After spending some time with early builds of Mortal Kombat X we had the sneaking suspicion it might turn out to be something very special, and the final version of this fighting game is just that. There's been a clear evolution of the the franchise from Mortal Kombat (9), the superhero-heavy side-step of Injustice: Gods Among Us and now Mortal Kombat X.
The series needed a shake up, and the 2011 remake - Mortal Kombat (9) - was everything fans expected and more. The gameplay was returned to a 2D plane with 3D graphics, the combat system was simplified but retuned, and an extensive story mode filled with great cutscenes marked the debut of something that had never been done before in a fighting game. Mortal Kombat X builds on top of that previous game's foundations, with improvements across the board.
The story mode is set several years after the events of Mortal Kombat, with the focus on a new generation of fighters having to tackle problems arising between Earthrealm and the Outworld.
Cassie Cage is the daughter of Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage, Jacqueline Briggs is the daughter of Jax, Takashi Takeda is the son of Kenshi and so on. The story is quite extensive for a fighting game, and it's told through fantastic over the top sequences which are full of the black humour for which the series is well known.
The sequences, plus a few QTEs, run between fights. In story mode you've no choice who to play as, the game tracking one warrior for a spell before changing focus on someone else and their part in the story. The intention is mainly to introduce you to the roster and the different fighting techniques on offer. It's a smart move to get players at least familiar with the range of fighters MKX has.
The campaign will occupy you for several hours, and although it's the main attraction (at least for some), it's merely the tip of the iceberg with regards to the amount of content available. Story's a great introduction to the world, but to fine-tune those mechanics, we recommend a trip to the training mode. This'll teach you the basic and advanced movements of the combat system - something that arguably the story mode should have introduced.
And even with the more in-depth detailing, training releases you into the wild much too early. You can still train in very specific fields, with several options that will be familiar to fighting fans. In this mode you can even define multiple behaviours for your opponents and observe details, such as the number of frames in the animation, the damage they cause, recovery time and more.
But there's a clear division between enforced basic techniques for beginners and optional, immediately in-depth discussion for veterans. It'd have been useful to have been more training exercises and character-specific tutorials to train newcomers up further, to better prepare you for fighting actual players. As it is, you'll have to learn things the hard way; by someone more experienced beating the crap out of you. Eventually you will be doing that to someone else, but it will take time and patience.
The solo player has a few more options available to them, like the Towers. This mode follows a format closer to the traditional arcade mode, where you face multiple enemies in a row using a fighter of your choice. There are also online versions and special challenges such as Test Your Luck and Test Your Might. In the first you will face multiple enemies with random elements - no block, shrunken arenas, balancing scenarios, and other bizarre choices that subsequently completely change the gameplay. Test Your Might is the mythical challenge where you need to break multiple items with a single blow.
The other option is the Crypt. This is a mode that has featured in the most recent games of the series, and is worshiped by fans and is filled with unlockables (from art and suits through to new fatalities).
In Mortal Kombat X the Crypt takes the form of one of the old adventure games as you travel through cemeteries and caves looking for items to unlock. There are even treasures that you can find and creatures to face (via a QTE). To unlock content in the Crypt you need to spend gold coins, earned through playing the other game modes (alternatively you can use the mobile app or pay real money on digital storefronts).
There is another element that, although online, involves no interaction with other players. Once you start playing, the game will present you with two factions and ask you to choose one. After doing so, almost every action you do in the game will contribute to the benefit of your faction, although there are also specific challenges. If your faction emerges victorious at set periods, all members will be rewarded with exclusive items, including fatalities.
And then there's the online mode.
If you're a fan of the fighting genre, this is likely the mode that most interests you. When online with Mortal Kombat X you will find several options, such as friendly matches, ranked matches, and even a King of the Hill option, where you must face multiple opponents consecutively. You will also level up and unlock options to change your profile, including banners and the like. If you want to make things interesting, you can also go for the online versions of Test Your Luck and Towers. And of course, you can also take on friends in local multiplayer.
We never experienced latency issues with the online fighting so far, but sometimes we had to wait several seconds to find an opponent, and the menus seem somewhat slow in this mode. Still, Mortal Kombat X meets almost all requirements when it comes to online. The matchmaking also placed us in front of opponents several levels above ours, but we assume that this is something that will become more balanced over time.
Mortal Kombat X has plenty of quality content, but it would be irrelevant if the gameplay didn't live up to everything else. Fortunately, Mortal Kombat X does a great job of fulfilling this essential requirement.
The gameplay follows what has been the series' DNA, opting for a system that is heavier and more impactful than what you usually find in the Japanese fighting games. If you are coming from Street Fighter, Tekken or even Dead or Alive, you may need some time to adjust to the rhythm of Mortal Kombat. Netherrealm dispenses some of the fluidity of movement in exchange for animations that have greater weight behind them. In Mortal Kombat X, you feel every punch and kick.
There are various combinations, special moves and Fatalities to memorise, and that's across a cast of 24 characters (you can also buy more via DLC). The big news is the introduction of multiple fighting styles, three per fighter.
Each fighter has their base moves and specials, but the styles allow the chosen fighter to specialise in several areas. Let us look at Sub-Zero as an example: You can choose Grandmaster, allowing the player to invoke an ice statue and toss it, Cryomancer has the power to create ice weapons, and Unbreakable conjures a protective aura and an ice barrier. This means you can choose an attack style, a defensive style, or something in between. It's an excellent addition to the series.
Returning in Mortal Kombat X are the Brutalities, and these can be activated if you meet certain criteria during combat (say, using a particular blow several times and ending with it). These are not as interesting as the Fatalities, but they are an extra way to humiliate your opponent.
Back are the X-ray attacks, devastating blows you can use when there's three energy bars available (which also serve to enable more powerful versions of special moves and counter-attacks). These X-ray attacks are delicious from a visual perspective, barbaric even, but during online fighting online, they may seem a little unfair, given the absurd amount of damage they cause. These sequences also last for several seconds, and it can become frustrating to have to watch them without any chance to counter. Of course everything changes if you're the one dishing it out...
It's also necessary to praise the visual quality of the game (we reviewed off the PlayStation 4 version). Character models are very detailed, but the highlight really are the arenas, which are phenomenal. And they don't merely look great, they're also interactive - you can jump on top of cars, crush an opponent's head on a statue, or even weaponise a poor old woman who is attending the fight, throwing her at your adversary.
Mortal Kombat X is a superb fighting game. The combat system is excellent, and respectful towards the legacy of the series. The cast is vast and varied, and it's packed with content that seemingly never ends. Whether for the solo player, or for those out there who like to challenge others, there is plenty to do in Mortal Kombat X. It marks a confident step forward for the fighting genre, but one that doesn't forget its roots.