The end is near.... Mortal Kombat: Armageddon Preview

One could argue that two series are responsible for the rampant popularity of the one-on-one fighting game genre: Street Fighter II, and Mortal Kombat. While Street Fighter has always been considered the deeper, more pure fighting game, it hasn't produced any new iterations in years. Mortal Kombat, however, was given a complete makeover in the form of 2002's MK: Deadly Alliance. With varied characters (no more palette swaps of Scorpion and Sub-Zero!), deeper game play, and of course, even gorier fatalities, Deadly Alliance and its successor, 2004's MK: Deception proved that Mortal Kombat has what it takes to stay alive and compete with today's fighters such as Dead or Alive. Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is the latest in Midway's long running series, and proves to provide the biggest brawl of all. I had a chance to talk with Ed Boon, Mortal Kombat co-creator himself, to get the dish on this October's biggest fighter.

Final Round... FIGHT!

First and foremost, fans can rest assured, as the tag-line of the next MK is a bit misleading. Boon explains: "Armageddon WILL be the last MK game that will be made ... for this generation [Xbox 1, PS2] of consoles." The focus of the game will be the culmination of most, if not all, existing storylines, something that Mortal Kombat has always focused on, where many fighting games do not. Not only will Armageddon be the last fighter on this generation of hardware, but it will also be the last MK game that incorporates the fighting engine that has been in use since Deadly Alliance. What do future platforms hold in store for the series? Time will tell; Ed Boon, unfortunately, will not!

Choose Your Destiny

As noted, Mortal Kombat has always featured rather thought out storylines for its cast of characters. Because MK:A will focus on wrapping up these storylines—in short, seeing who should stick around for the next wave of MK games, and who should be given the ax—you can expect to see a few characters you haven't seen in a while. And by a few, I mean ALL of them. Characters like Stryker, Sheeva, Sektor, Motaro, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn that haven't been seen since the days of MK3 or MK: Gold will return, as will all others. Mortal Kombat 1 through Deception is represented here, and there will be a few new faces as well. This, combined with a feature that I will reveal shortly, will make for a 60+ cast of characters. Boon says it best: "No more 'what if' scenarios. Players will be able to create any super-match ups they can think of."

Motaro wins! FLAWLESS VICTORY!

But here's the thing: the last time we had bosses selectable by default in an MK game (MK Trilogy), the balancing left a little to be desired... which is putting it lightly. So what about in Armageddon? Will Shao Kahn, Goro and others be able to easily lay the smack down on other "normal" fighters such as Sub-Zero, Sonya, and Kano? "The boss characters are going to go through the same development and balancing as the normal characters in Armageddon," assures Boon. "In Trilogy, [the bosses] had to be pieced together with the 'boss-only' assets created for MK1, 2 and 3. Because of this, they ... never got the same treatment as the other characters, which were balanced from their original arcade games."

So, let's recap: Balanced bosses? Check. All MK characters from every game? Check. Now again, that makes for a ton of playable (and familiar) characters, but what if that's just not enough for you? Well first of all, you're picky. But secondly, MK: Armageddon will have what it takes to keep you satisfied: a very expansive create-a-fighter mode. You'll be able to create any type of fighter you wish, as well as take advantage of the deep combo system this particular MK engine offers, and of course, fatalities (more on those later).

AWESOME Combo!

The amount of control you'll have over the fighter remains to be seen. After all, Deadly Alliance and Deception featured unique fighting arts for every character, so one has to wonder if you'll have to use pre-made arts, or if you'll be able to create your own fighting style(s). Boon says that the team is "working on the extent we will force players to create each part of their character. We donÂ’t want to make it too much work, but at the same time we want players to be able to really get creative and have a lot of control." In fairness, it takes a lot to balance characters, so the lack of being able to create customizable fighting styles (and subsequently, combos) would be understandable, as online play would be hell to balance.

The Soul Still Burns... in multiplayer!

Wait... did I say online play? Hell yeah! In a move that a certain other fighting game should have made, Armageddon will allow you to proudly take your fighters online. After all, " What is the purpose of creating a fighter if you canÂ’t show it off to the world and see how it compares to other created fighters?" Well spoken, Mr. Boon. At least Mortal Kombat is making an effort to keep the soul burning.

Toasty!

Deeper game play has been the core focus of the last few Kombats, and Armageddon looks to expand the horizons for this series' last hurrah. However, the addition of aerial "kombat" isn't particularly new; it just hasn't been prevalent since 3D took over 2D fighting games. Remember the joy of showing off sweet juggle combos in front of an awed arcade audience? Me too, which is why the aerial "kombat" system in Armageddon has me pretty excited. "Armageddon restores the jumping ability that existed in the 2D MK games," Boon explained, "and mixed it into the 3D movement of Deadly Alliance and Deception. The result is easily the wildest, most unpredictable fighting ever and we canÂ’t wait for you too see it." Need an example? The staple Mortal Kombat uppercut is back, just as it was in Deception, only now, you're encouraged to leap into the air after the uppercut and pull off sweet aerial combos, or bust out some juggles from the ground. It's a return to one of the one-on-one fighting genre's core roots that looks oh-so delightful.

Occasionally you'll need a break from all that fighting and what not, so Armageddon is prepared to offer a few alternate game modes. Konquest Mode from Deception is slated to return, which should help further (and conclude) this generation of MK storyline, though the puzzle and chess modes from Deception are out. So, is it just Fighting, Online, and Konquest? Course not! There will be a fourth mode, but as to what it'll be about, Boon's not talking. "We canÂ’t talk specifics now. But we can tell you that there WILL indeed be another 'diversion' (as we like to call it) in Armageddon like there was in Deception."

Another staple of Mortal Kombat is unlockables. Look for more characters, costumes and arenas in Armageddon. Thankfully, you won't be forced to play through the Konquest Mode like you were in Deception. While it was fun, it was also unfair to be forced to play through a mode that you might not have wanted to. Luckily, Boon and the rest of the dev team agree. "One thing we are definitely NOT going to do with Armageddon is FORCE people to play certain modes of the game to unlock items. While playing Konquest, Fighting and the other new mode will help you unlock items, you will not HAVE to play any of the modes this time around. We are also going to greatly simplify the currency system and probably introduce a new method of unlocking items."

FINISH HIM!!!

Well, I guess that's it. I've pretty much told you everything that Mortal Kombat is all about. It's not like it has a special attraction that stopped crowds of people in arcades just to see... oh yeah, fatalities! They're back, and slated to be better (and gruesome...er) than ever before. Fatalities have evolved a lot since the first MK. They went from being quick and dirty (rip off the head and hold it up for the world to see) to being almost cinematic (one of Sub-Zero's Fatals in Deception was to freeze his opponent's legs, shatter them, walk toward them while they attempted to crawl helplessly away, then stomp on them). Now, you'll get to decide how your opponent will meet his or her end. "In previous MK games," Boon explained, "players would have to perform a secret button combination and then watch the fatality happen. Our goal with the new fatality system is to make it interactive. We want players to control each step of a fatality. Players will be stringing together "mini-fatalities" to form much more elaborate custom fatalities. Each mini-fatality will require another button sequence and the amount of time required for each button sequence will be shorter than the last. This way, really good players will be able to fire off 5 or 6 step fatality sequences and create their own custom fatalities."

Every Mortal Kombat character ever, create-a-fighter, and what amounts to create-a-Fatality... this is definitely looking like the ultimate Mortal Kombat experience, and perhaps the ultimate fighting experience to boot! Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is scheduled for release sometime in October.