Mortal Kombat Xbox 360/PS3 Review
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A back-to-basics approach results in an addictive and captivating release...despite its uneccessary inclusion of 3D...
In August 1992, the most iconic name of a genre was released, advertised with the tag-line “So real it hurts!” However, 19 years later, with the ninth instalment of the series set to be unveiled in 3D, it has finally matched the original’s claims.
It has been nearly three years since we received our last fix of Goro, Raiden and Sub-Zero. Now, Warner Bros and original creator Ed Boon have brought us Mortal Kombat – simply named – a gorish button-basher that's going back to its roots; and thankfully, this version comes minus the inane sub-title.
The overall theme of the game, besides the storyline which I shall keep a secret, is a return to the series roots. The restoration of 2D action is clearly the headline facet of these efforts; as a consequence the action is more engaging, less confusing, and enjoyably traditional. It is also, in my honest opinion, the goriest Mortal Kombat ever; the sight of dismembered limbs, crushed heads and broken backs – in high definition – has never been so satisfying.
Mortal Kombat is synonymous with button-bashing, at least amongst the uninitiated – and it is that demographic which this game targets most obviously. A completely new addition to the game-play this time around is four attack buttons, each representing a corresponding limb. For the casual gamer, this provides a welcomed respite from the franchises usual reliance on rehearsed combos. Furthermore, it should prevent hard-core fans from dominating instantly, which Warner Bros. are hoping will ensure a more levelled playing field amongst its multiplayer/online game modes.
To draw the inexperienced in further, Boon has altered the combat mechanics slightly. Whilst finishing moves remain complex – there are also many to unlock – the speed at which you have to punch the buttons has been reduced. In that sense, this is perhaps the most civilised Mortal Kombat to date.
Mortal Kombat is definitely better on the Playstation 3. Firstly, the Playstation Network is free; if you want to take advantage of the online versus mode, and you haven’t already got Xbox Live, there is no need to pay. Secondly, the PS3 version comes with Kratos – of God of War fame – as a playable character. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the D-pad on the Xbox 360 leaves something to be desired; it may be psychological, but I thought the game flowed naturally on the PS3; the troublesome D-pad of the 360 prevented full immersion.
Graphically, there is little to tell between the consoles. Mortal Kombat looks gorgeous on both platforms: the classic levels have been updated, real effort has been put into the backdrops and the rendering of the characters is far superior to all competitors. Just don’t expect photo-realistic graphics, as always it is the attention to detail that impressed me most of all: after a kick to the face knocked his previous ones into oblivion, Johnny Cage reapplied his sunglasses. It’s just the little things.
Now, allow me to ease your concerns. Sticking to the 'back-to-basic' foundations on which this game appears to be built, there is full immersion of the classic cast that made this franchise oh-so popular. I could list them all, but I know you believe me. Yet the series has to be dragged into the future somehow, and the addition of four player tag battles realises such a desire. While a nice addition, I couldn't shake the feeling that the developers were running out of ideas, which, considering the rich history of the series, should prove impossible. Safe to say Warner Bros. has leant quite heavily on the wider fighting genre. Admittedly, the action remains swift and coherent in this format, and as such should make this a hit.
The introduction of ‘Special Moves’ further conflicts with Boons' desire to return to the series’ roots, but I see this as a necessary addition in order to give the series a 21st century appeal. To enable the 'special move', you have to fill a power bar by inflicting damage, and then simply pull two triggers to unleash it. If this reminds you of the WWE titles at all, you aren’t alone. What follows is a fairly entertaining and gratuitous cut scene where the inner organs of your victim are violently harassed – and yes, you get to see inside their bodies as spines snap and eye sockets fracture. But this does get tiring, as filling the power bar and executing the move requires negligible effort.
Into the 3rd dimension
We are continually told that the future is 3D, but not the foreground v background, pixelated visuals associated with yesteryear. Modern games, such as Crysis 2, present the eyes with a visual feast: clear, crisp and in high definition – but with discernable depth and width.
It is worth noting that 3D is only available on the Playstation 3, and that some games utilise the third dimension better than others... Mortal Kombat isn’t one of them. If it prides itself in the resurrection of two dimensional fighting mechanics, why use 3D technology? What we are left with is characters that stick out of the screen, and perhaps the scenery does too – but who focuses on that in the heat of battle? In this instance 3D isn’t necessary and left me feeling rather flat.
I can’t criticise Mortal Kombat for the Xbox 360’s failings, but I can recommend that if you have the option, choose the Playstation 3 version. If you want to eke out that extra 10% of performance from the game, side with Sony. The game-play, regardless of console, maintains the series’ high standards; it couples stunning visuals, multiple game modes and a vast back-catalogue of characters perfectly. Ed Boon has managed to create a game that hooks the novice and compels enthusiasts, promising a deep pool of combos and special attacks – both hidden and downloadable.
To put it simply, Mortal Kombat represents 19 years of history distilled in a disk. If you are looking to replicate the gaming experience of the original – without having to put up with its 8-bit graphics – this is the closest you can get, without actually playing it.
A full, bit-by-bit review of Mortal Kombat will be available here at Shadowlocked nearer the game's release.
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