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Mortal Kombat

Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Fighting/ Online/ Classic/Retro


Graphics & Sound:

In my opinion, Mortal Kombat is more beautiful than it has ever been -- that is, if blood, gore, bruises and missing fleshy bits can be described as "beautiful." While sexuality in the game is no worse than some skimpy outfits that hide all of the naughty bits, Mortal Kombat earns its Mature rating with its trademark finishing moves, new "X-Ray" moves, which reveal the internal damage caused by certain, specific moves, a la C.S.I. or John Woo's Romeo Must Die and damage effects, which contribute both a fair share of the gore and some of the above-mentioned skimpy outfits.

However, despite breaking out into 3D arenas in previous games, Mortal Kombat features beautiful 3D models for characters and environments, but limits the arena to a 2D area, as in the Mortal Kombat games of yesteryear.

The musical scores are varied, with a good selection of background music (one per stage) and the voicework is well done, with some characteristic sayings for intros, finishes, some special moves and the like, and a good bit of dialogue in the Story Mode. The sound effects are nicely done, with realistic grunts, punches and bone-cracking sounds and match the timing of the action. The fighting moves and the amount of blood may be over-the-top, but the attacks certainly look and sound real enough.


Gameplay:

Mortal Kombat games have, historically, been more about playing against another player than the single-player experience. This latest incarnation of Mortal Kombat, however, has a nice, lengthy Story Mode that basically relives the history of all of the prior Mortal Kombat games, filling in some blanks, explaining some things here and there and creating a single flowing story of the various events in the Mortal Kombat universe. In the process of progressing through this Story Mode, you'll control basically every fighter that has ever fought on the side of the Earth Realm, each playing their part in progressing the overall story. This works well as a way to allow the player to sample a large number of different playable characters, rather than allowing the player to stick to a single character and master just their moves.

For the other modes, of which there are many, you'll want to select a fighter (or two) and get real familiar with their moves as you work your way to the top, taking on all challengers, whether it be the familiar Ladder Mode, Tag Ladder Mode, or the new and extremely entertaining King of the Hill Mode, where players who aren't playing can watch an ongoing bout, while their on-screen avatars can give their opinion of the fight.

Oh, and all of your hard work in the various modes of the game is not in vain. For pretty much anything you manage to succeed at, you get awarded Koins. These Koins can be spent in the Krypt... a graveyard area with graves and various tortured souls. For a sum of Koinage, you can destroy a gravestone or kill one of these tortured souls to release special features in the game, which range from speed paintings and fatality stick figure sketches to unlocking alternate costumes and fatality moves for the different characters. The death-by-torture device seems a bit much, in my opinion, but if you want to know how to perform a fatality, you'll need to earn up Koin and spend it to destroy something here and hope you get lucky. At any time, you can view the items you've unlocked by selecting the Necropolis item in the Menu.


Difficulty:

Mortal Kombat has never been a "button-masher" type of fighting game, and the latest installment is no different. However, the sequences required to execute different moves have been toned down a bit, making it a bit easier to pull off some of the special moves. In general, this seems to make the game more approachable.

When playing in Story Mode, there are three different difficulty levels from which to choose, but some Single Player Modes, such as Challenge Tower, come in only one flavor of difficulty. Different players will each have their own things they find to be the most challenging, but these things can be practiced and worked on with the two Practice Modes: the aptly named "Practice," which allows you to try out a character's moves against your choice of foe with your desired amount of fighting back and the "Challenge Tower" Mode, which provides over a hundred different specific challenges, the first of which are tutorials on standard gameplay which each focus on specific aspects of fighting, such as special moves, using the new X-Ray attacks and blocking - or simply avoiding getting hit. In addition, working your way up the Challenge Tower will also unlock higher levels in the Test Your Skills modes. These four skill testing modes each focus on different things, but offer additional challenge for players. Test Your Luck is a versus match, where your opponent and up to 7 gameplay modifiers are randomly rolled. You may, for example, find yourself fighting against Noob with combos disabled and the lights going on and off. Test Your Might will be familiar to fans who have followed the series, and has you mashing buttons quickly to raise a Might meter, then pressing a trigger button to execute a punch through stacked planks of wood... think martial arts-style might exhibition, here. Test Your Sight is an appropriately gory Mortal Kombat version of the ball under the cup game, whereby you have to watch carefully as the cups are shuffled around so you can identify the location of the (eye) ball. Test Your Strike is a slight variation on the Test Your Might game; instead of merely getting your might level above the minimum required threshold, you have to get it into a certain range and keep it there for a certain length of time, testing your precision. The first challenge of all of these skill tests are immediately available, but the more difficult levels must be unlocked first via the Challenge Tower.


Game Mechanics:

If you're looking for bloody, gory fighting, Mortal Kombat has it in spades. The in-depth, fully developed Story Mode does a great job of bringing the events of the series so far together into a cohesive storyline, while also providing a good way for those less familiar with the game to try their hand and a large number of the characters.

One thing that is a bit strange, however, is the way that online access is handled. You must use a special Online Kombat code to unlock the online gameplay modes. This code is included in the purchase of the game, but applies to a single Xbox LIVE account. If you rent Mortal Kombat, the code is most likely already going to have been redeemed, but there is a trial account that can be used to gain 48 hours of online access, so this would mostly hurt renters who intend to rent the game a couple of times (or want to play online for more than 48 hours) and players in the same household who would like to each have their own online accounts. For example, my wife would have to login and play the game under my account to be able to play against others online. And, if that's inconvenient, then you can purchase an Online Kombat account.

With the exception of the online code weirdness, Mortal Kombat is a great game for all of those gamers out there who are mature enough to understand the difference between fantasy and reality and yet still want to see over-the-top gory blood and effects in their fighters. (You know who you are.) This is not, however, a game that should be left around where young kids can get hold of it... and it's up to parents to make sure that you know what you're getting for your kid before you buy it for them. This, for example... um, no.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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