Kan you believe we’re at 11 main stream Mortal Kombat games? This is a series I’ve played since getting the original on the Game Gear, and one that’s forever challenged my perception of a what a fighting game is. Never one to shy away from kontroversy, it’s kome under fire for korrupting children, glorifying violence and upsetting the delicate balance of spelling by replacing C’s with K’s on a whim. Yet at it’s bloody, squishy heart lies one of the greatest fighting games that kontinually iterates and innovates as new versions are released. What we’re playing today isn’t the same as the one let loose some 27 years ago, even if it still is a 2D punch ’em up with over the top moves and gore; and none of MK’s opponents have ventured into this realm to taunt it or steal its krown. Even forays into movies, TV and komics haven’t dealt it a fatal blow that other franchises might struggle to recover from. In NetherRealm and Warner Bros’ latest incarnation we’re getting the most komprehensive and komplete version to date, and it’s very klose to being perfect.
One thing you know you’re in for with Mortal Kombat 11 is an absolutely insane story. There’s so much going on that I’d recommend searching for a primer if your gaming lore isn’t up to speed. Set after the events of MKX, good guys are bad, bad guys are good, and there’s an almighty battle to shutdown Outworld’s goal of conquering all the realms. Shinnok was defeated in the last game and his revenants are trying to fulfil his plans whilst a borderline psychotic Raiden flips out and tortures the captive Elder God. What he hadn’t counted on was upsetting the balance of time, and Kronika enters the fray to play around the continuum in an effort to reset history and build the worlds in her own fashion. What we as players end up with is young and old versions of characters from the entire breadth of the series and a good old fashioned time travel tale that’s got a little Back to the Future crossed with The Good Place about it… but with more blood and intestines scattered around.
NetherRealm Studios have pretty much perfected the art of the fighting game story mode now, and Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t disappoint in its execution. Split into twelve chapters, each following a different character (or choice of multiple characters), it takes about 4 hours to get to the end of, depending on your skill level and ability to adapt with the change in style with each protagonist. Forcing the player to use multiple roles and fighting styles is a great way of subtly instilling a deeper knowledge of how all the mechanics hang together, and does promote a bit of urgency if you think you’re fighting for your life. However, there are limitations in the story like having access to the fatalities or brutalities due to it potentially causing complications with the way the tale is told. It’s a slick transition between cutscene and battle, with only the change in framerate visible. Why everything doesn’t run at the same rate is a mystery – combat is smooth as silk at 60 fps, but the movie elements are only at 30 fps, surely this could have been equalised given it’s all running in the game engine? Regardless, it’s a blast to see how everything plays out and get to grips with the fundamentals of most of the “good” characters.
Story more however won’t set you up for the rest of the game modes, and there’s quite a lot to go at. For single players there’s the Towers of Time which are weekly rotating challenge matches where preset conditions are added to make the fights harder and more strategic. They introduce the use of Konsumables which are buffs or items that can be employed during a round to give you a temporary advantage. Working your way up a tower of opponents nets rewards in the form of cash, decorative items, souls and more Konsumables; and even if you’ve conquered one, check back regularly as the content is reset and changed. If you’re looking for a more standard “arcade” mode then Klassic Towers offers something similar to the Towers of Time, but without much of the preset conditions, and also provides further story elements for each of the characters you complete the tower with. Koins, souls and hearts are awarded at each level, with bonuses depending on overall performance at the end that are put towards your running total. Just be aware that with most of the game being online dependent (even if you’re not actually playing online), that rest mode becomes redundant and you’ll lose all progress as it kicks you back to the main menu.
What do you do with all the loot that you collect in Mortal Kombat 11 then? And why are there several different types of currencies? It’s a good question, and arguably the answer is simply that someone thought it was a good idea and would make the journey more interesting. Sadly, it’s a bit pointless. Koins for everything would have been fine. The Krypt is the main place to spend your hard fought cash, and it’s based on Shang Tsung’s island which is fully open for exploring and puzzle solving. Smashing walls, pulling levers and figuring out puzzles all add a bit of progression activity to what is essentially an interactive store front. Scattered everywhere are chests that need various amounts currency to open – whether that’s koins, hearts or souls. The contents of each are randomly generated which is where the loot box mechanic takes over from a neat twist on the Krypt incarnations from the other games. Because you don’t know what you’re going to get it feels a bit arbitrary putting effort in, and on the most part it’s simply cosmetic items that are awarded. The fun stuff like additional brutalities appear rarely and makes the whole process of searching the ruins a chore once you’ve got the main path open. The fact that the currency dish out is so slow and there are options to reset the whole Krypt seem to push the grind element of the Towers of Time. There is also an in-game store to spend souls on other things like konsumables and easy fatality tokens, and there’s the platform store front too to spend real money. On this side it’s a bit too much and spoils things somewhat.
