Mortal Kombat has always been a controversial game. Even when it was first released in 1992, it was clear that this was a piece of interactive entertainment that revelled in cartoon-like hyper violence.
Since then human nature has shown its true colours, propelling Mortal Kombat into the realms of gaming icon. As Grand Theft Auto, Resident Evil and others have shown, it’s when the violence gets gruesome that the sales start going through the roof.
Why is that? What drives our fascination with a violence that goes beyond the moral armour surrounding the Call of Duty series? Mortal Kombat has no such defence; it’s mindless, artistic and above all else, disgusting.
It’s also an outstanding game, and somehow, I’m going to try and explain why.
The first thing to deal with is the violence. It’s as essential to the series as Kung Lao’s hat and if you a) don’t like violence/gore or b) Kung Lao’s hat, then this isn’t the game for you. Violence in the genre has reached a new high and while I’d like to say that the young generation won’t play this game, they will - I did when I was younger.
Morbid fascination combined with a still-awful age restriction system in this country means that too many children are playing Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and Mortal Kombat. These are not games for children. They’re not even games for young teenagers, still forming the morals that’ll shape them as adults. This is a review about a game for adults.
So how bad is it? It’s bad. It’s the goriest game we’ve ever played by far and yet, it’s not the most uncomfortable. Because Mortal Kombat stays so firmly in this limbo between reality and fantasy, we’re able to detach ourselves from the violence.
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It’s also comically stupid. If we’re going on realism, it seems fairly unlikely that you can be set on fire, broken in two, gently massaged with a Katana and then expect to get up and carry on fighting.
Made by developers who love this genre, Mortal Kombat is arguably NetherRealm Studios’ most accessible game to date. Mortal Kombat X welcomes you into its hellish underworld and gently coaxes you into ditching your button mashing for ballet dancing.
For the casual fighter like me, using a normal controller is not an altogether pleasant experience, somehow though MKX makes it feel manageable. Using a similar method to their 2013 release Injustice: Gods Among Us, Mortal Kombat works by building on relatively easy opening combos and then adding to them with specials which can, in turn be linked to more combos.
It’s a simple enough proposition but if timed correctly can quickly result in a victory where you won’t have taken a single hit. It sounds easy enough, and MK will fool you into feeling like a grandmaster at first. Even the easiest combos have a degree of flash to them, but there’s some monstrous combos lurking in the deep - the sort that require weeks of practice and muscle memory. It’s not as surgically precise as something like Street Fighter -- you can happily invite a mate to play without fear of them feeling like a training dummy -- but if you’re worried that MKX is all flash and no substance, don’t be.
This is the most interactive Mortal Kombat landscape yet allowing you to turn everything from car engines to innocent bystanders into large blunt objects that can be deftly punted in the direction of your opposite number. The interactive maps were first introduced in Injustice: Gods Among Us and it’s a sign that NetherRealm can learn from its wins.
Injustice was a glorious reimagining of the DC Comic universe that turned superheroes and villains into darkly rendered arcade fighters. It was a bold move that some doubted would work, but thanks to their deft touch it paid off. The ‘look’ of Injustice has even echoed through into DC’s most recent films.
It’s no surprise then that Mortal Kombat X is equally as impressive visually. The artistic design is flawless with each character lovingly rendered into the otherworldly demons you always imagined them to be back in 1992. This is the best-looking fighting game we’ve ever seen and it’s also one of the best-looking games on Xbox One and PS4.
Mortal Kombat X is in many ways the perfect fighting game, it’s instantly playable, and yet devilishly hard to master. If there's one reservation it's that the controversy of the violence remains - it won’t be for everyone. However if you can see the gore as it was intended, then you’ll be rewarded with one of the finest games available on next-generation consoles at the moment.