Mortal Kombat has always been the Death Metal outsider of the arcade fighting genre.
• Warning: this article contains descriptions of graphic horror and violence
The Street Fighter series offered outlandish characters, but also meticulous balance and finely crafted special moves. Tekken boasted drum-tight combos and style variation. Dead Or Alive provided rock-paper-scissors dynamics and a boatload of sleaze.
Mortal Kombat? Well, MK offered frenetic, twitchy gameplay, backed up with gallons of blood, guts and brain matter. Through its infamous "Fatalities" option, which provides a victorious combatant with one last finishing move, it's the only game where you can rip an opponent’s still-beating heart out of their chest.
Current developer NetherRealms Studios understands that gore is as an integral part of this franchise, as crudely essential as Big Macs are to MacDonalds. So for a start, the team has brought back the ridiculous "too-much-information" camera which shows x-ray cinematic footage of major impacts, including cracking vertebrae and hemorrhaging major organs. Added to this are some of the most violent fighting animations ever committed to screen.
In the E3 demo, skulls split, spines snap, guts flow. In one set piece move, series stalwart Sub Zero punches a hole in rival Scorpion’s stomach, pulls out his lower intestines, freezes them into the shape of a spear and shoves them his opponent's eye. By way of return, Scorpion’s finishing maneuver on Sub Zero involves shooting a fireball through his stomach, then cutting his face off with a katana. And it's not finished there. As Sub Zero's lifeless body sinks to the floor, his frontal lobes glisten horribly and his tongue jerks and lolls spasmodically. If you want blood, you got it.
But it’s not all about the gore. NetherRealms has tweaked and augmented each fighter’s move set substantially. Players can now bounce off environmental objects in each arena (and even use parts of them as weapons) and each combatant now has three variations on their standard move sets. These essentially offer extra sets of combat moves to layer on top of the core repertoire.
Sub Zero, for example has Grandmaster, Cryomancer and Unbreakable variations. Grandmaster allows players to create an ice double to use as a decoy or a weapon. Cryomancer lets them create ice weapons, such as daggers or spears. Unbreakable is Sub Zero’s defensive mode, enabling players to parry and counter more effectively.
The new characters also offer some interesting variations on the MK experience. D'Vorah is an insectoid warrior who can fire poison venom or just sling swarms of man-eating bees. The star though is Ferra/Torr, a bizarre partnership consisting of a hulking beast man (Torr) and a diminutive warrior girl (Ferra) who sits on her companion's shoulders, occassionally clambering down to delivery stabbing dagger blows. Mortal Kombat may be ridiculous but it has never lacked feverish imagination.
This oft misunderstood and always controversial series began in bones, blood and viscera, but over the years it has evolved into a rather compelling and deep arcade fighter. It certainly hasn’t toned down its edge – and its adolescent torture porn horror will disgust many viewers. However, Mortal Kombat X does genuinely promise more reasons to play than simply the guilty thrill of ripping an opponent’s torso in half.
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