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Mortal Kombat Hands-on Preview

by Xav de Matos, Aug 20, 2010 3:20pm PDT

Mortal Kombat is something of a guilty pleasure for fighting game fans. The series has never achieved the same dedicated tournament following as Capcom's Street Fighter series but remains a personal highlight for me in the pantheon of great toe-to-toe brawler franchises.

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe took the series in a new direction. While it was a good decision to get more mainstream (Read: 'T' Rated) attention for the series, it completely changed what made the original series so popular. People come to Mortal Kombat for the gore and insane fatalities. MK vs. DC removed those concepts in favor of widening its audience. The new Mortal Kombat, however, takes us back to a simpler time. A time where blood flows like red wine and spines are as fragile as fine china.

Garnett covered the basics in our E3 2010 preview of 2011's Mortal Kombat, so I'll skip over most of that. What you should know is the game's roster has yet to be fully revealed. Recently, the development team at the newly named NetherRealm Studios, revealed two new additions: Cyrax and Kitana.

Speaking with Mortal Kombat producer Adam Urbano, we were told that the game is somewhat of a retelling of the first three Mortal Kombat titles -- hence the appearance of some characters who have been killed off in recent titles.

Each level is designed to have at least one unique feature. The newest level I was shown featured rolling sandstorms that grew as matches progressed. The effect can sometimes blind the action but never in a way that disrupted the combat.

In this morning's Morning Discussion, commenters asked whether the game's blood and gore truly was a return to form. Yes. Pools of blood litter the stage. Fighters grow increasingly battered and bruised as fights take place, swelling and protruding blood as the battle rages on.

Fatalities return as a demonstration of how brutal the series can be. Sub-Zero's final move, for example, freezes an enemy from the waist-down before the masked fighter rips the torso from his or her body. Blood and guts are back, ladies and gentlemen.

The fighting itself harkens back to the classic style too. While the combatants and stages are rendered in 3D using a heavily modified version of Unreal Engine 3, the action all takes place on a 2D plane.

Of the two new fighters, I preferred Kitana. Her bladed fans offered some fantastic opportunities for devastating combos. The character isn't finalized though, as the version I played didn't even have any X-Ray moves available to her. (For those unaware, a new X-Ray special move is added to every fighter's arsenal. Fighters attack with powerful moves as the camera shifts to a view showing off your opponent's skeleton, revealing how brutal the attacks are internally.)

Cyrax was closer to to final version. Able to disassemble and reassemble himself around the arena as a teleportation maneuver and toss bombs at his foes. Some questions in our comments are looking for specific character lists and fatality counts, NetherRealm isn't willing to show all its cards just yet.

In its current state, Fatalities are a simple two-button combination of buttons. Producer Urbano says that will change but notes the team isn't against keeping it extremely simple in the final version. Personally, I'd prefer it simple.

Another tweak is the frequency the computer uses the move. According to Urbano previous Mortal Kombat titles allowed the computer to pull off finishing moves about 5% of the time. What he is personally excited about is the ability to "data mine" global statistics for the game following release to tweak some of those settings. The problem, he admits, is that in the past they've added so much "cool stuff" to Mortal Kombat and most players never see it. Watching the statistics will allow them to tweak settings so players get the most of the title.

Speaking of tweaks, Urbano says NetherRealm will be able to make balance changes to the game immediately. There is no need for certified updates. Using the example of Superman's overpowered ground-pound move in MK vs. DC, he says the new system will allow the team to make tweaks on the fly with minimal hassle, rather than be stuck with a broken mechanic.

Also returning to Mortal Kombat are multiple unlocks. According to Urbano, unlocks in the new MK will put other games in the series to shame. There are way more this time around, which sounds quite daunting.

Online players will be happy to hear the game will feature something akin to Street Fighter's "Quarter Match" mode. Up to eight players can join tournaments online, spectating as battles happen. Although he wouldn't specify, Urbano said the team wants to add things for spectating players "to do" as games happen. When I asked if that meant spectating players would see their characters in the background pulling off moves, he only smiled at the idea.

As for the game's story mode, players will run through a "much longer" narrative than was present in MK vs. DC. In the new Mortal Kombat story mode, players will play as multiple characters in the universe. According to Urbano, the "story" component of past Mortal Kombat tends to be ignored in favor of arcade action. They'd like to change that this time around.

I was already excited about Mortal Kombat. Playing it at X10 only solidified that excitement. The game looks and feels fantastic. This is the Mortal Kombat game this generation has been waiting for.

For the most part, Mortal Kombat has always been a franchise that carried its "Rated M" torch with pride. Although the last game in the series shifted that focus, this version gets us back to the blood-soaked action I fondly remember from my youth.





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