Game Info:

Mortal Kombat X
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Released: April 7, 2015
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Number of Players: Up to 2
ESRB Rating: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language)
Price: $29.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Be warned, this is not a spoiler-free review. I will discuss key plot points from both Mortal Kombat (2011) and Mortal Kombat X.

It has been more than a year since Mortal Kombat X has been released. Since then, it has received a handful of updates, as well as a fair bit of additional content, all of which is available in the Mortal Kombat XL edition. As a long time fan of the Mortal Kombat series, however, I have mixed feelings about this game. Do the hits outweigh the misses or is it destined to rot in the Pit?

Mortal Kombat X’s story takes place shortly after the events of the previous title. The defeat of Shao Khan in Mortal Kombat came at a heavy price, with Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade as the only surviving members of Raiden’s team of warriors. To make matters worse, Shinnok, a fallen Elder God has begun to attack Earthrealm with resurrected fallen warriors to fight by his side. The fighting is intense and all seems lost until Johnny discovers he possesses a hidden power which miraculously he is able to activate, allowing him to save Sonya’s life and defeat Shinnok. Twenty years later, Johnny Cage, now Raiden’s chosen hero, has assembled a team of young warriors, which includes his daughter Cassie, to deal with the new threats in Outworld. The central focus of the story is on the return of Shinnok, which although predictable, is familiar to fans of the series and rather enjoyable. The turmoil within the Cage family is also believable and well-done. We see Johnny and Sonya fall in love and their relationship fall apart as the latter is too focused on protecting Earthrealm to be a wife and mother. The problem, however, is with the rest of the story.

Like Injustice: Gods Among Us, Mortal Kombat X’s marketing includes a series of comics meant to fill in the twenty year gap from Johnny Cage’s defeat of Shinnok to the present day events of the story. While enjoyable at first, the comics’ story quickly becomes a convenient excuse to kill off characters not used in the game. The Outworld civil war, a major subplot in Mortal Kombat X, is touched on early in the game but later ignored altogether for a different plotline which leads to the deaths of many notable characters. Though character death is not uncommon in this series, there is an unsettling finality in both the Mortal Kombat X comics and the game itself. While some characters deaths can be undone, notably Mileena’s (she’s a clone and her Klassic tower ending reveals that there are hundreds of Mileena clones hidden away across Outworld), others cannot. Considering the body count at the end of the game’s story, fans are left wondering how the series progresses beyond this point. Will Shang Tsung return and possess the ability to resurrect fallen warriors or will there be a new plot device that will allow them to return from the dead? It’s difficult to see how writers can undo the loss of characters in a way that’s convincing to series fans. As they did with Mortal Kombat: Armageddon previously, it appears that NetherRealm Studios may have written themselves into a corner.

Aside from these story shortcomings, there is also the issue of the game’s roster of characters, which are a collection of hits and misses. Both Cassie and Jacqui Briggs are welcome additions to the series. Cassie has her father’s wit, along with a handful of his moves. Though I doubt NetherRealm Studios would not include Johnny Cage in the next game, if they did decide not to, Cassie can more or less fill her father’s place in the roster. Jacqui, on the other hand, is very different from her father in terms of personality and fighting style. Between her and Cassie, it’s hard to pick a favourite. It’s a shame, however, that the other new additions are so lackluster. Though he is a futuristic ninja with psychic powers, Takeda is rather bland. Kotal Kahn, the new ruler of Outworld, is revealed in the game’s story to be more of a coward than a conqueror. He is a poor replacement for ruthless Shao Khan. The other characters are either bizarre or just boring. Despite having a roster at release of twenty-five characters, including Goro, I really only wanted to play with half of them. The additional downloadable characters didn’t do much to address this problem, and instead created a new one.

Mortal Kombat X

Strong Points: A great fighting game with superb graphics and solid gameplay.
Weak Points: One of the franchise’s weakest stories. Questionable story and character design choices, along with the inclusion of microtransactions suggest interference in the game’s development. Mortal Kombat X’s online multiplayer is inconsistent.
Moral Warnings: The most graphic game in the series. Fatalities and Brutalities are extremely gruesome. There is also a fair bit of swearing in the Story mode dialogue. Finally, Mortal Kombat X introduces the Kung Jin, the series' first openly gay character.

