Mortal Kombat X Review

Be glad: the first draft of this review was a script for a short play in which I met Mortal Kombat X, a wonderful, lovely, witty person – more erudite than initial impressions might lead you to suspect – with a nasty habit of cracking me in the bollocks. Then I decided that if I was going to put on my wank hat and do a concept review, it was going to have to be more entertaining than that.

Still, the point of that play stands. Mortal Kombat X is a really, really good game! It’s well-made, and varied, and has a lot to offer the casual user. It might also have a lot to offer the more hardcore player, but I can’t really comment – I’m nowhere near a good enough fighting game player to offer any sort of critique involving talk of frame traps and cross-ups and the like. I know what they mean, but I’m not the sort of person who notices that sort of thing without serious focus. Sorry, everyone; as much as I love fighting games, I’m not exactly great at them.

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An artist’s impression of Mortal Kombat X PC’s fist connecting with the player’s nuts.

The problem is that the PC version was apparently made by sellotaping the console versions together, writing “PC” on them, and then forcefully ramming them into a computer. It does not work well on PC. So it’s great, except for its habit of forcefully punching you in the nads by glitching out or crashing. Which, unfortunately, is enough of a problem that Mortal Kombat X is really fucking hard to recommend.

If you don’t play many fighting games, then you’d probably expect that it doesn’t have much to offer a solo player; while there are exceptions (BlazBlue, Persona 4 Arena, basically anything else by Arc System Works) most games focus on the multiplayer. That isn’t the case with Mortal Kombat X: solo players have an awful lot to mess around with.

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Happily, one of the early Story Mode chapters has you play as Sub-Zero and kick the ever-living shit out of the new kids. It is remarkably satisfying.

There’s the increasingly ludicrous Story Mode, this time largely focusing on the Cage family’s efforts to stop the naughty Elder God Shinnok from wreaking havoc on the universe. It’s not as entertaining as its predecessors plot (which retold the first three Mortal Kombat games, with an alternate universe/time-travel twist) but it’s servicably silly, and does a decent enough job of introducing you to the new characters. It too routinely delves into “here is the new generation getting some character development and then saving the world through fortunate timing” to be nearly as enjoyable as its predecessor, though.

There’s the obligatory training mode and single fight modes, letting you test out characters or just have a pre-determined bash against AI foes. There’s the standard Tower mode, which pits you against random foes in a battle to the end.

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The motion blur has made it a little bit hard to get decent, in-battle screenshots.

Then there are the quirkier Tower modes. Test Your Might has you button-mash your way to victory by smashing through increasingly impossible blocks. Test Your Luck adds random modifiers to the battle, and we’ll be talking about that in more detail shortly. Endless has you defeat as many opponents as you can without losing, and Survival is much the same, only your health carries over from battle to battle, and you can only gain more by being really good. And you can randomly generate a tower and then challenge friends to best your scores on it, if you like.

Then there are the Living Towers, three specific Towers that rotate on a time frame – hourly, daily, and weekly – offering different challenges and, again, leaderboards.

And then there’s the Faction meta-game. On first launching Mortal Kombat X you’re asked to pick one of five factions, and from then on, basically everything you do earns you faction experience and earns your faction some points. Each week, the faction with the most points gets rewards, and there are a variety of game modes specifically associated with this metagame; there are War Towers, where the dominant faction has to retain their superiority, or invasions, forcing you to survive against incredibly hard opponents to earn a handful of points. Etc. Etc.

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The Krypt is really quite lovely. I mean, it’s desolate and creepy, but exploring its environs and choosing what to unlock was a nice five-minute break from the FIST-BASED MURDER of the rest of the game, every now and then.

And that’s just the single-player. That’s not even going into the Krypt, a Legend of Grimrock-esque first-person explor-athon where you spend Koins (earned by doing basically anything) to unlock concept art, skins, extra Fatalities, and so on. I could’ve done without the giant spider QTEs, but I actually quite like the Krypt itself; it’s vastly superior to the one from Mortal Kombat 9, although some would likely prefer to just select their unlocks from a list.

Oh, and each of the characters – of which there are about 24, without going into DLC – has three “variations”, offering different moves and playstyles, and generally heavily changing up the way they play. Scorpion with swords? Scorpion with magic fire powers? Scorpion summoning demons? So, yeah. Lots to do.

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This Fatality is firmly on the “comical” side of things for me, which, uh… okay, maybe that says some things about me.

The kombat itself… sorry. The combat itself is, thankfully, extremely robust, and easy to get the hang of. Special moves are generally a variation on rotating one stick and tapping an attack button, and every kombo – combo – is listed in the pause menu, so you can get the basics of a new character down pretty swiftly. Blows feel powerful, eliciting sprays of multi-coloured blood; and X-Ray moves, Fatalities, and Brutalities happily criss-cross the line between gruesome and hilarious, with the latter usually forcing some specific in-match requirements on you that make them a real show of skill.

