It has been more years than I care to remember since I started playing the Mortal Kombat franchise, but suffice it to say that I remember very well the furore that surrounded the “Fatalities” when it first came out. Looking back now, the blurry, blocky pixels depicting the violent demise of your opponents appear laughable, but back in the day, those images and sequences were very shocking indeed.
Fast forward through the years, playing increasingly realistic looking games both in the arcades and on successive generations of consoles and the gore factor is still there, but whether we’ve become hardened to the idea of killing, or the gore is now so over the top it’s become almost a cliche, NetherRealm Studios still keep to the same formula. From Fatalities to Brutalities, even Babalities, the idea of humiliating an opponent by virtually dismembering them has proven to have legs. With the eleventh iteration of this formula, is Mortal Kombat 11 more of the same, or have new ideas been injected to try and keep things fresh?
First things first, Mortal Kombat 11 looks superb. The animation, the graphics, the backgrounds, even the blood, are all rendered in superb detail, and look bloody brilliant, if you’ll pardon the pun. The animation in particular is worthy of special mention, with silky smooth fighting moves gliding into place at the push of a button; uppercuts still bringing a wince as they connect. Even better, every now and then, when you connect with a particularly brutal attack there’s a brief cutaway animation showing the victim’s teeth smashing and falling out, which is all very lovely. The sound is exactly as you’d expect too – whistling strikes and crunching impacts, alongside some suitably stirring music. So, presentation wise at least, Mortal Kombat 11 is right on track.
New gameplay tweaks also help with the feel of the game, including new moves that are available when your health gets low enough. Known as Fatal Blows, these are ultra violent, gory strings of attacks that can turn the tide of a battle. Each fighter can use one per fight, so choosing the right time adds a level of tactic to the fast and furious Kombat. If your Fatal Blow attempt is blocked, you can’t try again for a few seconds, in which time it’s entirely possible to have your derriere handed to you. Timing is therefore paramount.
The violence in these moves is turned all the way up to 11 – both thankfully and fittingly – and they are sometimes hard to watch, as Scorpion drives his daggers into a foe’s eye sockets before smashing them face first into the floor. One warning I will give is that even without engaging in Fatalities, the violence on display here is very strong, so it’s not one for the kids. The age rating is there for a good reason.
So, it all looks brilliant and sounds great, but how does MK11 play out? Well, my rather dull response is good and bad depending on which bit you try.
First of all, the story this time around, and the mode that goes with it, is absolutely insane. Even by fighting game standards, this is a corker. Embracing time travel, multiple versions of characters interacting with each other (and somehow not causing a paradox, but I’m guessing physics doesn’t have much of a role to play in this game), with it all controlled by Chronika, the God in charge of Time. She’s decided that Raiden has gotten too big for his boots after getting hold of Shinnok’s amulet and going all dark and broody – think Batman, but with more lightning based powers. She decides the best thing she can do is rewrite the Timelines and erase him from history. This goes well, apart from the fact that an earlier version of Raiden is dragged into the present, along with Kano, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Jax, and so on. Even Kung Lao, Kitana and Liu Kang are brought back, despite being killed in the last tournament and still being alive as Revenants. I wasn’t kidding when I said leave your brain at the door, as the twists and turns of Time Travel really will give you a headache. So, the story plays out much as you’d expect, taking control of different fighters at different stages, giving a good feel of what the different characters have to offer.
Other parts of Mortal Kombat 11 on Xbox One are less easy to get on with. In addition to the obligatory training mode, which takes you through everything from basic hits to advanced Kombos and even Fatality training, the Krypt makes a welcome return. In here, you can spend in-game currency to open Krates, which you can get new skins and other cosmetic things from, in addition to Konsumables to help you in the other main mode, the Towers. These come in two flavours: Klassic (and yes, since you ask, every word that begins with a “C” in real life begins with a “K” in Mortal Kombat world. I’ll kontinue…) and the new Towers of Time.
I’m sure you know the basics by now and there are a series of Towers with differing numbers of opponents to try and defeat in one run, ranging from around four fighters in the easy Towers all the way to Survival mode in an Endless Tower. Now, the Towers of Time have caused a bit of a stir amongst the Mortal Kombat faithful as these new ones have modifiers that make your life a lot more difficult, and almost require you to use Konsumables if you are going to compete on an even playing field. I’m not joking when I say that the later Towers, with modifiers like seeking missiles being fired at you every few seconds, are pad bitingly hard, and the reward for beating them seems to be a bit limp in comparison to the amount of stress you’ll undergo. Apparently NetherRealm agree, as they have changed the way that things work and also have agreed to give player an apology of in-game currency to make up for the issue. However, this hasn’t happened yet as I write this. Hopefully soon.
Fighting online works very well, but if you are bit ham fisted, winning rounds online is very, very hard. The timing on the Kombos is super tricky, and my aging fingers are finding it increasingly hard to keep up with the inputs these days. However, being old is no excuse, so in the interests of this review, I played many matches online, and lost many pints of blood and not a few body parts! Still, killing a real live competitor online is kinda fun, and the net code seems to work very well. I’ve not had any issues with lag or people losing connection. Unfortunately any defeats will be entirely your own fault.
With many things to find and unlock in the Krypt, including many new skins, equipment to change the look of your chosen character, and even Fatalities to find, getting the Koins (sigh) and the other currency to open sufficient Krates is going to take a lot of grinding. This translates into a lot of game time, but with the aforementioned difficulty of a lot of the Towers, it also translates into a lot of pain and frustration. If you are the type of player who wants to unlock everything on offer, then this grind may well appeal, but as I don’t care if Cassie Cage gets a new pair of sunglasses, I have to admit to finding it roll more onto the frustrating side. That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had here, but the story mode, with its crazy storyline is much more enjoyable than anything the Towers bring. Add to this the fact that one of the very best characters – Shao Kahn – is locked away behind a paywall and although this game doesn’t have loot crates, it still feels a bit “loot cratey” to me.
All in all though and Mortal Kombat 11 is a worthy entry into the franchise. Although the blood and gore is getting a little stale now, with an almost desperate need to shock built into the very gameplay, ironically it’s because of this violence that the game now seems tamer than before. We know that Mortal Kombat will have gory Fatalities, but there are only so many ways that someone can be sliced up or decapitated before it almost becomes boring. The new Fatal Blows mix it up a bit, but this a fighting game that is enjoyable almost despite the gore, not because of it. It’s bonkers story mode is the highlight here, the great animation and crunching impacts help, but then the Towers of Time throw a spanner in the works at the last moment with the almost impossible difficulty level and grinding aspects that are required.