With the release of Kombat Pack 2, Mortal Kombat X has four guest characters from horror movies. The inclusion of Leatherface in particular upset some fans who were hoping to see more returning characters, including those which appear in the game’s story. The idea that characters featured in story mode weren’t prioritized for development and added as playable characters, let alone excluded from the game’s original roster, is surprising to say the least. Player frustration that they could play against fan favourite characters in the story, but not play as them is understandable. This frustration later turned to anger when rumors spread suggesting that Leatherface’s inclusion in Mortal Kombat X was part of a marketing strategy for an upcoming Leatherface movie. Whether these rumours are true or not, the appearance of corporate interference has the effect of tarnishing Mortal Kombat X.

Despite all the blood and guts, Mortal Kombat X is a visually attractive game. Character models are almost lifelike. Unlike previous Mortal Kombat games, female attire is far less revealing. For example, Mileena, who wore the most revealing costumes in the previous game, is now wearing noticeably more clothing. Some players might appreciate the new modest female wardrobe which represents a significant change from what fans have come to expect from the Mortal Kombat series. Aside from realistic character models, the stages give players the feeling that they are lived in. The most impressive of these is the Outworld Marketplace which gives players a glimpse at life in this hostile realm. Like Injustice, stages are also interactable. This means that the beautifully rendered weapons lying around can actually be picked up and used in combat. In fact, it is actually amazing how well the interactable elements blend in with the rest of the stage. Like NetherRealm Studio’s previous game, though background music and sounds are par for the course, voice acting for Mortal Kombat X is stellar. Top talent like Troy Baker, Johnny Yong Bosch and Kelly Hu were brought in to voice the game’s characters. Considering how much spoken dialogue there is in this game, it was important that it was delivered professionally.

Gameplay is where Mortal Kombat X really shines. It builds upon the previous Mortal Kombat game with a more flexible combo system, along with the return of running. As with the previous game, each character has a handful of combo strings made up of normal attacks, as well as special movies and an X-Ray attack (Mortal Kombat’s equivalent to a super move). Button inputs feel more precise and, as a result, combos are easier to perform. Players can also adjust controller options if they’re having trouble executing special moves by turning on Input Shortcuts and Release Check. Such options make playing Mortal Kombat X easier for newer players, but can disadvantage more skilled players (I have them turned off). Because of the general ease in executing attacks, combos are easier to execute than most other two-dimensional fighting games. The addition of running also aids in building combos, not just for the position of a character while juggling an opponent, but to extend combos through run cancelling. As stated previously, stages are interactable. This addition isn’t game changing, but will give more calculating players an advantage, especially since players can combo stage-based attacks. The introduction of character variations also adds more depth to the game. After choosing their character, players can choose from one of three different character variations. These variations range from different special moves for characters to drastically different play styles. The problem, however, is that only one or two of the variations are worth playing with. NetherRealm Studios should have spent more time developing these character variations since experimenting with them to find ones that fit a gamers’ play style adds depth to the game.

The only real issue I have with Mortal Kombat’s gameplay is the inclusion of Easy Fatalities, which allow players to perform Fatalities by using tokens that are purchased with real money. The inclusion of microtransactions in games has been a source of frustration for gamers, especially since they are becoming more common. Not only are Fatalities optional, but are already easy to execute. Given that I spent seventy dollars to buy the game, I find it more than a little insulting that NetherRealm Studios would include this feature in the hope that I would spend even more money on an unnecessary feature. Its inclusion suggests that there was corporate interference in the game’s development. Although there is no need to use Easy Fatalities, the token counter is ever present. It’s a black eye on what is otherwise a solid combat system.

Mortal Kombat X
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 57%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 3.5/10
Sexual Content - 8/10
Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

As with the previous game in the series, Mortal Kombat X offers players a lot of single player content. Upon first loading up the game, players are taken through a short gameplay tutorial and a video explaining the new Faction system. Regardless of what mode players choose to spend their time playing, they will earn points towards their desired faction. Though little more than a gimmick, it makes players feel that they are part of a larger community. The Story mode, like Injustice and the previous Mortal Kombat game, is divided into several chapters each of which focuses on a specific character. Playing through Story mode will take players roughly five hours to complete depending on their skill with fighting games. After finishing the game, players can play the Klassic tower (MKX’s arcade ladder), found among the Traditional Towers, to unlock character specific endings. There are also the Test Your Might, Test Your Luck, Survival and Endless towers for players looking for additional challenges. The Living Towers provide players with Hourly, Daily and Premier challenge towers which are time sensitive. Aside from the towers, players can also play a Single Match against a computer controlled opponent.