Rewards come from a variety of other sources though, including daily challenges and linking to the mobile game (which also opens up Kronika as a fight announcer), so there are some things implemented that feel worthwhile and not too onerous. In the early stages of playing one of the best sources of income is the tutorial section. This is offered up at the start of the story mode to teach the basics, but it doesn’t stop there. Head to the dedicated menu section and there’s more education available than some 3 year degree courses. It’s truly impressive that they’ve made such a comprehensive set of instructions to cover everything from throwing a punch to counting frames and calculating negative attack and defence effects. It’s all entirely optional, and doesn’t guarantee to make you a better fighter, but it will ensure you understand everything that’s popping up on screen and give guidance to why you’re losing out to certain moves. The character specific tutorials are perfect for getting to grips with combo and special move timings so that there’s a decent grounding before heading online; and the basic fatality training is essential for racking up a few bonus koins at the end of a match.
If you thought the single player offering was good, then it’s matched with the multiplayer – there’s something for everyone, even if you don’t physically like fighting real people. From standard couch battles, to co-op fights and on to online tournaments, it’s all present for those that want to punch pints of blood out of another person. In Mortal Kombat 11 matchmaking is pretty swift and generally pits you against opponents of a similar ranking and ability, so it’s not always an absolute drubbing. Then there’s ability to create private games and have some fun with friends instead of randoms. If there’s one thing to be mindful of it’s the ping and connection settings, both of which are shown at the beginning of the match. When it’s not fully green there’s going to be some dropped frames and it’ll make for a choppy experience, though it does always seem to be the same for both players so it’s not unbalanced. Find someone you spar well with and the instant rematch option is a nice touch. For those that can’t abide living, breathing entities, there’s an AI battle where you pick a team of three fighters, set some preferences in their skill sets, and send them out to battle other teams. It’s surprisingly fun to watch them go at each other in relatively close fought rounds, and the AI can be used in the Towers modes too.
Online is where the newest feature comes to the fore as well – kustomisation. With all the grinding through the Krypt and the Towers, it’s finally time to show off the spoils of your endeavours. Outfits, stances, posing, accessories and even moves are fully changeable depending on your preference, and they’re readily available at the press of a button on the character select screen. Special moves being specific to a customised profile are interesting as it means there’s almost a loadout option available that lets you get the best out of your favourite fighters and perform different moves with the same button inputs. Player friendly options abound in the settings as well, letting you determine how forgiving the game will be with timings of presses and how to trigger specific condition moves. It’s possibly the best feature set I’ve seen in any fighting game, and with the tutorial sections complete they’re not nearly as daunting as they first look.
It’s probably saying something that it’s taken until the summary paragraph before I even get to mentioning the fatalities specifically – they’re back, they’re brutal, and they’re sickening in a lot of instances with the superb sound design causing the impact as much as the flying body parts; and that’s because what was once the selling point of the game isn’t the lifeblood of Mortal Kombat 11. The real shining point is how accessible it is and how much depth is factored into the mechanics and modes. It’s always been a decent pick up and play title and that still remains, but being able to configure and tailor to your particular style makes it feel much more comfortable as it gets its hooks in. With the cinematic presentation and structured menus that stop things from getting overwhelming it’s a masterclass in how to push the genre forward. Even with the microtransaction grind and heavy reliance on online connectivity for the single player content, it’s a game that shouldn’t be missed for anyone that has a need to fight to the death. Plus, it gets Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in from the original movie as Shang Tsung in both voice and likeness… it’s closing the distance between game and film art forms that shows the dedication from NetherRealm in giving us the best and bloodiest instalment yet.
A PS4 review copy of Mortal Kombat 11 was provided by the Warner Bros PR team and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC and Switch for around £40. DLC for the premium edition is yet to be announced.