maanantai 25. kesäkuuta 2012

REVIEW - Mortal Kombat | PS3 | 2011

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: April 2011
DEVELOPER(S): NetherRealm Studios, Agora Games
PUBLISHER(S): Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

In nearly 20 years, the mythos of the Mortal Kombat franchise had grown huge, and each game released had taken the franchise further from its unadulterated arcade fighting roots. The original 16-bit Mortal Kombat trilogy was still the most successful series of games in the franchise, and a common complaint that had been associated with Mortal Kombat since the release of 1993’s Mortal Kombat II, was its insane difficulty. Mortal Kombat mastermind Ed Boon addressed all these issues and announced a new game in the summer of 2010. What was originally thought to be a sequel to Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, fans were more than delighted to hear that this new game was to be simply called “Mortal Kombat”. Although fans gave the game many informative titles such as Mortal Kombat 9, this game was supposed to serve as a clean slate – a remake, reboot, and sequel, all in one neat package. The controls were a main focus point, as the franchise had always been criticized for having slow and delayed control physics. Not only did they butter up the controls, but made the game more accessible to casual (and new) players of Mortal Kombat. Several characters were completely redesigned, several plot elements were reworked in order to create the most immersive and epic Mortal Kombat storyline imaginable, and they simply went crazy when it came to the game’s level of violence. After struggling my way through 17 arcade ladders, conquering 75+ challenges in the Challenge Tower, having finished Story Mode, and STILL having a deadly blast with the game, my opinion on Mortal Kombat is very clear: it’s likely to be the greatest fighting game ever made.

The fanboy cometh, again

Richard Epcar : Raiden
Bob Carter : Shao Kahn / Baraka
Tom Choi : Liu Kang
Jin Hyong : Kung Lao / Fighter #1
Jeff Pilson : Johnny Cage
Jim Miller : Sub-Zero
Patrick Seitz : Scorpion / Soldier #2
Karen Strassman : Kitana / Mileena
Gerald C. Rivers : Jax
Dana Lyn Baron : Sonya Blade / Skarlet

Armageddon has come and Earthrealm has lost the fight. In his dying moment at the hands of Shao Kahn, Lord Raiden sends a message to his past self, to the moment when he first led the Earthrealm’s finest to Mortal Kombat. Guided by his visions of the future, Raiden does everything in his power to alter the chain of events that leads to Armageddon, even if it means turning against some of his former allies.

NOTE: This review is based on Mortal Kombat – Komplete Edition, which was released in early 2012. This European version of the re-release includes all four downloadable characters (Skarlet, Kenshi, Freddy Krueger and Rain), as well as 16 alternate costumes for several characters. Kratos is playable in all PlayStation 3 releases of the game. However, whatever flaws the Komplete Edition has (explained later), do not reflect on the conclusive rating of the game, since this is my first experience with a full-length release.

Let’s take another trip back in time – that’s the whole point of the game, ain’t it? Back in the 16-bit era, I loved fighting games. I even loved the first Mortal Kombat game, up ‘til Mortal Kombat II came out and shed some serious light on everything that was wrong with the first one. Mortal Kombat 3 was one of my favourite games on the SNES, up until I realized that it was way too hard to be enjoyable, and that it was its awesome look that impressed me so, rather than the gameplay itself. Of course, it lacked a lot of the true Mortal Kombat spirit, too, which was an issue that Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was made to fix. I loved the movie which came out around that time, but since I was years away from even buying a PlayStation, I completely missed Mortal Kombat 4; I wasn’t even aware of its release. Then, came the second movie, which was a total bomb. My bond to Mortal Kombat loosened up after the movie, and was severed altogether when I got tired with the whole genre. I considered every new Mortal Kombat game that came out a complete joke. I liked how Deadly Alliance looked on the Nintendo GameCube, but it was weird watching one of the most awesomely brainless games of all time having turned into a dramatic mess of supposedly epic storytelling and a whole bunch of new, soulless characters, with some fancy-ass reincarnations of classic Mortal Kombat characters desperately trying to carry the torch on the behalf of us old-school Mortal Kombat fans, who stopped caring after Mortal Kombat 3. There were a lot of us, and although Ed Boon might’ve not been that thrilled about how this specific target group had received each major Mortal Kombat installment made after Mortal Kombat 3, I think he was downright soiling himself when he figured out that he could do the classic trilogy all over, and make it better, restoring people’s respect and confidence towards Mortal Kombat. He ended up making the best Mortal Kombat game in history - by far, that is.