Mortal Kombat X’s online multiplayer, despite numerous patches released by NetherRealm Studios to fix it, is inconsistent. While some players have not reported issues, others have had serious difficulty. My time online was marred by bizarre slowdowns and constant lag. When the game was released, the online servers were regularly being shut down for maintenance. Even connecting to the WBPlay, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment service is inconsistent. Far too often I found myself unable to connect to the service, even after numerous login attempts. Despite the online problems with Injustice and their promises to address them in MKX, NetherRealm Studios still haven’t figured out how to provide players with a solid online experience.

The Krypt returns in Mortal Kombat X, allowing players the ability to spend their hard earned coins on additional game content, including costumes, Brutality and Fatalities. What is unique about this Krypt compared to ones in previous games is that it is more interactive.  Players don’t simply move around a graveyard and open coffins, but they need to solve puzzles to open up new areas which lead to more chests. While wandering around the Krypt, players will be attacked by wolves, large spiders and zombies. Each attack triggers a quick time event, which can earn players coins if they succeed or it can cost them if they fail. Though a novelty at first, the constant jump scares can make going to the Krypt a frustrating ordeal. Aside from this, I have a more serious issue with the Krypt. As with the Easy Fatality microtransactions, players can spend real money to unlock all its contents. Considering how long it takes to open all the chests, and the fact that players cannot turn off the random encounter jump scares, one has to wonder whether this was done by design, to frustrate gamers into spending more money on this game. Again, this inclusion suggests corporate interference in the game’s development.

Morally, there is little that can be said in the game’s defense. The Mortal Kombat mythology rejects the existence of a Christian God and in fact replaced Him with a group of Elder Gods, along with minor gods like Raiden who protect Earthrealm. Also, due to its graphic nature, this is not a game that should be played by or around children. Story mode begins with gruesome imagery and doesn’t let up with the blood and guts. Players can also brutally execute defeated opponents by using Fatalities and Brutalities. This isn’t surprising for players who have played previous Mortal Kombat games, but Mortal Kombat X takes the gore to a new and very unsettling level. The language is just as bad with major swear words being used throughout the game’s story. Also, it would be hard to discuss morality in Mortal Kombat X without also discussing Kung Jin, the series’ first openly gay character. His existence is more about checking off a box than political advocacy. Aside from one line about sexual preference, there is no discussion about homosexuality. Players are instead left with a character with a unique move set, but little else. Truthfully, Kung Jin is worse than a boring character, he’s unlikeable. He’s an arrogant know-it-all who picks fights with everyone, including his teammates. I cannot imagine homosexuals would be happy with the way this character is portrayed as he is the only gay character in the game.

When looking at the game as a whole, it is hard not to notice that Mortal Kombat X is very different from previous Mortal Kombat games, and not in a good way. It leaves the clear impression that there was a lot of corporate interference in the game’s development, mainly as a result of the chilling effect of political correctness that has gripped the video game industry of late. To start with, the story’s main heroes are diverse to a fault. It is hard to ignore that the team sent to save Earthrealm was practically ripped from an after school special. It’s almost as if NetherRealm Studios forgot about how diverse their cast of characters already was and made the extra effort to ensure they couldn’t be criticized for a lack of diversity. Also, as stated previously, the revealing costumes of previous games have been replaced by concealing costumes which desexualizes female characters. Aside from Mileena’s more modest wardrobe, Sonya Blade no longer looks like the sex symbol she was previously. Instead of a tank top and skin tight pants, she is now wearing a full body costume. Other Christians will appreciate the more modest attire, but as a longtime fan of the series, I can't help but be upset by this change. The most bizarre thing about this is that while new characters and changes in attire appear to have been made to appeal to critics, the higher levels of gore in Mortal Kombat X alienates the very same people the other changes were trying to placate. Despite having over a year to correct the mistakes in the original release, NetherRealm Studios failed to do so. By adding additional costumes more in line with attire found in previous games or characters fans begged to be added as downloadable content, they could have addressed the most common complaints of their audience. The developer should have directed its efforts to please those who would buy their game, not those who wouldn’t.

As a long time fan of Mortal Kombat, I have a hard time recommending Mortal Kombat X, especially for those new to series. In terms of graphics, gameplay, and single player content, it is solid. Short comings in the story and character design, along with poor online multiplayer, as well as the inclusion of microtransactions, however, detract from what is otherwise a solid fighting game. In comparison to the previous entry which hit all the right notes, Mortal Kombat X is lacking. It is almost as if Shang Tsung sucked the soul out of the game replacing it with more gore and a failed attempt at political correctness. What players are left with is a game that checks off the right boxes, but does little else. Players who are new to the series should first pick up the Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, PSVita or Steam. Though lacking Mortal Kombat X’s graphics and gameplay, it is more in line with the series than this game in terms of character design and gore.