It’s an evolution of its predecessor’s fighting engine, for the most part, with Injustice-like background interactions thrown in for good measure. You’ve got your three-tier super meter, letting you deal out enhanced specials, combo breakers/block breakers (depending on whether you’re taking hits or blocking them), and brutal X-Ray moves, depending on how high it is. You can use the background to swiftly move around the terrain by, say, bouncing off the hood of a car, or you can inflict damage by, say, swinging an old woman at your opponent’s face.

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Some of the stage interaction attacks also lead to deeply comical facial expressions. I approve.

If there is one flaw, it’s probably the “run” command, performed by dashing and then pressing block. On the one hand, it opens up extra traversal. On the other hand, if you want to – for instance – dash towards your opponent and then throw up a block, in the hopes of baiting them into carelessly attacking, you’re more likely to switch into a run and sprint into their extended fist. Which has happened to me. A lot. You’d think I’d be used to this by now.

Test Your Luck lets you mix things up nicely with a set of random modifiers that change the game in unprecedented and hilarious ways. If you’ve ever hopped into an Unreal Tournament game running random mutators, this is basically the fighting game version; I’ve played with targeted orbital strikes forcing me to move, punch power increased to devastating proportions, attacks giving me back more health, both fighters slowed down to a crawl, and Sektor-style saw blades rolling across the ground. In the same match. And there appear to be hundreds of these things.

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RAY OF SUPER sounds a bit like a bad translation of Superman’s heat-vision eye-beams, doesn’t it?

And, of course, there’s a robust online mode, offering both ranked and unranked matches, faction battles… and a few other little modes like King of the Hill or competitions for Tower scores, if you fancy something a bit more esoteric.

All of which is great! Mortal Kombat X is a really good, well-designed, visually sumptuous fighting game that can be played solo for extended periods, and – being a fighting game – it’s also great fun in multiplayer! I can’t speak to the game’s balance, but from a casual perspective it’s entertaining, vicious, and tactical, and that’s really what I’m after. Easily an 8/10, even with the game beating you over the head with its DLC by putting Goro in the character select screen when you don’t have him.

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On the plus side, one of the Living Towers gave me the chance to play as Goro despite my not having his DLC, so that was rather nice.

Buuuuut… the problem comes with just how goddamn badly it works on PC. Even disregarding the really, really silly play-while-you-download thing that barely works and caused a staggering amount of problems at launch (but hooray, it’s now been disabled), there are the graphical bugs, the framerate issues (a killer for a fighting game), the fact that Krypt tends to lock up my system if I access it after fighting a match, the way the control mapping screen instantly dumps me to the desktop, the Faction servers routinely being down, the random crashes, and – most importantly – the netcode apparently being assembled out of tin cans and string.

The latter is something I’m less certain of, because it’s entirely possible that I’ve been playing matches against people on another continent, which would make the lag a bit more understandable. But.

I’ve had exactly one decent online match with negligible lag, and it was a glorious, fast-paced battle that went right down to the wire on the third round. Every other match has had an input delay of around a second, and a framerate that I could probably count on my fingers and toes. And I don’t have 50 toes. That’s assuming the match even connected properly or successfully finished, too, because frequently it would drop out completely part-way through.

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This Fatality, on the other hand, is rather more firmly in the “gruesome and horrific” camp. Or alternatively it’s an artist’s impression showing online play on the PC.

Still: I can’t find any options to force a certain connection quality, or to place the importance of a good connection over the person being the same skill level as me, and that’s a striking omission. The problems I’ve had have basically rendered the online play of Mortal Kombat X completely dead to me, and that’s a pretty massive problem for a game for which an extended lifespan – no matter how extensive the single-player mode – really does rely, a lot, on healthy competition against other humans.

If it gets patched up nicely to fix the problems, and if the netcode gets sorted (or is actually good, and I’m not just playing against people on 56k modems somewhere in Antarctica), then Mortal Kombat X is easily worth a purchase for anyone even customarily interested in a bit of one-on-one fighting. But right now, we’re in Battlefield 4 territory: it’s fundamentally a good game that’s suffering, really badly, from piss-poor implementation.

Mortal Kombat X is tentatively worth a purchase if you’re primarily there for solo play or same-machine multiplayer, and can put up with an awful lot of issues (I’ve had a lot of fun with it when it’s not kicking me in the nuts) but if you’re not desperate, I’d strongly suggest waiting for further patches. There’s a gem in here somewhere, but it’s going to take quite a lot of mining to get that gem into the sunlight.

6/10
Not a komplete katastrophe, but you should employ kaution when deciding if Mortal Kombat X is right for you on PC. It's a great game, but one that's krippled by bugs.