I'll be perfectly honest here... I've never been a big fan of fighting games. Well, not since we used to play them, you know, back in the arcade. But I've never really enjoyed them simply because of the inherent learning and difficulty curves irregardless of whether you play against a the computer or anyone living. Sure, I've played a few on consoles: Super Street Fighter 4 for the nostalgia's sake and Dead or Alive 4 for the boob jiggle physics, but neither one for more than an hour or two.
Having said that, I've always had a special place in my heart for the Mortal Kombat franchise, mostly due to the sheer unadulterated brutality of it. That series never hid from what it was... until Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which, as soon as I heard they had toned it down, I refused to play. Apparently so many people bitched about it that for the reboot NetherRealm Studios went totally overboard with the ultra violence. After watching some videos and hearing anyone and everyone rave about it I decided I simply had to give this one a try...
This new Mortal Kombat, technically the ninth in the series, takes the franchise back to its roots. The gameplay is classic Kombat, with less focus on combos this time around. You can play in any number of modes: from the standard ladder challenge, to Tag team "two on two" battles (it's clever how they integrated combo moves between the players on the same team, although it can be a bit difficult to get the timing right), to the 'Test Your Might/Sight/Luck' minigames, to a massive "Challenge Tower" which is essentially a giant ladder putting different characters in all sorts of different situations over a whopping three hundred events.
Then there is the 'Story' mode. The tale beings as Raiden, the thunder god of Earthrealm, finds himself under the large boot of Shao Kahn, the evil emperor of Outworld. Before those size 22s land on his face (this is apparently from Mortal Kombat: Armageddon), Raiden sends a message back to himself in the past, all the way to the original Mortal Kombat tournament from the very first game. Basically, because Shao Khan is about to finish him off, allowing Outworld to absorb Earthrealm (who thinks this stuff up, honestly?!), Raiden tells himself that "he must win" to avoid Armageddon.
Sadly, he doesn't say who must win...
The story then plays out over what amounts to the major plot points of the first three games as you take on playable roles with the vast majority of the cast trying to change the course of future events. To be honest, I actually enjoyed it despite the fact I really didn't have much clue what was going on. There were some really clever plot twists I didn't see coming (mostly because I haven't played most of the games referenced and have only a passing knowledge of the characters) that flesh out the bare-bones story. It's enough to give Marty Mcfly, time traveler extraordinaire, a headache... but that's okay, it worked for me. Although I have to say that some of the battles, especially the ones versus Shao Kahn, are downright frustrating.
That leads nicely to a core problem I have with fighting games in general. Mortal Kombat is a fantastically fun game, but like so many others in the fighting genre there is a steep learning curve. Fortunately, the developers realized this, and you can look up the moves list from the pause menu. I, for one, would like to say thank you... it made it much easier to be able to simply pause, memorize a few moves and some basic combos then start fighting. For the most part you can still follow a similar pattern for all the characters (jump kick, sweep, uppercut... yeah I know, it's cheap, so what?!) but it's nice having all the 'Special Moves' just an in-game pause away. There are even several well done training levels, with one even devoted solely to 'Fatalities' so you can practice getting the distance and button sequence correct.
And speaking of the famous (or infamous) 'Fatalities,' I feel the urge to convey to you, gentle reader, just how absurdly violent Mortal Kombat is... some of the finishing moves actually left me wincing. That's saying something. I'm one of the more desensitized people you're likely to meet. This game isn't for the faint of heart, I'll say that. And it's all brought to you in glorious high definition with the graphics and sound (which are pretty good by the way) allowing all of the blood and gore to really come to the forefront. Not to mention that there is a gauge the builds up when you take damage that, when full, allows you a special 'X-ray' move which actually shows the damage to bones and organs alike, cracking and bursting under the onslaught. It's almost eye-rollingly funny that they get right on up and keep fighting without their spleens, compound fractures to every limb...
As has been the trend with more modern Mortal Kombat titles there is a lot of hidden stuff in this one as well. When you fight in any game mode (not sure about online, I didn't try that out... stupid PSN going down) you gain coins that can be spent unlocking everything from concept art to other fatalities and alternate costumes. The massive 'Krypt' spans four areas, with almost three hundred unlockables, and the 'Necropolis' where you can view what you've found and check out character bios and stats. It's a nice touch... although is does get pretty addictive as you try to unlock them all.
Mortal Kombat is, to me anyway, an excellent game that serves the dual purpose of being a wonderful way to blow off steam. It's not without some flaws, most notably some cheap bosses, but overall it's actually a fighting game I'll hang on to... mostly for late night drunken fun I imagine. Brutality has been redefined under an old moniker, Mortal Kombat.
Score = 9.4 / 10
P.S. If you have both systems, the PS3 version is the way to go. Despite the PSN debacle, you get Kratos as a playable character... yeah, that's pretty awesome.