Mortal Kombat X

There is always a special place in my heart for Mortal Kombat. Although I’ll never be good enough for EVO, there's nothing to prevent me from having a great time with Ed Boon's festival of Tom & Jerry-esque violence. 2011’s Mortal Kombat was the best chance for me to return because until then, I never played anything past Mortal Kombat 2. Not only were the fights exciting and the new mechanics a joy, the time travel-based story mode was surprisingly good. Four years later and the franchise is ready to take on the world once again. Mortal Kombat X brings back the visceral thrills of the last game but bolts on an extensive online component that is intended to give the game a much longer lifespan. Some of these additions are creative and smart, however for every step forward the game takes, there are strange and overbearing concerns that have a tendency to dampen enjoyment.

Mortal Kombat X's most substantial feature is the online Faction War, an MMO-like persistent battle that pits player occupied factions against each other in a behind-the-scenes battle of numbers. Upon starting the game for the first time, the player must choose one of five factions, such as Brotherhood of Shadow and the White Lotus clan, to ally with for the upcoming war. Once attached to a specific group, individual victories feed into your group’s War Score. These wars last for a week at a time and the group with the highest score is rewarded with Koins to be spent in an all-new Krypt. There are opportunities to engage the other factions directly, such as the construction of a War Tower. Much like the Kombat Towers from games past, faction members can fight opponents in order to build up their own tower that other factions can attempt to destroy. As grandiose as the concept sounds, the bottom line is that Faction War talks loudly but carries a short stick. For the most part, faction victories amount to little more than a numbers game that resets each week. It is also incredibly easy to ignore. Beyond selecting which group to join, you're completely free to ignore the entire concept. I had no problem letting people in my alliance do all the work while I reaped the group benefits, such as special accessory unlocks and bonus Kombat Koins.

Koins are, once again, the game's important currency. Like the 2011 game, a lot of content is initially locked out. All characters are limited to one (of two) Fatalities and one (out seven) Brutalities. These kill moves, along with optional costumes, can be purchased through a needlessly updated version of the Krypt. I didn’t mind the Krypt so much in Mortal Kombat, but the latest iteration rubs me the wrong way. NetherRealm seems to have taken inspiration from The Legend Of Grimrock. A game in of itself, the Krypt is an elaborate, first person world where movement is confined to a grid as opposed to the last game's loose free roam. The most bizarre design choice for the Krypt is random encounters with beasts that require the player to respond to an on screen button prompt. These encounters reward Koins if successful but there are no penalties for failing the event. The Koins earned aren't very substantial either so the addition of these random events feels a little wasteful. Built like a giant maze, certain paths in the Krypt are blocked off until you locate the item necessary to advance.

Tombs, chests, corpses, and other frightening objects mark items that can be unlocked through Koins and annoyingly, there's no indication of what these vessels contain - just the Koin cost. Concept art, fatalities, alternate costumes, music, and fan art(?) can be purchased through the Krypt along with items to customize the Kombat Kard, a small banner-like avatar that displays current rank and faction data. Normally, I'd be upset about having to spend Koins to unlock vanity items but to my surprise, there is value in changing the Kard. Everything from its border to the background image offers a decent bonus Koins to specific victory conditions, like performing fatalities or winning a match as a specific character. Unlocking everything in the Krypt requires a lot of virtual currency. Or you could, well, log onto the PlayStation Store and spend $20 to unlock everything all at once. Why not pick up costume packs, Goro, Jason (from the Friday the 13th horror movie series), and the Predator while you're at it?

If you don't want to fight other human players, Mortal Kombat X offers a suite of challenge towers to complete. The Traditional Towers play very much like those in the past, giving the player a randomized ladder of opponents that always end with a fight against Goro and Shinnok. Completing these towers with a character rewards a cutscene that presents their lives post-Shinnok. Most characters see a happy ending, others...not so much. Within Faction War, there's a whole new set of ladders called Living Towers that come in three different flavors: quick, daily, and premier. Quick is a short, one off challenge tower consisting of ten battles. The daily and premier towers are similarly designed, but offer more characters to fight against. All three towers reset after a specific period of time, be it twenty four hours or seven days. At that time, the towers are reset and occupied by a different cast of characters. To shake up engagements, each fight is loaded with Test Your Might/Luck modifiers that shake up gameplay by implementing an eclectic mix of positive and negative effects (such as slowing down player speed and penalize ducking) and random events, like frequent grenade tosses from an off camera third party. Some tiers within the Tower are marked as Dragon Challenges that provide optional challenges and tasks in exchange for significant Koin rewards. The Living Towers are a great idea and the frequent reshuffling of the deck is a good way to encourage play long after release.

The only real downside to the Faction War is its online requirement. You cannot participate in the event (or play against other people) without an Internet connection. Single player mode can be played offline, though you won't be able to reap the benefits of a successful fight. The campaign functions as it did before: give the player a primer into the style of Mortal Kombat and experience the fighting styles of the main roster. The story isn't as interesting as the 2011 game and simply becomes a straightforward tale of the Earth Realm warriors defending their home against the rising army of Shinnok and stemming the tide of an Outworld civil war. The story picks up twenty years after Shao Khan's defeat and the major Kombat characters have gotten older and busy themselves with training new recruits. Old heroes and favorites like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang return but new characters like the Master Blaster-like Ferra/Tor, the waspy D'Vorah, and Cassie Cage (the improbable child of Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage) fill out the roster. I had more fun playing through Mortal Kombat's retelling of the first three games, though, and this story feels a lot more bloated. The cutscenes between bouts are nearly painfully long and, for some strange reason, incorporate Quick Time Events. Ew. Why bother? The story is weak but it does succeed at easing the player into its particular brand of one-on-one combat and let them choose which character's fighting style they prefer. There’s not enough time to learn special advance moves, fatalities, and brutalities, which makes the Training Room a valuable addition.

Violence has always been a hallmark of the Mortal Kombat series and X delivers its fair share of gushy, gooey, slimy gore. NetherRealm's morbid creativity shines through because each fatality is a gruesome portrait of cartoon violence. A lot of the odd sexuality a lot of the characters in 2011's Mortal Kombat, though, has been removed or covered. Johnny Cage's ripped abs, Mileena's moaning fondling, and Sonya Blade's underboob have been removed (or covered up) completely.

There is so much material packed into Mortal Kombat X that even with a $60 price tag, there is value for the cost. Granted, much of the content relies on an Internet connection and if its poor in your area, the game might not sustain you as long as someone else with better Internet. You'll never play the story more than once (if  you play it to completion at all) because the real game lies in the Traditional and Living Towers and the gameplay options that open up in the midst of a Faction War. The game is certainly pretty but the cutscenes don't have the same sheen and "Wow, this looks great!" feel of the last Mortal Kombat. The Krypt feels needlessly enriched and the QTEs are nonsense. Regardless, Mortal Kombat X continues its tradition of being a grand spectacle and while it may not outperform its predecessor, there's still a great deal of fun to be had.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.