Deadly Execution – ‘Mortal Kombat X’ Review

Tasteful character design, polished kombatant and level design make MKX the premiere next-gen brawler.

For many years, Mortal Kombat and developer NetherRealm were in a slump with their fighting games. In 2011, they decided to go for a full reboot of the franchise for Mortal Kombat 9. Continuing that legacy, Mortal Kombat X builds on previous iterations’ successes while also borrowing ideas from 2013’s Injustice franchise. The result is one of the best fighting games in recent history.

Story

Like all of the developer’s recent releases, Mortal Kombat X features a full fleshed out story mode that attempts to give reason for its brutal throwdowns.

In MKX’s story, NetherRealm attempted to create a plot that would justify retiring some old characters and introduce their children as the next generation of Mortal Kombat fighters. Because of this direction, the four-hour story has several time leaps that make much of what’s happening somewhat disorienting. Some characters that are mortal like Johnny Cage look older as time moves forward which acts as a clear indicator of what era you’re fighting in, but scenes that feature immortal kombatants like Raiden feel a little more disorienting. This led to a story that, while stylistically impressive, felt lost. More often than not, the flashbacks and flashforwards felt like a reason to justify replaying the same stages repeatedly.

A screen grab of the next generation of Mortal Kombat fighters
A screen grab of the next generation of Mortal Kombat fighters.

While the stories overarching plot felt serviceable at best, the characters new and old were exceptional. For the first time in the franchise, most female kombatants ditched the skimpy, objectifying outfits for something practical. On top of that, all the female leads were unique and weren’t ever characters to rescue. I distinctly remember female characters jumping in to save their male counterparts in more than one instance. Additionally, one of the new kombatants in MKX is gay – a first in the series. While this decision by NetherRealm may not be noticed by many, I was happy to see that characters didn’t fall back on predictable and offensive tropes.

Another complaint I had with the story was the featuring of non-playable characters as kombatants. Obviously, having fan service for characters that haven’t been seen for a couple iterations is an appreciated gesture, but if they’re willing to bring in a character to fight against in the story, why not add them to the playable roster? This move by NetherRealm was either foolish or a hint at extra DLC they plan to sell later down the road. Either way, if I have to fight Baraka twice in your story on two separate occasions, why can’t I fight as him online?

The storyline may pale in comparison to previous NetherRealm titles, but the way characters are treated was a great surprise. I am ecstatic to see the studio take a leap in the right direction as far as female character design goes.

Gameplay

The hallmark of the Mortal Kombat franchise is brutal, unforgiving combat. In this regard, MKX absolutely delivers the best (and most graphic) fighting in franchise history. The game features 24 playable characters all of which feel completely unique from one another. You have the standard light, medium and heavy kombatants fans can expect, but on top of that, the game features three unique move sets for each character. One of the three is a set similar to a previous character play style and the other two are more experimental. While the roster may not be as large as previous games in the series, the inclusion of these move set variants prevents fatigue from fighting with or against a certain player frequently. In the time I’ve had with the game, I never felt like I was sick of playing as a character simply because I could change how they played each fight.

The full MKX roster. Note the character move set variant on the left.
The full MKX roster. Note the character move set variant on the left.

On top of awesome fighter variants, the game also features a huge amount of brutalities and fatalities that fans have come to expect. When you lose a match and your opponent chops your body into several pieces in disgusting detail, it feels humiliating. Of course, that sense of humiliation only serves to elevate the feeling of accomplishment when a rematch allows you to return the favor.

As previously stated, one of my gripes with the game is the small number of levels the game features. The 10 or so levels MKX launches with are all of great design, but I have to admit that by the end of the four hour story, I was ready for a break from the game because I was sick of playing in the same locales. Luckily, to help level fatigue, Mortal Kombat X’s stages have interactive elements that spruce up each battle. Sometimes it will be a wall that allows you to launch out of a corner you’re pinned to – other times, it will be a praying Buddhist monk that can be thrown at your opponent. Although stage interactivity has been a feature in previous NetherRealm games, it feels like the developer really hit their stride this iteration.

Graphics and Performance

To start this off, the version of MKX used for this review was an Xbox One copy. Because of that, I can’t comfortably state how other platforms performed, but I’d imagine things weren’t too different.

The first thing I noticed right away in the very first fight I played was the stunning graphics. Yes, the kombatants are beautifully rendered and have extreme detail, but even the stages were presented in a gorgeous way. Simply put, it is obvious that every fighter and stage was a labor of love, and it shows.

Raiden_Scorpion_LightningHand_SnowForest.0
Scorpion and Raiden throwing down on the same map from last year’s reveal trailer.

As far as performance goes, there weren’t any glaring issues. Load screens are infrequent, and when they do exist, they’re incredibly brief. For example, when you select ‘Continue’ for story mode, there isn’t a quick break to a load screen; it just instantly starts playing a cutscene where the game will load for a short duration. From there, you can finish the scene or hit the button prompt to skip right to the action. One of the features I wanted from next-gen was no load screens (or very few of them) and MKX is the first game I can think of that truly succeeds in that regard.

I am happy to report that every match I played felt buttery smooth with no drops during heavy fighting. However, at the end of each match just before the ‘Finish Him’ prompt, I would notice a half second frame pause that was just long enough to be annoying. This didn’t ruin the game’s immersion, but if this issue could be fixed via patch, it would be for the betterment of the title.

Verdict

Ultimately, Mortal Kombat X is the absolute best fighter that has come to next-gen. It is the most polished Mortal Kombat in the franchise history, and it deserves to be played by gamers who love brawlers. The extremely brief and convoluted story may not be very rich in plot, but character writing and design was leaps and bounds superior to any other game in the series.

For many gamers, $60 is a lot to drop for a fighting game, and I totally understand that line of thinking. Gamers who are coming to Mortal Kombat for the full experience won’t be disappointed by the amount of content in the title, but for those coming to the newest iteration solely for story, the asking price may be a bit steep.

Mortal Kombat X isn’t perfect, but it is the definitive game in the franchise and performs a fatality on every other brawler on the market today.

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