Almost four years on from the release of Mortal Kombat (MK9, not the original), NetherRealm Studios are getting ready to unleash Mortal Kombat X (pronounced ex, not ten) upon the gaming world. Ahead of its release on 14th April, earlier this week, I was given the opportunity to see how it was shaping up. As a regular player of the series, I’m happy to say it’s looking damn good.
Starting with the gameplay, at its core, not a huge amount has changed. And that’s good news, because the 2011 release was a damn fun brawler. Move lists for the majority of characters remain largely the same and the super meter that allows you to execute brutal x-ray moves is also there. There is something new though, as Mortal Kombat X introduces three different variations for each character. You simply pick one when you select your character before going into battle, and it’s a welcome addition. I initially thought it would mess with the gameplay a little, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. As NetherRealm’s Hans Lo tells me, the idea is to allow you to play as your favourite character in the way you want. The things you love about a certain character will remain, but the overarching style will be slightly different. For example, playing as Scorpion you’ll still have his basic movies like the “get over here” and so on, but pick his Ninjitsu variant and he’ll be able to use swords. On the other hand, his Hellfire option will give you access to a few fiery moves. It works really well, as I found myself drawn to Scorpion’s Hellfire style, fitting in with the way I wanted to play as him. I tried other characters too, including some of the new ones such as Cassie Cage. The daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, she’s the perfect mix of the two. She has her dad’s arrogance as well her mum’s fiery nature. That translates across to her move set too, meaning it’s a mix of both her parents’ styles. The same will apply to the likes of Jacqui Briggs as well. A nice touch.
In terms of what I played, I spent the majority of my time playing single player matches against the CPU (pulling off the oh so brutal fatalities), but did get to sample the first chapter of story mode. Set primarily 25 years after the events of the last Mortal Kombat, it seems like the story will be non-linear. A fair approach given the amount of years to cover! There’s a power struggle going on between realms and that’s given everyone an excuse to fight, that’s what I got from it all. Probably a basic way of looking at things, but it’s not exactly Shakespeare. It doesn’t need to be either. Just like NetherRealm’s previous fighting efforts, each chapter will see you play as a different character. It’s something I’m a fan of as you not only get to see the story from different perspectives; you also get to learn other characters along the way. In the first chapter the focus is on Johnny Cage. An older Johnny Cage, but still as cocky as ever. I had three fights before my taste of the story mode came to an end, but it was interesting to see the more cinematic approach to the story. The transition between cutscenes and fights is still great, but now you’re not just watching the stuff in between. Before my first fight as the charismatic Mr Cage (without going into spoilers), I was engaged in a fight with certain other characters via a few quick time events (QTEs). Sure, it was just a few button presses, but I thought it was pretty cool. I felt more involved in proceedings and the QTEs didn’t feel out of place. That was the only QTE bit, so I’m hopeful that NetherRealm won’t go overboard with them in the rest of the story mode.
The code I played also featured the Living Towers, a new addition to Mortal Kombat X and an evolved version of the Challenge Tower from the last release (don’t worry; Test Your Might and Test Your Luck are still present). Chatting to NetherRealm’s Hans Lo about this topic, I confessed that I never completed the epic Challenge Tower in 2011’s Mortal Kombat. This lead to him stating that’s why the Living Towers were created. Interesting. They wanted to make the mode more fun and accessible (not necessarily easy), so that players of all skill levels could get into it. Living Towers will have different types of challenges and towers, covering all skill levels. Some will be hourly, others daily, but the idea is to keep them constantly evolving and offer something for all types of Mortal Kombat players. I certainly had fun playing them, even though I got my ass handed to me on a few. It’s a mode I’ll be keeping my eye on when the full game is released.
Another new addition to Mortal Kombat X is the Faction Wars feature. Similar to FIFA’s EA Sports Football Club, you choose one of five factions to align with and join a persistent online ecosystem with other players. You win points for your faction by essentially just playing the game and doing certain things, contributing to the overall conflict. Obviously, you’ll rank up personally too and even earn special rewards if your faction is winning at the end of the week. You can change your faction if you want to, but you’ll incur a penalty and have to start from the bottom again. Harsh, but fair. Speaking to Hans Lo about Faction Wars, he enthusiastically adds this is all about creating a sense of community and allegiance. It’s something he hopes transitions across to the online side of the game, with regular tournaments and the like helping Mortal Kombat X take its place in the growing world of e-sport.
Give that this is the first Mortal Kombat on the new generation of consoles; it would be silly of me to not mention the visuals. The style isn’t too far off the 2011 release, which means don’t expect super realistic looking characters and backgrounds. Instead there’s a bulky, action figure type look and feel about the fighters, but it works. Everything is just that bit more detailed, from the costumes to stages you can interact with. The gruesome cuts/bruises and splatter of blood that appears on characters as you fight, in my humble opinion, they are the most impressive visual aspect. You can literally see it happening as you battle away, but the end of the fight is where you see the true detail. The camera will zoom in on your character and you’ll see it all. As crass as it might sound, Mortal Kombat is all about over-the-top gore and it’s never looked better. Those x-ray moves and fatalities… Damn! The only downside was a noticeable drop in frame rate during cutscenes, but hopefully NetherRealm can iron that out in time for release.
It’s safe to say I left my hands-on time with Mortal Kombat X very much impressed. The game looks great, runs smoothly and it seems like there’ll be plenty for everyone to get stuck into, whether you’re a long time fan of the series or a newcomer. Thanks to the way the story is going, it looks like the game will feature an impressive array of characters too, new and old. My only slight reservation at this stage is whether or not the story is just there so new characters could be introduced (it was slightly insane), but that’s just based on a chapter’s worth of play. Hopefully it all comes together in the final release. If it does, NetherRealm could have an amazing incarnation of the classic series on their hands. Not just that, a top quality fighting game full stop.
Below you can listen to my brief chat with NetherRealm’s Hans Lo about Mortal Kombat X. He’s a lovely chap. Go on, listen away!