Before we begin, here. There you are. Your ears are now prepared.
If we’re going to talk about Mortal Kombat X, there is probably one thing we need to talk about more than anything: the streaming system.
Mortal Kombat X is using a new function of Steam, wherein a small part of the game downloads, and the rest of the game is then added in as DLC that downloads while you play. The idea behind this is that you can play around with some functions of the game without having to wait for the entire download.
The (very obvious) downside is that this was apparently also enabled for pre-loads, so anyone who purchased early downloaded a 3GB file, and then (as I understand it) had to download the remaining 27GB once the game was actually out. Which is a very interesting definition of “pre-load.”
The downside that’s less immediately obvious is that, uh, the streaming system didn’t exactly work.
I was downloading it long after people had already been complaining about this on the internet, so I decided not to jump in immediately after my initial 3GB download finished, and instead grabbed the first 10 (of 29) “install” DLCs. These 29 DLCs varied between about 200MB and 400MB, barring the final one which was 10GB and I think was the game’s Story Mode.
Pressing “Play” brought up a launcher window asking me if I wanted to play or configure. I opted for Configure. It immediately closed with an error message.
So, okay, I’ll just play the game and worry about configuring it all later. The usual publisher and developer intros popped up, and hooray, I have access to the title screen. I was then introduced to the Faction War, which is an interesting little feature – you pick one of five factions, and everything you do in the game contributes to their points in some sort of big online competition. At the end of the war, all players in the winning faction get rewards. I picked a faction mostly at random, and once on the title screen, went into the options to check things out.
The game closed with an error message.
The idea seems to be that anything which has yet to download is locked off; I couldn’t, for instance, access the Story Mode at all. The problem is that Mortal Kombat X seems to be a little unsure about what should actually be locked off. The other problem is that, even when it works, it seems to be beset with problems; I managed to get through the tutorial and mess around with a couple of single fights, but these tended to suffer big framerate drops… which actually disappeared once the entire game had finished downloading. Hmm.
So yeah, the “streaming gameplay” system doesn’t actually work that well. Sorry. (And the Configure option still appears to do nothing, so I can only assume it’s either broken or it does some sort of automatic configuration.)
With that out of the way and the game fully installed, though: how are things? Well, let’s have a look at the options first, complete with a FRAPS FPS counter in the corner because I’m an idiot.
You’ve got a generalised set of video options that let you adjust the brightness, contrast, and gamma so that everything is actually visible on screen, which I greatly appreciate because it means I can play this with the sun shining through the window. In terms of PC specific options, though, there’s this lot:
That’s basically what I’m running with. Most of them won’t go too much higher – Anti-Aliasing really does appear to only have “Off” or “FXAA”, unless I’m missing something, and while I can turn up the Anisotropic Filtering a bit more or raise the Shadow Quality another step, what you see is pretty much what you get. We’ll talk about how it all runs and looks a little bit later, though. (And no, Window Boxing does not let you punch Windows.)
Let’s have a quick looksee at the controls. First: I took this screenshot about 30 seconds before typing this sentence, and after I took the screenshot, the game crashed. So, uh, still some stability issues, apparently.
That’s a pretty good set of control options, although it’s worth noting that I’m definitely more of a casual fighting game person than a hardcore type. Still, you’ve got a few little tweakables there that’ll hopefully give you the opportunity to play how you want.
There are also full, redefinable keyboard controls. I’ve done a match with the keyboard, and while I’d say it’s hardly ideal compared to a solid fighting stick (or even a gamepad), it’s… probably playable? I mean, you do at least get a bit of precision with WASD or the arrow keys, so if you can get your head around the buttons then you could probably manage okay. I’m tempted to try it more in future but, honestly, using a gamepad is just simpler.
So the options get an “eh, they’re alright”, although I’d probably be a bit happier if Grand Theft Auto 5 hadn’t spoiled me a couple of days ago. It’s an okay set of graphical options, and I’m always pleased to see customisable keyboard controls, so… yeah, I’m relatively happy.
