a very slick, highly-responsive and nuanced fighting system, and boy does it deliver.
We found during our playtime that fighters respond beautifully to controller inputs, leaving you feeling like you’re entirely in control of your destiny rather than at the mercy of a badly-implemented control system. Once you disable Release Check and Input Shortcuts, that is.
The actual Kombat, the martial arts-esque moves that are the lifeblood of any good fighting game, looks amazing thanks to more nuanced animations that have fights looking more believable as moves flow into one another far more naturally than they did in previous games.
As you fight, the meter that made its appearance in Mortal Kombat 9 from 2011 fills up as you take hits and pull off combos, allowing you to pull off special moves of your own and even break enemy combos once it’s full. It often comes in handy and can even change the tide of a fight if used at just the right moment.
Special moves are awesome, sending the action into slow motion as the camera gets up close and personal, showing painful, bone-crunching injuries by way of an x-ray view that leave you wondering how on earth the victim keeps on fighting afterwards.
Brutalities make a welcome return as well, moves that – if pulled off correctly – can end the round in one shot. These are almost as disgusting as fatalities, but not quite. This time around, fatalities are superbly gross, there are a whole lot of them and they can be as easy or as difficult as you’d like them to be, if you’re willing to pay for the Easy Fatality DLC.
The fighting mechanics are more than solid this time around, with developer NetherRealm Studios even including the ability to adjust frame data for the truly hardcore fighters out there.
The game is, as a result, eminently playable, and there are enough characters with enough fighting-style variants for everyone to find someone they love to play as. It just takes time to find, which is part of the joy of playing.
There are 25 playable characters in the base game, with others to be made available as paid-for DLC, and eight of these are totally new. Franchise stalwarts like Sub Zero, Scorpion, Raiden and Johnny Cage are present and accounted for, with a few newcomers to bring in some fresh blood.
MKX offers several ways to play, and the best way to get to grips with the mechanics is by going through the Story Mode first. It’ll take you between 5 and 8 hours to get through depending on your skill level, and the story spans 25 years of Mortal Kombat history by way of cutscenes interspersed with fights that show off many of the game’s different fighting styles.
It’s a little cheesy, of course, but fun and great for fans of the franchise who get to see more of the lore behind the game.
Fans of the original Mortal Kombat will likely enjoy the very arcadey Tower Mode that pits them against ten characters of increasing difficulty; MKX has several Tower types to choose from, too, like the Living Towers which feature conditions that change hourly, daily and weekly.
My favourite was the Test Your Luck traditional tower, which chose random combat modifiers every round, which really kept me on my toes as no two fights were identical.
Online play is likely the most appealing of all of MKX’s modes as it offers players the chance to fight against a wider variety of Kombatants, but I found lag more often than not killed my game and my desire for non-local, person-on-person multiplayer. Sadly, connectivity from SA to other countries is still not good enough for us to kompete on an even footing.
Everything you do in Mortal Kombat X earns you Koins, a currency that can be used to pay for items found in the Krypt which is a 90s-style dungeon-crawler minigame that challenges players to solve puzzles and unlock access to rewards. These include concept art, new fatalities, new combat modifiers and other tidbits that make fighting just that much more interesting.
The Krypt itself is a very cool – and unexpected – addition to the game, and the puzzles are challenging but not ridiculously so, but the rewards on offer were often underwhelming, especially for the asking price. Koins are not easy to come by, and dropping 5 000 of them on a mystery item that turns out to be a crappy piece of concept art felt like a ripoff. I get the whole risk/reward thing, but I hate feeling swindled.
Which brings me to the part of MKX I hated most: microtransactions. If you don’t want to grind through the game to earn enough Koins to unlock everything in the Krypt, you can just pay $20 to unlock it all. Seriously.
There’s also DLC that lets you pull off “Easy Fatalities” by simplifying the button-pushes needed to execute them. That’s just ridiculous, and undermines the value of the move. Would you respect the skill of someone performing a fatality that takes just two button-presses to pull off? I know I wouldn’t.
And of course there are other characters that are only available if you buy them like Jason and Goro. This is to be expected in a modern game but it’s still a bit annoying, like the publisher is trying to squeeze fighting game fans for all they’re worth, over and above the crazy R900 price for the main event.
If you love Mortal Kombat, MKX will give you everything you’ve come to know and love about the franchise, including a dazzling array of moves – including some of the grossest fatalities yet conceived – and a very impressive character line-up, complete with the tightest fighting game mechanics yet seen in the series.
Sure, the microtransactions are a bummer but they don’t detract from the game at all, it’s just a little disappointing that not all characters can be unlocked during regular play and must instead be bought.
Should your budget support it, MKX is a highly-recommended purchase for fighting game fans, and one you will get many hours of enjoyment out of.