Mortal Kombat 11 (Playstation 4 Review)
Mortal Kombat has figuratively carved its way in to the fighting game genre since 1992 and if it was up to Ed Boon they’d probably have gone for a more literal approach to the aforementioned carving. That is to say that Midway Games and NetherRealm Studios have quite the penchant for violence. Now, 27 years later, Mortal Kombat is ready to amp up its gore to 11 and won’t be satisfied with a simple Spinal Tap.
Continuing the trend of pushing all the boundaries it can, Mortal Kombat 11 once again shows that fighting games can have a story. There are grandiose swings of balance between dark and light as fighters come face to face with former selves to forge new alliances or tear old alliances apart. The latest threat, Kronika, enlists the help of different time periods and alternate realities that exist within the Mortal Kombat universe to enact her plan to revenge her son, Shinnok. It’s definitely a neat way to acknowledge that Mortal Kombat’s history is a little all over the place and gives nods to some older character models/outfits, bringing fan service full circle beyond a few alternate outfits. Right up until the closing moments there are truly brilliant scenes that will satisfy the most hardcore fans. The only downside is that the closing act feels unfinished. Character’s act out of character, conclusions aren’t quite reached, and it ultimately feels robbed of and ending fitting of the build-up throughout. Given 2, maybe even 3, more chapters could tie off all the threads and answer so many what ifs that we are left with, but instead we are left with a really corny ascendance arc that feels rather ill-fitting and poorly executed.
Similarly, so were the Towers until patch 1.03. Upon launch the Challenge Towers could be excruciatingly difficult and a horrible grind towards progression. While the staple modifiers of the Mortal Kombat series were in play, they felt like they were exaggerated to a point that they weren’t fun anymore. Stuff like icy floors and environmental hazards stopped being quirky barriers to work around and started becoming towering (excuse the pun) walls that were impossible to scale. It wasn’t long before I stopped trying to unlock the rather bloated offering of gear and played around in the easy standard Towers to unlock the arcade endings for the characters I enjoyed.
It’s quite damning that anything associated with the gear and Krypt just feels like more effort than it’s truly worth. Every activity, from the story to the towers and online play, rewards you with a mix of Time Crystals, Hearts, Koins, and whatever those green token things are. There’s so many different currencies that I have genuinely lost track. At the risk of repeating of myself, it’s more bloated than the corpses Kharon has ferried to the Netherealm time and time again. Even with all the resources in the world, you have to rely on randomly generated rewards from the Krypt, where your hearts and Koins are spent, or you have to hope that outfits/cosmetics you don’t have the time to grind for appear within the store section that operates on a daily rotation and is anything but cheap. Simply put, it’s bad and really really boring.
Thankfully, way below the artificial padding, there’s some really solid gameplay stretching itself to the limit to ensure that Mortal Kombat 11 holds together. Typically modern Mortal Kombat games have heavily favoured the aggressor in terms of design and not getting the first hit could make or break a match, especially in MK X, but thanks to both players now starting with full defensive and offensive meter this is an issue of the past. The new offensive meter allows players to enhance their moves, similar to meter burn moves in previous games, to extend combos or strap on some extra damage as well as perform wake up attacks, replacing reversal and armoured moves when knocked down, to either launch opponents or just knock them back depending on the button used, or to perform flawless blocking attacks. Then there is the defensive meter that allows players to use interactive environments, tech out of air juggles, or perform a forward/backward roll from a knocked down state. For Mortal Kombat 11, these are all much needed and very welcome changes, but comparatively each one of these mechanics exist within other fighting games, mainly King of Fighters and the almost direct lift of Lethal Hits from Soulcalibur VI as Krushing Blows, and executed so much better. Things like Flawless Blocking attacks require you to immediately release the block button and hit up and an attack for an unnecessary execution barrier. Then there are the short hops that have extremely limiting range and can only be performed directly upwards instead of up-back and up-forward that dramatically impacts their use and viability, even with the extra attacks available from them.
Although, with all these new additions, it’s hard to keep track of some of the more nuanced aspects of Mortal Kombat 11, like Krushing Blows. Krushing Blows are the second most flashy addition to Mortal Kombat and are one off bonuses attached to particular moves or throws when they connect in specific circumstances. At this moment in time they can make or break a character. Stuff like Geras receiving a crushing blow if the final overhead of his string hits after the first two hits are blocked might seem ok, but the linearity of the mix up thanks to the ability to cancel in to a low special makes for a rather frustrating guessing game up close at the most basic level. As an exemplar of questionable design decisions for balance, it compounds nearly every issue I’ve had with the series in that it creates a constant guessing game that mechanics can’t mitigate. The repercussions of the design choices are felt throughout. Most defensive mechanics are intrinsically linked to your character being knocked down, outside of Flawing Blocking. If you were to try and perfect every mechanic, the basic set up to do so with a Kompetitvely viable variation is an absolute pain.
Pre-set variations offered by Mortal Kombat 11 don’t fall in line with the accepted Kompetitive variations. That means players have to manually create them should they wish to play around in tournament mode or prepare for online ranked play. At best it’s an oversight, at worst t’s bad design that misleads casual players who are in for a shock when they jump in to ranked and their custom variations that they spent a long time developing and earning gear for become moot. It’s really a missed opportunity that these variations are exclusively tied to casual play and there’s no online ranked channel to support their inclusion considering how big a factor they play in the single player longevity of Mortal Kombat 11.
The only remaining impact of unlocking gear is really on a visual front at that point and the extent of its prevalence is tied to randomly generated sets, which are fairly ugly at times. Even with the crisp and unrelenting 60fps of the combat accompanied by the gorgeous 30fps cinematics, these random outfits cannot be saved.
Mortal Kombat 11 is clearly evolving as it goes and Warner Borther/NRS’s persistent patches are both a blessing and a curse. Within one week of launch we had seen three patches accompanied by the odd online hot fix, resulting in a feeling of instability or confidence in the product. Not only were bugs fixed, thankfully, but there balance tweaks that resulted in character’s basic game plans changing overnight, TWICE. Regardless of how good the story was, the final chapter just stings and I can’t see beyond it. The decisions made to conclude the entire campaign are just so unearned. Then you have the weird accompaniment of mapping the buttons, the required inputs of some reversal/defensive options, and the lingering notion that the new mechanics are all familiar and ultimately lead me to going back to the games they are also present in rather than appreciating their implementation. Personally, Mortal Kombat 11 has been the hardest to judge my enjoyment of in recent years. The game designer in me laughs at the implementation and use of some buttons, the casual gamer in me loves that absurdity of the violence and the visuals, and the competitive player in me wants to nit-pick the overall treatment of balance and how the game plays out in a serious environment.