Nearly two decades after the series debuted, 2011's Mortal Kombat turned out the best entry to date, with a return to the amazingly brutal, over-the-top aesthetic that lost its edge in previous games. More importantly, the game finally included richer fighting gameplay, adding nuance and depth beyond the familiar shock value.
NetherRealm then turned its attention to 2013's excellent superhero fighter Injustice: Gods Among Us, but now is nearly ready to unleash its first game designed specifically for new-gen consoles. And Mortal Kombat X looks like a bigger and brasher expansion of what worked so well the last time around.
Mortal Kombat X – you pronounce the "X" like the letter, although it's also the 10th core entry – does largely stick to the template seen in the previous title. As ever, we've got horrifying/hilarious Fatality moves, but also the graphic, bone-crunching X-Ray moves from the last game, which add some visual pop before the gory finale.
But the latest Mortal Kombat also takes cues from Injustice, in that you can interact with the environments to gain an upper hand in battle. That might mean grabbing a bystander or item from a backdrop and using it as a weapon, or perhaps swinging from a branch to get out of a tight corner. They're strategic additions that you'd do well to keep an eye out for and incorporate into your tactics.
Yet the game has a massive addition of its own: the ability to pick one of three different fighting styles for each and every character. You'll do so before the match, and while basic moves are shared between variations, advanced attacks and even the look of each fighter changes based on your selection. It not only expands the amount of available tactics, but also gives you more options when it comes to picking a combatant best suited to defeat certain opponents.
The New Krew
Mortal Kombat X picks up where its predecessor left off in terms of narrative, but then continues on 25 years into the future. That means that some familiar fighters return in much older forms, while others are totally new – and at least one is a direct descendent of familiar characters. Much of the cast has yet to be revealed, but in terms of iconic fighters, the game features the likes of Sub-Zero and Scorpion (of course), as well as Raiden, Kano, Kung Lao, and Quan Chi. And Goro will be playable, although he's only available as a pre-order bonus upfront.
But Mortal Kombat X is clearly focused on establishing the next generation of series heroes, starting with Cassie Cage, the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. Joining her are other newcomers like D'Vorah (a half-human, half-insect fighter) and Kotal Kahn (an Aztec warrior and Outworld's new emperor). Another, the duo of Ferra and Torr, fight together as one: a large, hulking man and a scrappy, small girl that he throws and swings around in battle.
Expect a lot more familiar faces to be revealed as the release draws near, and don't be surprised if your favorite omitted characters are added after the fact as premium downloadable content. That aspect of the experience has already been confirmed, so don't be surprised if you're tempted to shell out for added content later this year.
UPDATE (12/03/15): As Mortal Kombat X nears release, the official roster has grown significantly. Just today, Johnny Cage was confirmed as a playable character (see trailer above), who returns with ex-wife Sonya Blade, plus Kitana, Ermac, Mileena, and Reptile are set to return. Additional newcomers include Jacqueline Briggs, Takashi Takeda, and Kung Jin.
Several other characters - including Sindel and Kenshi from earlier games, and newcomer (introduced in the Mortal Kombat X comic book series) Erron Black - have been teased or rumoured, and the final on-disc roster is sure to be pretty large. And then, as mentioned above, there will be more via DLC.
Mortal Kombat X is designed specifically for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and high-end Windows PCs, and it looks downright gorgeous so far. The environments are easily the biggest visual perk, with crashing waves when fighting on a dock, or moody ambience when brawling in a dark forest. It's the most impressive-looking fighting game we've seen to date.
Early word on the multiplayer side of things sounds intriguing, as the game will introduce online factions that let you throw your lot in with one of several factions. Your accumulated play time – both online and off – helps influence which faction rules the worldwide community at any given time, which we imagine yields some interesting results for the current party in power.
Continuing its very welcome trend, Mortal Kombat X will have another story mode with cut-scenes and loads of battles – and as hinted earlier, the events will span some 25 years following the last game. Co-creator Ed Boon told IGN that the story will actually bounce around throughout that span, so they'll certainly have plenty of material to work with.
UPDATE 12/03/15: As seen above, there's a new trailer that introduces the conflict between various fighters and factions and shows how the new characters assert themselves into the Mortal Kombat universe. A new Polygon hands-on piece about the story mode notes that cut-scenes make up a large part of the experience, which sounds about right after the last entry.
Mortal Kombat X looks to be one of 2015's early standouts, as it's set to debut on 14 April. NetherRealm is developing the Xbox One, PS4, and PC versions in-house, while an unnamed studio is tackling PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 ports to release on the same date.
We haven't seen those last-gen versions, and there's a good chance that we won't before they're in stores. The same thing happened with Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, also published by Warner Bros, and the last-gen versions were roundly criticized for poor performance and lacking features. That said, both Mortal Kombat and Injustice were plenty excellent on those consoles, so we imagine there's a better chance of Mortal Kombat X playing just fine with less graphical sheen.
UPDATE 12/03/15: A mobile version of Mortal Kombat X is coming to iOS and Android next month, as well, and it'll blend the familiar fighting of the series with a card-battling mechanic. In other words, it ought to be very similar to NetherRealm's mobile version of Injustice: Gods Among Us, as well as its recent pro wrestling game, WWE Immortals.
The free-to-play game will tie into the console and PC versions, letting you earn currency and additional content (like costumes) in one version by playing the other. Hopefully it'll maintain enough of the entertaining combat from the full-sized version to warrant the frantic taps and swipes.
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