Any game that starts with vultures fighting over
Sonya Blade's guts can't be half bad.
Mortal Kombat has a whole variety of game modes, of which the most important and lucrative one is the Story Mode. The story is very simple: Raiden plants a vision of the future to his past self, and this vision and the small glimpses that follow, are supposed to make everything better and prevent  Armageddon from ever taking place. Raiden leads his troops through the first two Mortal Kombat tournaments, as well as Outworld’s invasion of Earthrealm, constantly picking on small details and minor events, calculating their possible effects on the future, and sometimes acting on pure instinct to shuffle things up. Needless to say, this results in a lot of bad blood between him and his Earthrealm allies, who do not understand the purpose of his deeds, even if he explains his actions to them in every single turn. Liu Kang, in particular, is constantly on Raiden’s ass. What a whiner. Since the events of this game span the storyline of a total of three classic games, you’re bound to be offered a lot of interesting and plausible explanations to stuff you’ve always wondered about, like the origins of the cyborg ninjas, and Shang Tsung’s sudden transformation into a younger version of himself in Mortal Kombat II. Also, the Story Mode subtly tries to explain why people who are supposed to be allies or even friends, fight against each other in Mortal Kombat. Very few battles in the story mode are actually part of the tournament; in the world of Mortal Kombat, every single conflict results in a fist fight. For example, when Johnny Cage asks Sonya Blade out for a date and doesn’t bugger off quick enough, Sonya decides it’s best that she teaches that asshole a lesson. By breaking his neck and skull. Ouch. Total ignorance would’ve sufficed… seriously, though, it’s the utterly ridiculous nature of the game, that makes it so great. That, and a lot of other things I’m sure to cover later.

I have to admit I had doubts about this game’s atmosphere: how the character and level design would turn out and all that, even the music. The franchise has gone through so many twists in the past decade, it’s been mangled beyond recognition. I’m glad to be able to say that all my doubts were in vain: this is a dead-on, full tank, monster of a Mortal Kombat experience. You might say this is the first real Mortal Kombat game since Mortal Kombat II. Even the events of Mortal Kombat 3 are finally retconned into a way more essential part of the Mortal Kombat mythos than they originally were. It all just melts together perfectly, making the first three games feel even more of a real and classic trilogy, which is paid magnificent tribute to with this awesome game. The character, level and storyboard design are all excellent. Influences are picked up from across the board of Mortal Kombat games, even both of the movies and all the other media directly bred or spun off from the original franchise. This is the real Ultimate Mortal Kombat. The graphics aren’t exactly stunning, but good enough to fulfill a purpose, and I think I’m just personally peeved, because I would’ve went for more realistic graphical style in traditional Mortal Kombat fashion. I’m guessing that if the characters would’ve been rendered more realistically, this game would never have seen daylight in any country – oh, believe me, there’s blood. Lots of it. This game was made to make you sick. If it doesn’t, then you really are sick. The music is classic Mortal Kombat, the only thing missing is a kick-ass remix of “Techno Syndrome”.

The tutorials make sure you know the basic
patterns for every special move in the game. The
list in the pause menu furthers the cause.
The voice acting’s surprisingly good. Most of the cast consists of unknowns or supporting voiceover staples. The Story Mode is where all of the actual dialogue takes place, the rest of it’s repetitive battle quotes, some of which are taken straight from the old games (like Scorpion’s “come over ‘ere!” or Shao Kahn’s “it’s official, you suck!”). The most interesting voice cast member is by far Jeff Pilson, the bassist of Foreigner, as well as the former bassist for Dokken and the late Ronnie James Dio’s solo act, who plays Johnny Cage. I don’t know how he ended up with this stint, but it’s cool, since I’m a fan of both Dokken and Dio. Of course one could always assume that Freddy Krueger’s later addition as a downloadable character relates to Pilson’s presence, since Dokken made the title track for A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Can’t help but squeeze out a little metal trivia here and there…

Like I said, there’s a bunch of game modes, so I really have to get started at some time. I already spilled a great deal of beans on the Story Mode, but there are a few more things I need to point out about it. First of all, if you’re looking to slice and dice your opponents with the number of Fatalities this reboot’s famous for, you’re in the wrong place. You cannot kill any of your opponents in Story Mode. Also, since the story follows one straight track, you cannot choose your character. The Story Mode, which indeed spans the events of the first three games in the series and provides them with an alternate flow, has 16 chapters, each of which stars a different character. Some of them are merely used to reintroduce some old favourites, while most are linked to the mystery of who’s supposed to win Mortal Kombat and which past event is the key to preventing Armageddon. The Story Mode is a delicious treat to anyone who grew up with the arcade and 16-bit classics. The classic plot is greatly reworked and it naturally has way more depth (and meaning!), and the new plot twists that come with the alternation of the timeline are insanely awesome. I love Story Mode. It’s good practice for the real thing(s), it provides you insight on a whole bunch of good characters and it provides you with the most kurrency, as your reward for winning just one fight can be as much as 10,000 Koins on the first round. Can’t help but complain about the completely bloodless nature of this epic marathon, though.