I’m definitely happy with how it looks. The cutscenes are all a bit fuzzy (I’d guess they were recorded at 720p, because they really don’t look like they’re rendered on-the-fly with your graphical settings) but the actual game itself is very, very pretty. I’m one of those people who takes screenshots a moment too late, accidentally gets a close-up shot of someone’s arm, and then spends the next few minutes going “Oooh, that’s a pretty arm”, so… indulge me.
Oooh, that’s a pretty arm. Yes, okay, the motion blur looks a bit uneven in the still shot because half of the arm is moving quite quickly and the other half is mostly stationary, but holy shit, the individual threads in the clothing. That’s a really nice bit of texturing, there.
My former framerate woes have abated, too, but I’m a bit worried that I don’t know why. It’s possible that my initial problems were something to do with the rest of the game still being downloaded (or the game incorporating it in, on the fly), but… well. The framerate still drops a lot during the pre-match introductions/conversations/threats, which is probably while the game is loading in all of the high-res assets, but it’s fine by the time the match itself actually starts.
What worries me is that this might actually be pure luck, and if I had a slightly less powerful PC (i7-3820, 16GB RAM, 2GB GeForce GTX 670) then the framerate issues would actually continue through the start of the match. Lowering the detail didn’t seem to help; if anything, the problems persisted a little bit longer with everything turned down to zero, with the first few seconds of the match running at 40FPS instead of 60. I mean… that’s still not bad, but individual frames matter quite a lot in fighting games. It got there pretty fast, but the optimisation may still need a bit of work.
It’s worth noting that I suffered massive framerate problems for one match after writing the bulk of this article and getting some more screenshots. I don’t know if Firefox and Skype were eating up a tonne of resources in the background, but the framerate went through the floor.
For the sake of it, here are a couple of screens of the game running on lowest detail…
… followed by a few of it running on my usual settings. And for what it’s worth, this particular Sonya variation is wearing camo paint on her face. She’s not just in need of a shower.
As ever, this isn’t a review, but I’m quite taken with the actual game. There’s a large-ish cast of characters, who share enough similarities that they’re easy to pick up, but who appear to fight quite differently, and all of them have three variations that mix up their moves and styles. There’s that whole Faction War metagame, a bunch of hourly/daily/weekly challenges in terms of “towers” that offer different opponents with different modifiers so that you can indirectly TEST YOUR MIGHT against the world through leaderboards, a story mode, online multiplayer…
Oh, yes, online multiplayer. I did try that, but only very briefly. It seems to go for the “lower the framerate when there’s lag” method, which meant my one match was played at around 20FPS with a degree of controller lag. Playable once I got used to it, but not ideal. I’ll experiment with this more in the future, obviously; it might’ve just been a very bad match-up. And then it quit to desktop when I tried returning to the main menu.
Finally, there’s this:
If you can excuse the pre-load/streaming download debacle, Mortal Kombat X doesn’t seem to be a particularly bad port. The framerate issues are worrying, and I’m somewhat afraid that anyone with a less powerful computer will have a very bad time, but I’ll need to read up on the issues faced by others and possibly try the game out on my (less powerful) laptop to get a proper sense of it.
For now, the port gets a cautious sideways thumb, and that’s only because I didn’t pre-order so I’m not totally pissed off at the streaming system, and I haven’t had issues since downloading the whole thing.
It’s got some scalability and a few little features I like, and it really does look quite special. On the other hand, the framerate issues really worry me because a constant framerate is of utmost importance in this genre, and that really does overshadow most of the positives. So, too, does the general performance in terms of the occasional crashes; I’ve seen three so far, and even excluding the one from before I’d downloaded the entire thing, that’s far too many for 90 minutes of runtime. Effort has clearly gone into the PC port, but at this point, I’m not sure it’s particularly well optimised for the platform, nor does it appear stable. For now, I’d suggest caution rather than an outright purchase – NetherRealm are apparently working on it.
As for the game? Give it time. I really do like what I’ve seen, but then, I’ve only played it for just over an hour, so I’m not throwing out any proper judgments just yet.