Mortal Kombat X review for PS4, Xbox One, PC

Platform: PS4
Also On: Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Medium: Disc/Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: Yes

I’m old enough to actually remember when the original Mortal Kombat hit arcades, bowling alleys and pizza parlors in my area. Not counting the console spin-offs, I’ve dumped countless quarters/tokens and hours into the various Mortal Kombat releases over the past 20 years, so I definitely have some history with Midway’s (and now WBIE and NetherRealm Studios’) fighting game franchise. Historically, the original trilogy (MK1 – UMK3) has dominated most of my playtime, but I certainly appreciated what the excellent Mortal Kombat 9 brought to the table for modern fighting game fans. Mortal Kombat X takes the 2011 reboot, updates it a bit more for the newer generation of console and PC players, and launches as yet another enjoyable and entertaining as hell installment in the series.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been able to keep up with the Mortal Kombat mythology. I like the characters and their background stories, and the MK universe as a whole, but the overall story arc is convoluted and confusing. With that being said, I don’t actually mind it if my fighting games have a plot, and like MK9, MKX features an actual story mode complete with cut scenes, QTE sequences and a chance to play with or against many of the new and returning characters. Most of the story revolves around the Cage family (Johnny, Sonya Blade, Cassie), the transition from the old/original generation of kombatants to the new generation, and the introduction of the new fighters. The story mode lasts only 4-5 hours (at most) and isn’t terribly difficult, but I had a good time with it. The slightly stuttery video quality is a little iffy at times, though the choreographed fight scenes and acting, wedged in between the fights themselves, isn’t half bad.

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The gameplay in Mortal Kombat X is weighty and solid, and doesn’t appear like it diverges too far from MK9 when first picking the controller up. Thanks to the new stamina meter, environmental interactions and updates in the way the super meter is utilized, the overall strategy, not to mention the flow of the matches and move timing, does feel somewhat different. The two bar stamina meter controls your character’s capability to dash or run, and also provides he/she/it with a way to interact with the environments, offensively or defensively. We?re talking tossing barrels, swinging old ladies like a weapon, or launching across the screen, that kind of thing. The meter refills on its own fairly quickly, but as you may expect, it really limits the opportunities to abuse those actions. The more familiar three bar super meter, which fills up by dealing and taking damage, provides fighters with the ability to unleash enhanced special moves, break combos/throws, and pull off a multi-hit X-Ray attack. Needless to say, these additions and changes offer additional strategies that players need to be very aware of. Shortly after spending some time with the tutorial and practice modes to get a better understanding of the new systems, meters and move lists, I was pulling off some pretty competent combos (against the CPU at least).

Since none of my fighting game controllers are compatible with the PS4, the DualShock 4 was my only option; Fortunately, Mortal Kombat X plays quite well with the controller with little to no tweaking required. For those who like to customize their layouts, NetherRealm was nice enough to include some advanced configuration options along with a handful of presets and custom slots. PS4 players who also own a PS Vita should definitely give Mortal Kombat X Remote Play a try. With the new 60fps framerate Remote Play option, after swapping to a different controller preset (to shift L2 and R2 to the Vita?s triggers), the experience was surprisingly smooth and playable.
mortal kombat x_kano-scorpion_2Out of the box, Mortal Kombat X includes 24 core characters and 5 DLC fighters that we know of at the moment. Since each and every character in the roster features 3 unique variations (which switches up some basic moves, specials, combos and finishers) there’s still a whole lot of move lists to learn and experiment with. Personally, over two dozen distinct fighters is more than enough variety for me, especially taking into account the sometimes very different variations.

