Metro Weekly

Review: Mortal Kombat X

It's violent almost to a fault, but Mortal Kombat X is an incredibly solid fighting game

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Are you a fan of gore? What about violence? Maybe a little — or a lot — of blood? No? Well, stop right there dear reader, and instead move to another article on this website. Mortal Kombat X is definitely not the game for you.

In my first half hour, I watched a man’s teeth explode as I drove a knee into his head, his skull crack as I threw a knife at him, and his spine fracture as I pulled him down into the ground. I watched men have their heads torn off, swords driven through their bodies, heads frozen solid and smashed, and explosions tear them to pieces. In the first half hour. Even Quentin Tarantino seems sanitized compared to Mortal Kombat X .

Of course, Mortal Kombat has always been synonymous with violence. Its fatalities are deliberately gruesome — what’s different here is that they’re depicted in 1080p. While many would argue that it’s violence undercut with comedy, I wonder if this latest installment will turn some fans away. To call it extreme is a gross understatement. Kung Lao slowly pushes his opponent’s face down onto a saw blade. Johnny Cage rips his opponent’s chest open to peer through and quote Jack Nicholson from The Shining. Scorpion burns a hole through his opponent’s torso and then slices their face off as they collapse, exposing their brain and still-twitching tongue. I have a high tolerance for gore, but even I found myself wincing while watching some of Mortal Kombat’s X-Ray moves and fatalities.

If you know what you’re getting into, and are a fan of the fighting genre, Mortal Kombat X is likely an experience you’ll love. Personally, my experience with Mortal Kombat began and ended on the original PlayStation, when my younger self lacked the dextrous ability to carry out its complex “kombos.” Mashing X was an easy way to both infuriate my friends and give myself repetitive strain injury. As an adult, with years of gaming experience under my belt, I’d be much better equipped to take on X’s challenges. Right?

Wrong. Mortal Kombat X took great pleasure in repeatedly kicking my ass. A hint that my arrogance was misplaced came when I struggled to make it through the tutorial. I tried to trick the game, dropping the difficulty down to Very Easy and launching into the story. Scorpion wasted no time in handing my ass to me and forcing me to restart. This isn’t a game you can approach with flippancy. It takes time, it takes dedication, it takes skill, dexterity and a memory able to store the numerous moves each character is capable of performing. More than once I found myself shouting as my useless fingers struggled to keep up with my brain, frantically pummelling in kombos as I desperately tried to succeed.

And then, eventually, it clicked. When I stopped repeatedly dying, I was able to appreciate the game’s surprisingly great story, which mixes action and comedy with a genuinely intriguing plot. For someone who’s spent so much time out of the series, it’s a little incomprehensible, but that’s my punishment for neglecting it. Essentially, Johnny Cage leads a team from Earthrealm to Outworld, intent on quelling a civil war and capturing an amulet which has Shinnok imprisoned inside. The amulet is stolen, with the intent to release Shinnok. From there, the story branches out to the Netherrealm, involving double agents, potential attacks on Earthrealm and many, many, many deaths. It’s fairly engrossing, and provides a great backdrop as you rip your opponents spine out from their chest.

As an added bonus for us gaymers, it also features the first openly gay character in Mortal Kombat’s history. New character Kung Jin, cousin of Kung Lao, offers an insight into his sexuality during an exchange with Raiden. Unsure of whether he will be accepted by the Shaolin Monks like his cousin, Raiden states: “They care about only what is in your heart; not whom your heart desires.” So there you go — Mortal Kombat X is breaking new ground, as well as countless skulls.

In terms of gameplay, X handles like a seasoned pro. During fights, you’ll have your usual roster of attacks, combos, X-Ray special moves and the aforementioned fatalities. The 2011 Mortal Kombat’s Super Meter returns here, which controls X-Ray attacks, while a Stamina Meter regulates environmental moves and dashing. Borrowing from their experience on Injustice: Gods Among Us, NetherRealm Studios has introduced interactable environments, letting players jump around opponents or use their surroundings to inflict more damage. Variations grant each character three different skills sets: Raiden, for instance, can utilize lightning-based moves, the ability to teleport, or lightning traps. Mastering everything — or, at least, mastering something — takes time and patience, but with the right character and move-set, you’ll reap its rewards.

Outside of the main story, players have a variety of modes to enjoy. There’s the expected practice mode, arcade mode, and training modes. Living Towers are an evolution of 2011’s Challenge Towers, which feature challenges that players can complete for rewards — however, they’ll change weekly, daily, or even hourly, to ensure they remain a punishing endeavor. Online multiplayer modes include versus — which can be online or offline — as well as Team Battle and King of the Hill, which offers the fun ability for spectators to watch and react to fights.

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Underneath its blood-soaked, bone-crunching, fireball-throwing, telekinesis-using exterior, Mortal Kombat X reveals an incredibly solid, enjoyable and eminently replayable fighting game. Sure, its beautiful graphics have opened up a new level of nausea-inducing fatalities, but to dismiss it purely on violence terms would be to ignore an initially punishing but incredibly deep experience.

Those who advocate for less-violent games will continue to decry Mortal Kombat X’s over-the-top gore, but they’re entirely missing the point. If you’ve got a strong stomach, nimble fingers and aren’t ashamed to have a game kick your ass (and presumably rip your beating heart out of your chest), there’s an awful lot to love here.

Mortal Kombat X is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, iOS, and Android, with PS3 and Xbox 360 versions launching later this year.

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.