I go back a long ways with Mortal Kombat. I remember playing the first one around the same time Street Fighter 2 hit the arcades. I used to go to a local 7-11 to play both, depending on which friends were with me. The two cabinets stood side-by-side, waiting to eat quarters. I've never been terribly good at 1-on-1 fighter games. Unlike something like Madden or NBA 2K where I tend to mop up most people I play against, my results in 1-on-1 fighting games are more middle of the road. But, I do enjoy them all the same, and I've been anxiously awaiting this reboot. Why is it considered a reboot?
Well, there's been about a zillion Mortal Kombat games now, and their storyline has become increasingly ridiculous over the last few releases. In my opinion, their crossover with DC Universe was not their most ridiculous storyline. That should say something right there. So, the idea is that Raiden sends a cryptic message back in time to himself, to try and prevent the atrocities to come. Essentially then, we get a reboot of Mortal Kombats 1, 2 and 3, starting just before the first battle in the first game. Sort of a Star Trek reboot if you will. The downtime with the PSN made it hard for me to give the online modes much playtime before they went crazy, so I really can't comment on how laggy it is or is not, or how the lobby looks personally. Local against a friend is ideal here. Let's go ahead and break this game down then.
Graphics - 8:
The actual fighting looks so much better than the storyline cut scenes. Characters feel tiff as they move about, and the textures just feel a bit lacking. That said, the overall game itself looks great. Characters are well-detailed when fighting, they move fluidly, torn clothing and bloody bruises accumulate over play (something I noticed in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe last week too, but much more gruesome here). And the fatalities and X-ray attacks? Those are wince-inducing fun as you spill buckets of the red stuff (there's eve an achievement that tracks how much blood in pints you've spilled). There are some odd clipping issues with some of the fatalities, and while they're not a deal breaker by any means, they did bug me a bit.
Two examples are when Kabal does this fatality where he disembowels his opponent and jams his hook blades into the ground for the person to fall onto. Well.. I mean, they're rounded hooks at the end, so the person's shoulders should be slamming into them, not impaling. Another is a fatality where a head is ripped off by Kano and shoved into the loser's chest. A character with long hair like Sindel will see their hair poking out through the body. Small things, but they seem a bit odd when they occur.
Sound & Music - 9:
The voice acting is actually pretty good for the storyline mode, and the narrator with the end segments of arcade mode does a good job. There are a lot of sound effects in the game, and they sound great. Kicks, slashes and thuds all resonate with a certain weight to their impact that fits the combat perfectly Fighting Cyrex as a cyborg, your punch to his chest is rewarded with a nice-sounding metallic clank. Combat special moves from fireballs to bladed fans sound good when soaring through the air.
The music is not terribly memorable, but it is pretty good and usually fits the action pretty well. There's a bit of nostalgia value in there as well. Hearing 'flawless victory' 'fatality' and 'fight' all sounded good and succeeded in taking me back to high school when I used to play this game.
Gameplay - 8:
The fighting engine is very solid. They opted for 2-D over 3-D in terms of execution, which I think was a good choice. There are some pseudo 3-D effects, like when Raiden barrels into an opponent and drives them to the other side of the screen, the scene tilts and pans a bit to give a sense of depth. The fighting feels like there is actual weight to it, and that's a credit to both the control scheme and collision detection (and works wonders with the sound).
There are several good tutorials, including a fatality one which is awesome for people who want to use a character through the arcade mode and perform fatalities. There is also a fairly lengthy and entertaining story mode. Like Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, you are thrust into the role of a new character every chapter, and staged fights against storyline-provided characters carry the story and action forward. I really would love to see this show up in more games. Some games like Tekken and Street Fighter have so many characters and releases, that it would be nice to have this sort of 'canon' approach to the storyline.
There are new X-Ray attacks as well. Like most fighting games, you have a sort of super bar or gauge that fills up over the course of combat from things like performing special moves or getting beaten up. This allows you to unlock special moves like combo breaking counters, or extremely powerful X-Ray attacks. I think of them almost as mini-fatalities. They do a substantial amount of damage and try to depict the internal damage being done. They're fully scripted series of 2 or 3 attacks you chain together on your opponent (if you land them). They are suitably gruesome looking. This game strove for an M rating, and earned it. I play it at night when my youngest is in bed.
It's not all perfect, however. I hear people complaining a lot about how the bosses 'break the rules' - and that is true, but not exactly something new to the game. Those big goofy bosses have been around since the original. Truth be told, that happens in some other games too, like Tekken or Marvel vs. Capcom, so it doesn't bug me as much here as it does so many other people. Are Shao Kahn and Goro cheap? Absolutely. Those did not bother me quite as much as when I was in storyline mode, and being subjected to tag-teams while fighting them solo, or near the end where you are faced with fighting 3 combatants in a row without any health recovery while negating any 'stored' X-Ray bar energy with each new combatant. That was some tough stuff there, and probably a bit unfairly so.
Intangibles - 9:
There is a lot of game here. consider the modes alone:
Test your sight/might/luck
Online (which has some one-on-one and king of the hill modes)
There is also a krypt with a ton of unlockable content ranging from music tracks, to alternate costumes, to concept art and move. It takes a while to get through all of that.
Arcade mode is simply taking your fighter through a random assortment of enemies to get their end scene, which is sparsely animated with some voice narration over top of it.
Tag-team is just what you would expect, where you choose 2 fighters and tag in and out.
Challenge tower is interesting. It starts off akin to a training mode, teaching you basics for some characters, but it presents a pretty diverse range of challenges. Some of these challenges do work better than others though. For example, one challenge you are using ranged attacks to ward off encroaching enemies - it's more of a pattern recognition and timing mini-game than anything, and I didn't like that much.
But there is another where you fight Reptile,and he can only be hurt when visible. He will try to go invisible a ton, but one of your special attacks will break his invisibility and open him up to your attacks for a brief time.
There is a lot of hidden content as well. I've read about several 'secret battles' - and I've in fact unlocked one against Noob (not sure how I did it yet). And let me tell you, these secret battles? Not easy. I've run into Noob twice, and he absolutely destroyed me the first time and narrowly beat me the 2nd. Also, while there are no interactions with the environment during combat, some of the stages do have specific fatalities built into them (two I saw included me being uppercut off of a bridge and onto spikes well below, and the other was my character being thrown head-first into a living tree trunk that gladly proceeded to eat me).
The PS3 version comes with Kratos as a playable character - I've read about the 360 options but can't really speak to them. I will say that Kratos is a great fit. His games are bloody and violent as can be, and that translates well here. As I've been playing God of War collection a bit on the side, I can appreciate his insertion probably a bit more than usual. Still, he's a much more organic fit for this game than the inclusion of Yoda, Starkiller and Darth Vader in Soul Calibur 4 when that came out.
Overall - 8.5:
I really have been enjoying this game. How much have I been playing? Well, I beat story mode, I beat ladder with everyone, unlocked pretty much everything and have gotten more than halfway through the challenge tower. My hope is the online stuff will get a bit better later, because that will help me to continue playing the game when I've exhausted all of the single player content, which I've nearly done.
Again, it really is worth mentioning, but this game fully embraces its M rating. If you have younger kids, not even close to appropriate. Bones are broken, limbs are cut off, skin is burned off, screaming endures and women tend to have more visible skin than clothing.