From a gameplay perspective, Mortal Kombat X — that's the letter X, not the Roman numeral 10, though this is the tenth entry in the series — easily eclipses everything that's come before it. NetherRealm has taken all that they learned in the making of 2011's Mortal Kombat and Injustice: Gods Among Us to create an MK experience to appeal to both casual and hardcore fans.
While the game isn't without its shortcomings, experience (and the power of the current generation of consoles) has allowed NetherRealm to craft the Mortal Kombat title fans have been dreaming of since 1992.
Right away, you'll spot Mortal Kombat X's most significant feature: The ability to choose between three distinct fighting style variations for each character. This isn't the first time a Mortal Kombat game has featured variable styles for its cast, but here the freedom to change up your approach has a huge impact on how many of the characters play. For instance, one of Kitana's fighting style variants gives her all of Jade's special moves. In essence, Kitana becomes Jade when using that variant. Not all of the variants offer such dramatic flexibility, and you can't change between styles mid-match as you could in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Deception, but having three options per character adds considerable depth to the game.
Mortal Kombat X launches with 25 playable characters, one of whom (Goro) was available as a preorder bonus and for purchase post-launch. Additionally, four DLC characters have been announced, including the guest characters Jason Voorhees and the Predator. Despite this sizable roster, some players are bound to be disappointed by conspicuously absent fan-favorites. Most of the heavy-hitters such as Scorpion and Sub-Zero are included, but many are nowhere to be seen. There are no cyber-ninjas to speak of, and the highly requested Wind God, Fujin, is also absent from the playable roster.
The missing characters wouldn't be a huge concern but for the fact that some of them are not only seen in the story mode, you even fight against them. These computer-only characters have just one fighting style apiece, but they also feature fully detailed character models, and their special moves are just as impressive as the playable cast. Their absence as playable fighters is sure to upset some fans when they see their character of choice restricted to story mode. To add to that frustration, the game features the offspring of many characters that play somewhat similarly to their parents. A bit more variety would've been nice to see.
One of the most impressive aspects of 2011's Mortal Kombat was its story mode, which was the best story mode ever seen in a fighting game. In fact, it remain unmatched to this day. Mortal Kombat X picks up right where the last game ends, taking the series' plotline 25 years into the future. While the story mode isn't quite as lengthy as it was in the previous game, its brevity mainly comes from the fact there are no random battles unrelated to the story to pad its length. Compared to its predecessor, MKX plays out as a focused effort that cuts the filler battles to take players through 12 chapters of impressive cinematic storytelling.
The story shifts seamlessly from cut-scenes into battles, making for fluid cinematic presentation. This is aided by a significant graphical leap over the last MK title. The character models are extremely detailed, but more impressively characters animate smoothly and in a fairly lifelike fashion for the first time in the history of the franchise. There's still a bit of the trademark Mortal Kombat stiffness in a few of the character animations, but overall this is easily the best the series has ever looked or moved. The character models and backgrounds top those seen in Killer Instinct, with particle effects equal to, if not better than, any other recent fighting game release.
In addition to the story mode, Mortal Kombat X comes packed full of alternate gameplay modes ranging from Challenge Towers to five-on-five online Team Battles. The Challenge Towers offer a typical Mortal Kombat ladder, with players fighting through opponents to reach the top. You can also play through a Test Your Might tower which features the classic mini-game from the first Mortal Kombat with increasing difficulty as you advance up the tower. By far the craziest mode in Mortal Kombat X is Test Your Luck, which allows players to select numerous modifiers to create completely ridiculous match environments. You can spice up battles with everything from random portals showing up to the screen flashing to black every few seconds. The more modifiers you add to a match, the more unpredictable things get.
The online modes are aided by the addition of something called the Faction War. When you first start the game, you must choose one of five factions. As you play online (or offline) matches and perform Fatalities, Brutalities, and Faction Kills, you'll earn points that increase your Faction Rank. Every point you earn increases the total number of points for your faction. At the end of every week the faction with the highest points earns special perks. It's a unique way of introducing experience points into the game and giving players something to strive toward, but it doesn't really add much to the moment-to-moment play aside from the unique Faction Kill Fatalities.
Nearly every mode supports online play: King of the Hill, Team Battle, online practice, it's all here. Thankfully, MKX's net code is the best yet seen in the series. Playing against competitors within a few hundred miles results in a smooth experience that feels almost as good as the net code in Killer Instinct, Soul Calibur V, or Tekken Tag Tournament 2. While not perfect, you'll be able to pull off combos without too much trouble.
For competitive players, any match denoted with a green connection will provide solid online practice. You won't be able to block fast attacks on-reaction, and run-cancel combos will be difficult to pull off, but anything that doesn't require extremely specific timing is easy to perform in the best online conditions. Anything less than a green connection is problematic, however. A player in California facing off against someone in Texas will get an orange connection; and while the game may look smooth, it will suffer from considerable input delay. California to New York will give most players a poor connection roughly comparable to playing 2011's Mortal Kombat online — which is to say, it's worthless for competitive players. Overall, the net code isn't as good as the best online fighting games, but as long as you're playing someone relatively close-by it's a very enjoyable experience.
Mortal Kombat X comes packed with a ton of content. Admittedly, many of the extras (concept art, alternate costumes) are unlocked in the Krypt using in-game currency, but despite those conditions this is easily the most enjoyable Mortal Kombat title to date. Even with its shortcomings (a brief story mode, imperfect net code, missing characters), players would be hard-pressed to say MKX isn't the best Mortal Kombat has to offer. Even little details such as the dialogue between characters, unique to each pairing, add quite a bit to the experience. In all, it's a must-have title for any MK fan. On top of that, it makes for a solid addition to the competitive scene and should enjoy a long tournament life for competitive players.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Character models and stage backgrounds impress, though some animations seem a bit stiff. Besides a few low-resolution story mode models, this is the best-looking MK title to date.
- Sound: NetherRealm continues to falter when it comes to sound design. While sound effects are crisp and clear, the music is muted — though the music sounds good when you can hear it.
- Interface: Fairly straightforward, with a ton of practice options for casual and competitive players alike. It would be nice if the practice mode retained your settings, but otherwise everything is easy to navigate — impressive, given the number of options available.
- Lasting appeal: With solid net code, a ton of gameplay modes, and DLC characters due in the coming months, there's a lot of replay value. However, the single-player experience suffers from a brief story mode, and the Challenge Towers will only last you so long.