DS90 Plays: Mortal Kombat XL [PS4]

Confession time: I do a very poor job of concealing my love of fighting games and yet – until very recently at least – I’ve never liked Mortal Kombat. It isn’t the fault of the series’ signature gore and excessive, almost comical blood-letting because as a fan of horror films and OTT slasher flicks in particular, I actually quietly approved of this frivolous violence. My REAL issue with Mortal Kombat has always been the fighting itself. While the likes of Street Fighter and Tekken involved fluid combos and smooth animation, Mortal Kombat was clunky and just…not fluid. I also didn’t really find myself drawn to many of the character designs either despite the iconic and creative fighting styles of the likes of Sub Zero and Scorpion.

I still distinctly recall picking up MK: Armageddon on the PS2 which was – at the time – the latest game with the biggest and most comprehensive roster ever. It did not impress me and I quickly binned it off, scolding myself for even bothering. Then, something pretty amazing happened: the series received a reboot of sorts for the PS3/360 simply entitled “Mortal Kombat” though the fighting game community referred to it as MK9 (a much better name…don’t get me started on the naming of sequels!). Cautiously, I decided to have another go and this time, I actually ENJOYED what I was playing! MK9 still felt a little ponderous and clunky in that “classic” Mortal Kombat fashion but this time, combos felt like they flowed better and there was at last a game that I wanted to learn. Brutal (in a great way) x-ray special moves made their debut and fatalities had never been so disgustingly graphic (again, in a great way!). It was still no contender for the my own personal Hall of Fighting Game Fame but it was at last a Mortal Kombat that I could call a “good game”.

MK9 pulled no punches whatsoever.

Happily, Netherealm/Warner Bros. saw fit to continue down this path of improvement and released Mortal Kombat X for next gen machines. More of the same but with even better aesthetics and gameplay, MKX won a lot of fans early on in the PS4/XBOne days – while fighting games were particularly thin on the ground – and sold deservingly well as a result. Thanks to my positive experience with MK9, I was definitely interested this time but I held fire on purchasing because I just knew that – as with MK9 – a “Komplete” edition of some sort with all the DLC on-disc would be released. As it transpired, MKX became the cleverly-titled MKXL and I duly purchased a copy. For one reason or another however, the game sat sealed on my shelf for a veeeeerrry long time until I finally decided to rip the cellophane off a couple of weeks ago.

As with Mortal Kombat (9) Komplete Edition, the XL version of MKX includes all of the previously released DLC outfits and characters and it’s the latter that were very special additions to the MK universe. MK9 hosted the legendary Freddy Krueger as a surprise (but fitting) guest fighter; MKX went even further, raiding the 70’s/80’s horror/sci-fi archives and sending tournament invites to the Predator, Alien, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. I couldn’t help but be impressed and take notice of MKX on release purely for these classic movie characters since their respective movie franchises are ALL favourites of mine. Definitely a perfect example of guest characters that make sense in a fighting game unlike a few other instances that raised a fair few eyebrows…*cough* Soul Calibur IV *cough*

Another thing that has impressed me is that amount of content (or should that be ‘Kontent’?) in MKXL. For starters, the game features a pretty decent story mode with loads of cinematics and fights that really make you use most of the characters at least once. Some may not like this and I must admit that I’ve not really been a fan of it in the past when I already KNOW which characters I don’t want to use but since I’m not a massive MK veteran, a bit of forced experimentation with the roster is no bad thing.

So far I’ve settled on the fun combos of Sonya Blade and her cool daughter, Cassie (above).

Then there are the various survival modes and stacks of unlockables to collect from the ‘Krypt’ such as additional costumes and artwork. And when I say ‘stacks’? I mean it. There are loads of unlockables that can be purchased using the in-game currency which is thankfully pretty easy to accumulate by doing well in offline survival and arcade modes. All of this is good news because I’ve long being vocal about how crap Street Fighter V is for making the player pay for everything down to palette swaps and there are other fighting games that take a similar F2P approach where competitive online play is prioritised and offline types have bugger all to do. MKX may not be my favourite fighting game in terms of pure gameplay but it has my respect for not trying to squeeze every last penny from the player.

As for that all-important gameplay, I definitely still sense some of the classic MK clunkiness but X somehow feels a little better. I’m enjoying the combos a lot more and finding that experimentation with stringing them together seems to be a lot more viable this time around. I’m definitely here for the fighting this time as well as the entertainment factor that the ridiculous gore and fatalities provide.

Sub-Zero who? THIS is what we want to see!

Overall, it’s relatively early days for me and this game but I’ve cleared the story mode a while ago and been hammering the other offline modes with Sonya Blade and Cassie Cage, learning combos and working out how I want to play. This is a phase I would never have made it to with the ‘classic’ games in the series so I consider this proof enough that MKX (and MK9 before it) have at last transformed a gimmicky series into something half-decent. If I had any complaints at all then it would be that the character models still look a bit stiff and ugly (it’s difficult to explain…) compared to those in the likes of Tekken and that a lot of the past characters such as Cyber Sub-Zero and Scarlett are absent. Fatalities and Brutalities are also still a bit too situational and fiddly in some cases…having to keep referring to Google on my phone to work out what I’m doing wrong is annoying!

Otherwise, colour me impressed. As a veteran gamer who has seen a lot, it ain’t easy to do!

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