The Arcade Ladder is the shite, and probably the reason why most of us fans of retro Kombat went out and bought this game. When I say it’s the shite – I mean it, it’s THE SHITE. There are no minigames, no other tomfoolery, just seven random opponents for you to beat and kill absolutely dead if you wish, and three bosses. There are a few hidden characters for you to find, but only if you have the standard edition of the game; the Komplete Edition has all the characters unlocked from the beginning. So, being able to find them all during an Arcade Ladder, or every other useful unlockable item in the game at that, is worth nothing but Trophies in my case. Owning the Komplete Edition is not such a bad deal otherwise, since it includes all the DLC for no additional cost and it’s sold at a budget price. Money over matter? You be the judge. If you do have the standard copy, these characters all make an appearance in the Story Mode, so even if you’re not able to find them, you’ll surely be able to enjoy them in some shape or form. Anyway, the rounds gradually get tougher, and Shao Kahn’s one bitch of a boss. There’s one simple (read: cheap) strategy that works on him with ALMOST any character, but one thing you need more than strategy to beat this bastard son of Satan is a stroke of good luck, and a LOT of patience. That motherfucker would be nothing without his weapons. God, I hate that dude.

In addition to each character having two or three awesomely sick and twisted Fatality finishers in their arsenals, they also have a number of Stage Fatalities, which can be performed in six different levels, the classic tongue-in-cheek Babality, and a special X-Ray move, which can turn the tides on a winning opponent by draining up to 50% of their health. That’s what the Super Meter’s for. The Super Meter can be boosted heavily in the very beginning of the bout by nailing the first hit, and from there on out, normally by executing special moves or simply kicking ass, or getting your ass kicked; it's very similar to the Aggressor meter in Mortal Kombat Trilogy. The first milestone of the Super Meter is Enhanced, which grants you the ability to boost any of your character’s special moves into an enhanced version; for example, Johnny Cage hits a double force ball, or Scorpion hits a flaming double harpoon. The second milestone is Breaker, which grants you the ability to break and powerfully counter a lesser combo – which, again, brings us to Shao Kahn, whose most powerful attacks apparently cannot even be blocked. X-Ray’s the third milestone, and if it misses or gets blocked, it’s back to square one with the meter. If it hits, be prepared for some wicked animation, and be sure to have a barf bag handy.

A wicked way to break one's neck.
The controls are good; what might alienate some players of a younger generation is the strict fact that Mortal Kombat was never meant to be played by using the analog stick for movement. It’s the digital pad or nothing for me. The digital pad, of course, does have its weaknesses. There hasn’t been a fully ergonomic digital pad since the days of the 16-bit. I couldn’t even imagine playing this on Xbox. My friend did, and he had some harsh words to say about the digital pad; he shares my preference of the digital pad in the case of this one game. The digital pad on the Xbox controller wasn’t made for constant movement. The PS3 wins a flawless victory over the Xbox 360 with this game, but the gaps between the buttons of the digital pad might start hurting your thumbs after a while of spamming your opponents with the game’s hundreds of Down + Right or Down + Left moves. It’s a good thing they made special moves simple to execute. They could’ve made us a specific controller to play this game too, though. After a while, your thumbs might get so numb that you just cannot nail those moves anymore. Secondly, I seriously don’t know what the deal is with some specific Fatalities. They just don’t seem to work; attempting them over and over, and knowing you got them absolutely right every time, to absolutely no avail, will frustrate you even more than hearing Shao Kahn’s pompous laughter.

In addition to the epic Tag Ladder which you can go at alone or with a human partner, the multiplayer scheme consists  of simple versus matches, which can be hellishly fun if both/all players have at least some experience with any of the single-player modes – the Story Mode is a very educational experience, and should be done first. It’s really not fun to test your luck and patience against a player who has already mastered all of a single character’s special moves, breakers, enhanced moves, blocking, throwing and perhaps the game’s most annoying common feature between most characters, teleportation, while you’re still stuck doing basic combos. Those basic combos won’t take you far in this game, so if you’re feeling proud ‘cause you beat your brother in Tekken by just rapidly breaking the shit out of each face button, Mortal Kombat will teach you humility (cheers to my girlfriend, I still love you even though you’re one cheap-ass hoe in Tekken). There are many cheap strategies that work lots of times, like a constant – deliciously annoying and old-school – dropkick/uppercut combo, but the A.I. quickly takes note of these and starts countering shit like that; both Goro and Kintaro tend to shield themselves from the dropkick and lift you up for some heavy damage once you land, and Baraka is able to do a quick slashing combo which not only shields him, but deals a lot of damage to your character.

