Mortal Kombat Preview
Preview by Greg Knoll
For years Mortal Kombat has been on a downward spiral, suffering from the same affliction many popular titles encounter: a loss of identity. What began as a brutal, no-holds-barred pioneer slowly devolved into a clunky, watered-down mess. Whether the several, sometimes non-violent, directions the game took was an attempt to market it to a wider audience, an effort to be taken seriously or simply a de-sensitized fan base, none can say. It was, however, evident that a change was needed if MK was to survive or even contend with the brilliant Street Fighter IV. So what's the best way to instill new life into a series that has had more disappointing sequels than the Silent Hill franchise?
Strip it down to the bare essentials, those things that made it popular in the first place.
Which is, seemingly, what Netherrealm studios has done with their latest release, the simply named Mortal Kombat.
Like many, I got a chance this week to play around with the demo, and must say that I'm ultimately impressed with what I saw - albeit nervous at the same time. I had heard many rumors that Mortal Kombat was a re-imagining of the first game with a larger roster, enough gore to make Tarantino nauseous and a brand new engine to drive it into your brain. And while the demo didn't reveal anything in regards to the story or how its going to work with so many new characters, it did grant me a very disturbing insight into the core element that made MK popular in the first place: the violence.
Though I only had the opportunity to play with four characters: Mileena, Sub-Zero, Scorpion and Johnny Cage (who's even more of a tool, if that was possible)each with only one Fatality, its evident that Netherrealm has put in the time and effort to make something memorable - whether you want to recall it or not. Most likely, the full version will provide more than one but even those were enough to shock then intrigue me. I won't go over them all, as you really must play this demo and see for yourself, my favorite that I absolutely must mention was Scorpion's. He rips out his sword, slicing horizontal towards his enemys waist so fast that the upper torso lands squarely on the legs and stays there. He completes the same miraculous feat with the victims head, like a building block of body parts, then proceeds to kick the torso, flinging it back and spinning the head high into the air. One last vertical swipe severs the head right down the middle, and the two partsbrain exposedfall to the ground.
It was utterly brutal, a little unnecessary and over-the-top, but it shook and amazed me nonetheless. Its also evidentthrough the CGI preview at the end of the demothere will also be a fair amount of environment Fatalities that go far beyond characters simply falling on spikes. One had a prone Liu Kang struck so hard in the face by a racing taxi it took his head clean off, leaving his tense, twisted corpse twitching. Another showed Scorpion ramming Sub-Zeros face into a pool of magma. When he pulled it away, the face had been completely burned off, the skeletons jaw still clacking and molten lava oozing out his eye sockets.
To further add to the shock value, MK has also added a new element: X-Ray attacks. Any time youre hit or land a blow, it increases your three-sectioned power bar. When one is filled, it allows you to use combo breakers and more devastating special moves like Scorpions flaming spear. When you have three filled, you can execute a very brutal, damaging combo where time slows and the game X-rays the victim to show their skeletal structure and inner organs. Unlike other games, these combos are universal, implemented by pressing the two shoulder buttons simultaneously so youre free to sit back and watch as Sub-zero grabs the other players stomach, freezes it, crushes it and then head butts them in the jaw, shattering it to pieces.
With that one element added to mechanics, several more seem to have been removed. Styles and weapons seem to be missing. The 3-D plane is gone, no longer requiringor better put allowinga player to side step and counter. Theyve also simplified the combos to mixtures of two and three buttons, most of them not requiring any additional responses like pushing forward or back. Such would seem foolish, but in both playing and watching the ending trailer, they appear to have made the combos far more forgiving in terms of customization. Missing a button thats not listed wont always end the comboprovided you find another one that will work, and the once lapse in special move response has been eliminated. If you can program the combination fast enough, you can link special moves to combos, slam someone with Johnnys shadow kick after three hooks, then nail their airborne body with a fireball before they have a chance to defend themselvesor even land. Most of these arent listed, and its hard to say if they will be, but I must say it adds an intriguing and engaging element. It allows the player to experiment and actually immerse themselves into fighting by putting them in control.
But it's there that I wonder how MK will be received by gamers. Will they become enthralled or frustrated at having to learn a new system yet again? And better, how will they go about executing these combos without the ability to side-step and parry, especially if theyre playing someone who lacks any type of stun move? You can jump into the combos much like you could with the old school Mortal Kombat run combos (which I really miss and think that was the closest MK came to having a unique and mature style) but that becomes predictable after a while. Its going to force gamers to develop new techniques and either evolve, or suffer massive defeatperhaps prompting some of them to give up entirely. When you think about it, it truly is a brilliant move. Well, brilliant or stupid. The most renowned fighting games have always required a strong commitment in order to be excelled in and like all fans, MK lovers are no different. I am curious to see if a reinvention of a long-running style is going to invigorate gamers or frustrate them beyond belief. Will they embrace it or shun it?
Based on what Ive seen and played, Im embracing