A few years ago, most gamers outside of the die-hard fans would have paid little attention to a new Mortal Kombat release, but Mortal Kombat 9 changed things. Thanks to NetherRealm Studios’ reboot/sequel, players discovered a newfound love for the franchise, due in large part to MK 9’s strong story, tight gameplay, and deep modes.
It’s for that reason that Mortal Kombat X arrives with more expectations than any prior franchise entry. This is NetherRealm Studios’ chance to push the series into the current-gen, while also preparing fans for what the future holds. No pressure, right?
Luckily, Mortal Kombat X acquits itself well thanks to silky smooth gameplay and a diverse roster of fighters. Yes, many fan-favorites have been left off the list, but Mortal Kombat X still features plenty of familiar faces, albeit with some new twists. On top of that, this latest game introduces a handful of new fighters into the fold, who fit perfectly within the Mortal Kombat milieu and are just as creative and well designed as any of the mainline MK fighters.
In terms of those fighter options, Mortal Kombat X features as deep and varied a roster as fans would hope. Each character is extremely detailed and their animations are as smooth as ever. Watching two combatants go at it is a thing of beauty on-screen and in single player is near flawless. This is current-gen Mortal Kombat through and through, from the wonderfully diverse backgrounds – complete with Injustice-style interactables – to the characters themselves.
Picking a favorite fighter has also been made more challenging than ever thanks to the introduction of variations. These are basically like additional weapon and move sets for each fighter, meant to cater to a wide variety of tastes. Every fighter still has their basic move set – Scorpion has his harpoon, for example – but these variations add new wrinkles to combat. For example, the Inferno Scorpion favors fire-based attacks and can surround himself with damaging flames, whereas Ninjitsu Scorpion is all about sword attacks.
They may not replace new characters, but the variations bring enough strategy and options to the table to make their impact meaningful. Whether players like to zone, get in close, or bust out outrageous combos, there is likely at least a few fighters and variations available. Needless to say, fans of the old Mortal Kombat games, especially MK 9, will have no problem picking up where they left off, even if they do have a few new concepts to master.
As many know, several of these new Mortal Kombat X fighters are actually relatives of series icons. There’s Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage’s daughter Cassie, Jax Briggs’ daughter Jacqui, Kung Lao’s cousin Kung Jim, and Kenshi’s son Takahashi Takeda. In a way, these new fighters are meant to represent Mortal Kombat X’s direction as a whole; NetherRealm Studios wants to use this game to push the series forward while also paying homage to what came before. Make no mistake, this is still a bloody affair that glorifies broken bones and viscera – just a quick look at the Mortal Kombat X fatalities will tell players that – but it’s also the next step.
All that starts with the Mortal Kombat X story mode, which picks up 25 years after the events of the last game. Like before, players take on different fighters in a series of chapters that mix the traditional fights with story-driven cutscenes. This time around, however, NetherRealm has added a few quicktime events to keep players on their toes during the expository bits. That’s probably for the best because the story in Mortal Kombat X is fairly uninventive. It follows a predictable path, arrives at an obvious destination, and there aren’t really any major revelations along the way.
For that matter, there are far fewer chapters this time around, meaning players will get acquainted with only about half of Mortal Kombat X’s sizeable roster. The approach is still extremely smart, as it gives players a chance to learn many of the fighters’ move sets and try and find a favorite, but overall the story mode isn’t as impressive as it was in MK 9. It’s serviceable, yes, but we’d hoped for something a little more exciting.
Thankfully, Mortal Kombat X’s expansive mode selection more than makes up for any story shortcomings. From challenge towers to living towers to practice modes, Mortal Kombat X ticks all the replayability boxes. And thanks to the Test Your Luck mode, which adds random modifiers to matches, NetherRealm can ensure that no two experiences play the same. Some modifiers buff, others punish, and some even add crazy changes to the entire battle, like low gravity or random laser strikes. Rest assured, the basic tower set up of challenging a series of opponents is still there, in many different forms, but these modifiers are what will increase the game’s longevity.
Part and parcel with that are Living Towers, which are Mortal Kombat X’s answer to the daily challenge systems of most games. While the basic Challenge Towers stay the same, Living Towers come in three different forms, and change either every hour, every few hours, or every day. Each tower features different set-ups, and even some modifiers, and they encourage the same type of replayability. One of the early towers, for example, let players challenge opponents as Goro, so they could test out the pre-order DLC character before potentially buying him. Again, it’s a lot of content that transcends the simple “fight X number of opponents” set-up and will surely have players coming back to the well time and time again.
Mortal Kombat X also features a robust set of multiplayer options, from the basic player vs. player all the way up to a king of the hill type, play-till-you-lose mode. It’s noting too out of the ordinary, but the multiplayer is deep enough to keep competitive online fans satisfied. Even the Test Your Luck mode makes the leap to Mortal Kombat X multiplayer, so players can get with friends and try their best to survive the modifiers.
That being said, we did note some considerable hiccups and stutters during our online testing on PS4. The problems weren’t consistent, but every so often a match would start to hitch up before eventually getting back up to regular speed. Overall, players should find that the net code is solid, but it’s not without issues at the moment. Getting into matches and staying in them, as well as finding a solid frame rate, are two problematic areas that NetherRealm is currently addressing, but for the time being the multiplayer is not perfect.
Even so, Mortal Kombat X is a thoughtful leap forward for the franchise – a nice change of pace from what was seen in Mortal Kombat 9. The new and old fighters are all well realized and smartly designed, and their variations help satisfy a wide variety of play styles. The story mode is lacking, but the remaining modes (single player and multiplayer) ensure the game will stay in the disc tray for a long time to come, and the Test Your Luck modifiers ensure no two matches are the same. This is the current-gen Mortal Kombat we all wanted: it’s smooth, mechanically sound, unbelievably gory, and looks great.
Mortal Kombat X is available now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PS4 code for this review.