For the most part people seemed to enjoy the story mode in Injustice: Gods Among Us, which linked together a series of brutal bouts with cinematic cutscenes and quick-time events. It’s not hugely surprising then to see NetherRealm adopt the same approach for Mortal Kombat X, which takes the series’ overarching storyline 25 years into the future, and introduces a whole new generation of warriors.
The story doesn’t start there though; it opens during the regular timeline, with series regular and cocky gobshite Johnny Cage (who is, as far as I remember, just some Hollywood actor who’s a bit good at punching people) and badass commando Sonya Blade leading a group of inevitably ill-fated soldiers into combat against a horde of chaos beasts roaming through the street of New York. Bad guy sorcerer Shinnok is invading Earth, and all hell has quite literally broken loose. Needless to say the strike team’s transport chopper is attacked, by the one and only Skorpion no less, and every single unnamed trooper is turned into Ardennes pate in short order by the assassin’s nasty spear-chain thingy.
Cage finally decides to react, and we’re introduced to the quicktime events that run through Mortal Kombat X’s cinematics. You know the score here; press X to avoid sword through head, press A to kick ninja in balls. That sort of thing. It’s all very straightforward and a tad unimaginative (QTEs again? Really?), but I can’t deny there’s a certain amount of fun to be had watching the ultraviolent action play out. Particularly because missing the button prompts doesn’t appear to have much effect on the outcome, so you can simply let Skorpion kick the crap out of Johnny Cash while you sit there grinning and munching popcorn. I asked the developers if this has any effect when you transition to a combat encounter, but apparently it doesn’t.
Adding to the fun is some incredibly ripe dialogue that sits just the right side of B-movie idiocy. And by the ‘right’ side, I mean the completely ridiculous side. After being frozen in place by what I assume was Sub-Zero, Cage smashes his way free. “That was… unpleasantly cold,” he quips, with a grin like a concussed Cheshire cat on his stupid face. Which is not a pun. Not anything resembling a smart line. Just sort of stupid. And that’s exactly the way I like it. The main plot, which sees a group of Earthrealm heroes lead by Cage and Blade’s daughter Cassie Cage head into Outworld to investigate a possibly cataclysmic civil war between toothy bikini enthusiast Myleena and Aztec-themed new guy Kotal Kahn, promises lots more ridiculous, campy nonsense.
Johnny Cage actually makes an appearance in the game’s simple versus matches, too, albeit as his older self. Cassie’s already been announced and demoed, of course, but the new generation of fighters weren’t available to play as at the preview event I attended. They include Jacqui Briggs, daughter of metal-armed good guy Jax, and Takeda, son of blind swordsman Kenshi. There’s a definite sense that NetherRealm is moving the story on, which will I think be fun for fans of the lore. Fan favourites like Skorpion and Sub-Zero aren’t going anywhere of course, but the new human good guys allow the developers to experiment with some new moves, fighting styles and combo mixes – Cassie Cage, for example, combines some of her dad’s circle kicks and combos with her mother’s use of special forces weaponry. Including quite literally bringing a gun to a fist-fight.
So story mode looks like a fine distraction, building upon the solid foundations established by Injustice. I have absolutely no interest in the greater MK lore, but I’m interested in seeing more ridiculous action and cheesy one-liners. Outside of that, you’ve got an impressive roster of different modes and options, including an updated Challenge Towers mode. This mode debuted in Mortal Kombat 2011, setting up fights with specific rules, such as using a pistol special move to take out a series of zombie enemies. In that game the prize was simply a skimpy costume for Myleena (sigh), but this time around daily and unique challenges will offer special rewards and ‘Koins’, MKX’s unique currency. NetherRealn wouldn’t tell me what kind of rewards players can expect, but I’m guessing we’ll see things like secret maps, costumes and so on.
Then there’s the Factions sub-system, which provides some incentive for jumping into multiplayer and singleplayer battles, and good old arcade mode if you just fancy a quick series of bouts. Mortal Kombat X certainly doesn’t skimp on the content. I haven’t talked too much about the basic combat here, because I’ve covered that before. Suffice to say the basic kicky-punchy action is fast and fun, and a lot simpler to get to grips with than other fighting games. There’s complexity, of course, but the large majority of moves are relatively simple to pull off – the game’s about timing and precision rather than tricky stance changes and technical combinations. A quick mention for the fighting AI, too, which is impressively tricky. Even on medium Sub-Zero was giving me a run for my money with his irritating freeze bomb moves.
I’m never been a huge fighting game buff, save for a period in my teens when I played Tekken 2 until the disc wore out, but Mortal Kombat X has me intrigued. There just seems to be a lot going on in the game. Aside from the impressive roster of content it looks like NetherRealm is taking some risks with both the bombastic main story mode and the introduction of a new cast of characters. Things are being moved along. For a series that’s bordering on the elderly at this point, I think this kind of shot in the arm is exactly what’s needed. I just hope the rest of the story mode is as over-the-top and stupid as the section I played.
Most Anticipated Moment: More ridiculous B-movie action nonsense, please.