Ah, Mortal Kombat. The only games series where a kick to the chops is roughly equivalent in power to a gun shot to the face. I jumped into the Mortal Kombat X demo at EGX as something of a newbie, having largely given up on fighting games since the glory days of Tekken 2. Writing that sentence I realise how horribly old I am becoming. Anyway, Mortal Kombat X. It's looking pretty good, to be honest.
Of course, it's almost impossible to form a true opinion on a fighting game unless you've spent about a hundred hours learning its every eccentricity, but MKX has an immediately satisfying, simple to learn but tricky to master control scheme that cuts out a lot of the fancy fluff of rival brawlers in favour of timing and skill. While there are complex, multi-button combos that will obliterate your enemy's health bar in short order, the key to winning a fight is mastering the art of deploying just the right direction of attack at just the right time.
There's so much going on in the arena background that it can be a little distracting at first
New fighters provide a nice range of styles to master. D'Vorah's a zippy little half-insect... thing, all quick strikes and agile dodging. She can also throw bees at people, and is therefore my favourite of the new additions. Ferra and Torr are, respectively, a tiny woman and her lumbering giant mount. They're offering a far more blunt approach, lots of heavy strikes and high-damage throws. They get bonus points because Torr occasionally flings Ferra at enemies like a fleshy bowling ball. Not quite as fun as the bees, but pretty good.
Rounding out the new options on show were Cassie Cage and Kotal Khan. Cage is the daughter of former MK regulars Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, and likes guns, police batons and kicking people in the groin. Kahn is a big, heavy-hitting Aztec-looking chap. Character design hasn't always been that impressive in this series since the classic Mortal Kombat roster was established, but each member of this edition's roster has a memorable look. No more forgettable Skorpion rip-offs.
If you think using your spear-like appendages is cheating, you've obviously never played Mortal Kombat before
NetherRealms's further padded out the options by giving each character three different fighting styles that affect their special moves. Familiar face Sub-Zero, for example, can choose a fighting style that lets him spawn an ice statue that can freeze enemies solid for a few moments, or one that lets him summon ice weapons for extra damage. Cyborg mercenary (and wannabe hardman) Kano, meanwhile, can choose between quick knife combinations and long-distance laser bursts from his eyes. If you like to close in, you can do that, while those who prefer to jump about like a coward can specialise in that as well.
It's an interesting idea, and one that makes characters a bit more versatile. I'm not sure how hardcore fighting game fans will greet the balance issues this will inevitably throw up, but as a filthy casual I actually quite like it. There's an extra layer of strategy to master for each character. Some characters, like Aztec giant Kotal Kahn, can even set up combat buffs for themselves, in Kotal's case a beam of sunlight that offers a little battlefield healing while also damaging your opponent.
Other than that we haven't moved on too far from Mortal Kombat 2011's combination of basic attacks and showy, 'should-I-be-enjoying-this?' X-ray attacks, where the camera zooms lovingly in as you spear a man's testicles with a stiletto blade or pop his eyes like ripe fruit. Even with the new variation styles it's a less complex, nuanced fighting system than you'll find in most other fighting games, but its responsiveness and speed are more than enough to make up for that. And then, of course, there's the gore.
Like in Injustice, you can hurl your opponent into pillars and other objects if they drop their guard
Fatalities are probably nastier than they've ever been, ten-second bursts of such ridiculously gratuitous violence you don't know whether to laugh or wince. I'm emphatically not someone who's sensitive to violence, but Mortal Kombat's gleeful showers of gore have always made me feel a little uneasy, especially as increasingly powerful graphics technology lets the developers recreate horrific injuries in ever greater detail. Even so, I can't deny there's a grim, voyeuristic satisfaction to watching the various dismemberments, eviscerations and decapitations play out. Anyone worrying that MKX might signal a new, less explicitly violent direction for the series... yeah, there's nothing to worry about there.
This isn’t a radically different experience to the one provided by the last Mortal Kombat game, but it does build on that fast, satisfying core gameplay with interesting variations for each fighter, which should give the brawling a welcome touch of complexity. The new fighters are all varied and lots of fun to play, and the game looks very sharp indeed. Characters are modelled and animated in loving detail (right down to their innards), while combat arenas are packed with tiny details, like the drowned corpses that bob up hilariously out of the waves in the dockside venue. It's gory fun for all the family. You know, except the kids. Actually I can't emphasise that last part enough.
Most Anticipated Feature:Mastering all those character variation options – if I can tear myself away from throwing bees at people with D'Vorah. Bees, people.