GDC 2011: 'Mortal Kombat' Hands-On

mortal kombat tag team trailer

Last week at a hotel across the street from GDC, NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive had the latest build of Mortal Kombat up and running, and they invited Game Rant over to take the game for a spin. The build had characters like Kano, Baraka, Noob Saibot, and Stryker all playable. It also had 20 of the 300+ Challenge Tower challenges open, along with a Fatality trainer mode. The game was running on the PS3, where 3D was available, and on Xbox 360. The Mortal Kombat fightstick was also playable and on display.

The standard versus fighting feels good, and fans of Mortal Kombat 2 will likely be happy. While each character has their share of pre-set combos (which can be viewed, along with their entire move list,  by pressing start at any point in a match) the game seems to focus a lot less on dial-a-combos. Moves, special moves, and combos can be strung together in an organic nature, giving players a lot of control over how the match goes down.

The characters all have a good feeling of weight behind them, and the robots (like Sektor) have some great sound effects, which really helps give them a unique feel. Likewise, punches and kicks feel great when they connect, and are often brutal. This game wears its M rating proudly. Even without the Fatalities and X-Ray moves, the game shows off its gore, often leaving players covered in blood even when they win a round.

GDC Mortal Kombat X-Ray Move Hands On

The graphics really show off the game’s brutality, too. During X-Ray moves and Fatalities the camera zooms and pans accordingly to really highlight the action. The X-Ray moves are a lot of fun and can really deal some punishment when they connect. The problem, however, is that each character really only has one X-Ray move, and watching the same move over and over again during repeated play sessions could make things a little stale. While it is beautiful and bone crushing, pretty much every gamer has a limit to how many times they can watch Kano stick his knives into someone’s legs X-Ray style.

This is the same issue often experienced with Fatalities in past Mortal Kombat games. The Fatalities are cool and fun to watch, but after you've pulled someone’s spine out for the thousandth time, there really is not the same incentive to keep doing it -- unless you think that rubs it in your opponent's face a little more. The possibility of that same Fatality fatigue is likely present here, too. There are only so many characters, and each really brings only one go-to Fatality to the table (each character has two fatalities in total). Perhaps additional DLC Fatalities could keep gamers interested, if and when any Fatality fatigue sets in.

GDC Mortal Kombat hands on fatality trainer

The Fatalities in the game are great, though. Kano’s is really impressive, putting a new spin on an old classic. If you don’t want to know about it, skip to the next paragraph. As in the first Mortal Kombat, Kano rips his opponent’s heart out. This time, however, he spins them around and punches through their back, then holds their heart out in the front. It looks great and is a great nod for longtime fans.

Gamers who always had a hard time pulling off Fatalities (and got sick of setting up 2-player games just to practice or see the various Fatalities) will be glad to know this game features a Fatality trainer. In this mode the button inputs are clearly displayed on screen, and the area where the player should stand is highlighted on the ground. If the player is in the correct area, the zone is green. If they move out of it, it turns red. Gamers can set it so they have infinite time to pull off the Fatality, or they can set the clock to how it would be in a real match. The mode is a great way to get in, practice Fatality skills, and see fatalities from characters you might not normally play as or master.

Mortal Kombat Challenge Tower GDC

Speaking of new modes, the Challenge Tower provides an interesting way to keep the single-player action going. The Challenge Tower concept is nothing new to Mortal Kombat, and the series should generally be applauded for trying unique ways to keep single-player fighting fans engaged by providing options other than just an arcade mode. As previously covered, the Challenge Tower packs 300+ missions and brings back the popular Test Your Might and Test Your Site, while also including the new Test Your Strength, and Test Your Luck modes. Twenty of the challenges were available at this event and even in that somewhat limited amount, the Challenge Tower provided both varied gameplay and some decent challenges.

Fear not, though -- if one of the challenges in the Challenge Tower proves a little too difficult it can be skipped. The ability to skip a challenge is based on spending in-game coins. Coins are earned through various modes and matches. When asked whether gamers could purchase in-game coins by using real-life money, the answer was "no." Coins can only be earned by playing the game.

The game looks great in 3D on the PS3, and gamers who have the required tech will appreciate the game's subtle, yet effective use of 3D. The MK fightstick feels well put together, too. It features concave buttons typically found on western arcade machines, and seems sturdy enough to survive the toughest play sessions. The MK-specific button layout may mean it is only for the MK faithful, but it could likely be used for retro XBLA or PSN games. Oh, and Dan Forden is back, bringing his famous "toasty" line and pop-in appearance with him.

GDC Mortal Kombat Fight stick hands on

Fans of the series would be wise to keep their eyes on this latest installment. Gamers who may have passed on prior Mortal Kombat games, or might not be that familiar with the series, could likely jump right in. So far the game is certainly doing a lot right, and feels how a Mortal Kombat game should.

What do you think about the Fatality trainer and the Challenge Tower? Do you think the Fatality trainer is a good idea or will just allow gamers to see every Fatality in the game too quickly and ruin some of the fun? Do you think the Challenge Tower has what it takes to keep you interested in the single-player aspect of the game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Mortal Kombat is coming out April 19, 2011, for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

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