Then we have the Challenge Tower, and all the minigames that are directly tied to it. Test Your Might is back, along with Test Your Strike, which is the same except that you have to break a specific item in a stack. In addition we have Test Your Luck, which uses a slot machine to determine your opponent and specific handicaps you need to swallow up and beat him/her, and Test Your Sight, a humorous “blink ‘n’ you’ll miss it” game. The Challenge Tower is a story of its own, an utterly ridiculous but very interesting one, in which you need to conquer miscellaneous types of challenges, 300 in total, probably conjured up by Ed Boon after some crazy night on the town. These challenges have Johnny Cage and Stryker pitted against a zombie menace, Scorpion doing his best to avoid Mileena who has a crush on him, and the duo of Jax and Sonya taking on a whole bunch of Outworld weirdos while on the hunt for Kano. The Challenge Tower consists of very few standard fights, they’re more like tongue-in-cheek tests of your reflexes and the consistency of your skills with special moves. It’s another educational experience for those aiming to master the game.

Freddy's second video game appearance is
way better than his last.
Last, we have the Nekropolis and the Krypt, and unfortunately, these platforms for unlockable content do not come without complaints. Let’s start with the Nekropolis. It’s a fun gallery of all your unlocked stuff and characters; you can read their bios, review their endings in case you’ve beaten the Arcade Ladder with ‘em, and bring them their special items to unlock an alternate costume of theirs. These alternate costumes are also found from many places inside the Krypt, but they don’t unlock immediately, you always have to take that dumb trip to the Nekropolis to actually unlock them. Besides, how to use the alternate costumes could be a little less cryptic. Rendered utterly useless in the Komplete Edition of the game, since everything truly useful is unlocked from the beginning of the game, The Krypt is a freeroam plain; I don’t get it. Every player with self-respect would want to unlock everything in the game, so why make it an open-world interface rather than some variation of a simple list? Besides, it’s filled with kind of cool, but totally useless stuff you never REALLY care about, like concept art and music tracks for you to view and listen in the Nekropolis gallery, and cheat codes for the multiplayer games only. Every once in a while, you might find those alternate costumes I talked about and new Fatalities – in short, stuff you have some use for – but they pop up at the rarest of occasions. In the beginning, it looks like there’s tons of stuff – there is, but well over a half of it is completely useless. If I had a say in the Krypt’s development, I would’ve at least put conversions of the original arcade games up for grabs – instead, Boon went with this shitheap and permitted the re-release of the first three games as a separate collection. Good business, perhaps, but good business is rarely good for expecting fans.

This is not nearly the most difficult game in the franchise, but a very challenging game on the modern scale, and most entertaining to attempt to master. Differences in character dynamics, finishing moves and ladder endings make you want to conquer the Arcade Ladder with every single character, nail all 300 challenges of the Tower, and conquer the Story Mode at least that once it’s more or less mandatory. Collecting all the Trophies from the game, however, is one of the most grueling processes in PlayStation 3 history. Not only does it demand a lot of online activity and serious skills in that particular form of game, one of the high-value Trophies requires you to master all of the game’s characters in multiple categories, and even beating Arcade Ladder on the highest difficulty level without using one single continue is enough for me. Platting this game is an impossibility as far as I’m concerned – I know it has been done, but I know I’ll never be that good.

Even though it’s a little splintered around the far edges, Mortal Kombat is one excellent revival of perhaps the biggest, most classic fighting game franchise there ever was, and just grabs the torch from Tekken and finishes up with a gruesome Fatality when it comes to the current champion of fighting games. The Mortal Kombat fanboy from my past life is resurrected, and his will is stronger than ever. ALIBABALEE!!!

+ Mortal Kombat, as pure and definitive as can be
+ A perfect mix of ultra-violence and dark humour
+ All of the three single-player game modes rule in their own wicked ways
+ One would initially think that having to play with all of the characters to unlock everything in the game and get Trophies would be tedious, but actually it isn’t; it’s just what made Tekken so great back in the day, and it’s an effective way to find new favourites (from a variety of old characters)
+ The controls are better than ever
+ They put the button combos for every special move and finisher right in the pause menu! Marvellous!
+ The ridiculous proportions of the X-Ray moves and Fatalies never cease to amaze me

- The Komplete Edition has the exclusive flaw of having every useful piece of unlockable content unlocked from the beginning, which basically means the Krypt is an utterly useless feature; however, this does not reflect on the conclusive rating since this is a review of the game, not this particular re-release
- The Story Mode’s level of gameplay violence is almost like playing the original Mortal Kombat on the SNES; there’s no visible damage which is one of the greatest visual joys of the Arcade Ladder, and you can’t execute any of your opponents with a finisher
- The Krypt is a bitch to navigate, it’s filled with completely useless crap, and the prices for the items are completely random, meaning you don’t have the slightest clue of what you’re buying
- Although the controls are good, and the special moves very easy to learn, response to horizontal movement is still a bit random, which makes some simple special moves extremely hard to execute on time

< 9.0 >

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