Speaking of the roster, I’m more than satisfied with the ratio of returning fighters to new characters. Some players may mourn the loss of Stryker, Nightwolf, Sindel, Sektor, Cyrax and the others who didn?t make the cut, but it?s a worthy trade-off. I especially like how NetherRealm introduces the new generation of Mortal Kombat fighters such as Cassie Cage (Johnny and Sonya?s daughter), Jacqui Briggs (Jax?s daughter), Takashi Takeda (Kenshi?s son) and Kung Jin (Kung Lao?s younger cousin). Each of the newbies play much different than the older family members that we?ve been playing with for years, though there are certainly subtle and not so subtle influences here and there. The other new characters include bad-ass cowboy assassin Erron Black, creepy bug lady D’Vorah, powerful Aztec warrior Kotal Kahn, and the Mad Max Master Blaster-inspired Ferra & Torr. The new fighters look and play unique, and none of them specifically resemble an existing character in any way. It?s too early to tell how well the new cast (and variations) are balanced against established fighters, but we?re sure that NetherRealm is keeping an eye on the stats.

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Beyond the tutorial/practice modes, there’s surprisingly little in the way of hand-holding in MKX to teach about the new systems and gameplay features. In typical NetherRealm fashion, there?s a metric ton of gameplay modes and content available in the game right from the start. In addition to the story and single player match modes; there is a Test Your Luck mode with a selection of randomly selected modifiers, and a pair of Traditional and Living Tower modes. Traditional includes a selection of classic arcade-style fight towers of assorted difficulties and types which includes klassic, survival, endless and even a button mashing Test Your Might tower. Living Towers are those which refresh hourly/daily/weekly with new challenges for all players to tackle. These towers offer many ways to gain extra XP, not only just by playing well, but by meeting certain goals along the way. Of course the classic 2 player versus mode also exists. Like XP, players can earn Koins by merely playing the game, which can then be spent by exploring the Krypt to unlock new content such as art, costumes, finishers and more.

New to Mortal Kombat X is the always online functionality, and the Factions metagame, which requires all players to enlist in one of 5 factions and compete globally against the competition. You work with other members of your faction by completing challenges, in single and online modes and games, which contribute to your own XP, faction XP and War points. The better your faction does on the global leaderboard, the more content is unlocked, including new modes and even Faction Kill finishing moves. It?s a nice touch to be able to take part in the community even if you have no real interest in venturing into an actual online match.

Online modes in Mortal Kombat X are similarly well fleshed out. MKX?s online features include traditional player and ranked matches, a King of the Hill mode (complete with spectating and chat), Team battles, Tower battles, Test Your Luck variations, and matchmaking functionality along with an online room/game browser. Even though the game was yet to be officially released when testing the online, there was actually no shortage of players to challenge in the many available modes. However, with the exception of a few other North American gamers, many of these players appeared to be from Europe and Latin America and lag was occasionally an issue. Even though I was able to get in some solid matches here and there, it?s difficult to say how well the experience will hold up once the whole world gets their hands on it. Will the servers crash and burn under the load of the always connected features and online gameplay? We’ll find out in a couple days.


One missing feature that I hope can be patched in later is the ability to mute other players while in an online match. It?s one thing to chat or trash talk a bit during an online match, but hearing garbled background music, unrelated conversations and the clicking of buttons thanks to an open mic gets old very damn quickly.

In case you were wondering, Mortal Kombat X is a pretty great looking game. I question some of the dull menus and UI elements, but the in-game visuals are among the best in a fighting game yet. The gameplay appears to be an absolutely solid 60fps on the PS4, with finishers, X-Ray moves and story scenes dropping down to 30fps by design. Characters generally look amazing and are animated extremely well, and the backgrounds are detailed and interesting enough to look at without being too distracting. I do kind of miss some of the classic background variations that were included in MK9, and I?m surprised at the complete lack of stage fatalities, but with each character potentially having a half-dozen finishing moves of their own it?s a minor complaint. As creative and inventive as many of them are, the finishing moves in Mortal Kombat X (including Fatalities, Brutalities and Faction kills) border on being almost too damn disgusting. From the bone cracking and squishy sound effects, to the detailed open head and chest wounds, to exploding organs and geysers of blood, NetherRealm really stepped up their game as compared to the relatively tame MK9 finishers.

With not much other competition out there at the moment, and a few solid years of hype behind the game, Mortal Kombat X couldn’t have been released at a better time. With a new generation of kombatants, updated and refined gameplay, and enough content to keep players busy for weeks, fighting game fans won’t be disappointed.

Grade: B+