Each fight is a solid balance of technique which pushes players to learn the underlying mechanics
When it comes to the classic videogame experience there are few players who would question the importance of the 1 V 1 fighting game. Since IK+ and Way of the Exploding Fist first gave us the chance to punch each other in the head it has become a rite of passage for any gamer worth their salt to defeat all-comers in a knockout competition. While Street Fighter brought the genre to the forefront of players’ minds and defined the expectations of a generation, the game which became the most well-known and notorious was Mortal Kombat.
I can still remember when the first Mortal Kombat launched back in the early 90s (1992, if I’m not mistaken). Every arcade going was packed full of rowdy players clamoring for a turn and (despite looking outdated by today’s standards) the digitized characters were something to marvel at. Up until this point most games had stylized, cartoonish graphics but advancements in video capture allowed for characters who looked and moved in an almost life-like manner. Seeing the characters sway back and forth in their stances made them seem real and the unique decision to include lashings of OTT blood and gore meant that the whole experience was a massively visceral affair. Throw into the mix the notorious ‘pit’ level and, of course, the infamous ‘fatality’ moves at the end of a bout and this was destined to engrave itself into the annals of gaming history from the beginning.
Back then the mechanics of the game were pretty basic, but that didn’t take away the fun factor which came from jump-kicking and upper-cutting your friends from side-to-side. Fast forward 27 years and a lot has changed along the way. MK11 takes everything that fans love and cranks up the insanity on just about every level, but it is very much the same game we have always enjoyed. Bouts are fast-paced and brutal, with every hit landing with a real sense of weight, and the balance of characters works really well to ensure that matches are fair and even. Few games have managed to deliver the feeling of pain seen in this series and the continued inclusion of X-ray moves from MKX (now called ‘Fatal Blows’) is bound to deliver some genuine winces of pain from those playing or spectating (a great bonus in the age of streaming and competitions being broadcast live). Trigger warning: this is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish.
Each fight is a solid balance of technique which pushes players to learn the underlying mechanics and moves fully to ensure that they have a fighting chance in the arena. Button mashers are likely to find themselves struggling to gain ground against any player worth their salt, but players of similar abilities can find hours of entertainment even without digging deep into the countering and juggling potential on offer. There are plenty of character-specific special moves to gawp at, but even the simplest combos can cause a decent amount of damage once you learn about judging distances and timing. The full complement of tutorials is well worth investing your time in if you are planning to venture online (or even onto the more challenging levels of difficulty) but most players will feel instantly comfortable when they first pick up the pad and prepare to fight.
Many of the fan-favorite characters are back for more (although there are a few notable absences which may return as DLC at a later date) and the new additions help to keep things fresh, meaning anyone who has had even limited contact with one of the games in the series is likely to feel at home from the off. When you consider how fighting games have evolved from their 2D origins it’s surprising to see that many of the games in this genre still feel flat in terms of their characters’ sense of character, but, aside from one or two little slips, the acting is of a surprisingly good standard for a fighting game and this helps to lift the sometimes-ridiculous narrative into something far more enjoyable and engaging. It’s a real shame that someone decided to give the role of Sonya Blade (one of the original and best-loved characters for the old-school gamers) to Ronda Rousey who literally has no idea of what acting is and should probably never (ever) get involved in a videogame project again. Honestly, she is horrendously bad. On the flip side of that is the sheer genius of Johnny Cage and how he interacts with everyone (including himself and the player) in a flawless fashion.
For many games in this genre, the idea of a cohesive storyline is often pushed to the side-lines, yet Mortal Kombat has always been heavily invested in the surrounding lore of the war between Earth and the Netherealm. Over the years, this lore has expanded and explored innumerate links between parallel universes, warring factions, fragile alliances and now we see this expanded further to include the pitfalls of time travel and manipulation. The team behind the game obviously take great pride in bringing their creations to life and the cinematics which tie the whole affair together are gloriously ludicrous, ludicrously gory and often downright hilarious. This is a series which looks to serve the fans exactly what they want and many of us are likely to view this as the ultimate MK experience.
If you like a bit of variety then there are a few game modes on offer here to keep things fresh, but it is worth noting that one part is not quite as polished as the rest: Towers of Time is a bit broken, but it is in the process of being fixed by the developers so hold out for the ongoing updates if you get frustrated with the difficulty spikes. Beyond this it’s the usual choice of story or versus on offer along with the revamped version of The Krypt. The Krypt encourages you to explore the island belonging to Shang Tsung (the original bad guy from way back when) so that you can discover secrets and unlock various items with in-game challenges and currency. This is a fun diversion from the endless decapitations and disembowelling but it’s more of a fun distraction than anything truly significant, so don’t come expecting the full-blown RPG-lite which they introduced a few games ago.
Overall, this is a staggeringly good game in its own right and when its pedigree (and the ups and downs we have seen over the years) is considered the team behind MK11 should be very proud of their achievements. It feels fresh and new without breaking the mold and delivers one of the most rewarding and well-balanced fighting games currently available. Look beyond the tabloid-baiting violence and you’ll find an absolute belter here.