Just the other day I was thinking that there aren’t enough video games where you can punch a man in the groin and make his testicles explode on-screen before crushing his skull. Then, Mortal Kombat X was released.
Everyone who talks about Mortal Kombat X seems obligated to comment on the excessive gore in the game. But isn’t that what the MK franchise has taken as its trope? To be honest, the graphicness of the Fatality and Brutality sequences and the X-Ray attacks was a bit of a shock, but it didn’t turn me entirely off to the game. Yes, there is a Fatality sequence in which Scorpion slices off his opponent’s face, leaving exposed brain muck and a waggling, severed tongue staring into the camera for as long as the gamer chooses to linger on the post-match menu. Yes, Cassie Cage’s X-Ray attack involves effectively “bursting” a male opponent’s testicles with a swiftly delivered punch. The Fatalities are avoidable—just finish your opponent off with a punch or kick but the X-Ray attacks are some of the strongest in the game and I use them at least once a match. And let me tell you…the grotesque sequences get old really fast.
There isn’t anything particularly riveting about seeing all the different ways a skull can smash or ribs can implode and it feels like a huge waste of game time during an otherwise tense match. Plus, I am genuinely embarrassed to be playing the game with someone else around. I had to take off my headphones after about chapter 4 in the Story mode because I felt compelled to apologize to my roommate about what was on-screen. And that’s how the extreme brutality feels in this game: embarrassing. Like being caught looking at porn or something. Except there’s nothing fun about MKX’s graphic fight scenes. With Cassie Cage’s epic crotch-punch, it seems more like some sort of antiporn. So it’s not that the graphic nature of the game disturbed me—more just made me roll my eyes—but it detracts from the game when it gets to the point that I am adjusting my gameplay to account for the fact that not everyone in the room wants to watch someone’s organs be ripped out of their gut by Sub-Zero, frozen into a spire, and stabbed back into them with a bloody squirt.
That being said, the game has some really great elements. There are a lot of nods and winks to long-time fans who will be already familiar with the MK lore, but the story is explicit enough that even a new player can keep up with the narrative. The cinematic sequences in the Story mode are stunning. In fact, the Story plays more like an interactive movie, with the long cinematic scenes taking up much more screen time than the actual fights. There are small chances to participate in these film-quality animations, but nothing more substantial than “tap circle to block the knife”. I let Johnny Cage get hit a couple times when I accidentally hit the wrong button and it didn’t seem to make any difference in-game. The first run through the Story will have the player tapping their controller impatiently; unfortunately, the cutscenes can’t be skipped until the Story has been completed at least once.
The game also has its first openly gay character: Kung Jin. The “coming out” sequence is subtle but the interpretation was confirmed by NetherRealm Studio’s cinematic director, Dominic Cianciolo. It’s great to see big-name studios getting on-board with more diversity in games. It’s a small part of the game, but a noteworthy one. In fact, many noteworthy changes include the new and interesting roster of MK playable characters. Whether it’s Ferra/Torr’s “stab-and-bash” fighting style, Takeda Takahashi’s interesting blend of classic and modern weaponry, or Cassie Cage’s pent-up rage against male genitalia, there are a ton of new and exciting options with which fans can experiment. Each character has three variations as well, which provides a strategic upgrade of some sort. Do you want Scorpion to wield demons or dual swords? Would you rather a Reptile who can turn invisible or increase his speed and slow the opponent down? How about a Johnny Cage that can either create a “stunt double” distraction or super-charge his Normal and Special Attacks?
The character motions are smooth and work well. From sliding on sheets of ice, to teleporting in bursts of flame, to lunging in a shower of sparks, the characters move and play well and with lots of personality. Some of the Special Move Kombos are a bit tricky, as you’ll notice if you try to complete all Tutorial levels. The timing has to be just right; however, turning off “Release Check” (Special Moves are executed on button release) in the Controller Controls menu helps some. The difficulty level is satisfying but can be adjusted from Very Easy to Very Hard to suit various players’ skill. There are tons of Trophies/Achievements to shoot for. Oh, and did I mention that there’s a simplified version of the game free on the iPhone App Store? NetherRealm studios made sure their game could reach the highest number of people possible, which can only work in their favor.
There are also plenty of in-game activities to keep players wanting to come back. DLC includes fighters such as Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th fame as well as Predator from, well, Predator. The Krypt provides bonus material like concept art and extra Fatality sequences, which can be purchased with Koins won in battle. Faction allows all MKX players to band together in one of five teams and compete for dominance by scoring points (just by playing the game) or participating in Faction-based events (Invasion Tower, War Tower). The Towers mode allows players to skip any “story” and just beat the crap out of stuff for fun. This ranges from Klassic, where you can fight 10 characters in a row on your chosen difficulty setting, to Test Your Might, where the goal is to break a series of increasingly resilient objects (ex. wooden boards, a tree stump, brick pile, etc.) To be honest, there’s not much substance to that last one—the point is, there’s tons to do in the game. And with DLC, alternating Living Towers challenges, and Faction events, players have a reason to keep coming back to a well-loved franchise that keeps coming back to us.
Lots to do
Graphic and controls worthy of next-gen
Embarrassing amounts of gore
Too many/too long cutscenes