Preview

Mortal Kombat X

Hands-On With Mortal Kombat X’s First Story Chapter
by Jeff Cork on Mar 12, 2015 at 03:01 AM
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Release:
Rating: Mature
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, iOS

Since its debut, Mortal Kombat’s cataclysmic stakes made its in-universe tournaments stand out from the pack. Winning a trophy or gaining a sense of purpose are great prizes in other fighting games, but do they stack up against saving an entire plane of existence from being annihilated? The problem has been that Mortal Kombat’s storytelling ambition has been hindered by a variety of technical constraints. And let’s face it – single-player campaigns aren’t traditionally the go-to place for fighting fans looking for a good time. With Mortal Kombat X, NetherRealm may very well change that perception.

The lengthy opening cinematic does a nice job of setting things up, in case you haven’t breathlessly followed the events of every tournament over the past few decades. The gist of it is that the fallen elder god Shinnok is in the midst of returning to Earthrealm, with the goal of claiming it for his own. He’s aided by his trusty soul-sucking amulet, which is one of the sources of his powerful sorcery.

We join the invasion in progress, as a soldier’s body falls into the frame, his face a ruined hole. Panning back, we see the scope of what we’re up against: Horrible gargoyle-like demons are circling the skies, swooping down and grabbing additional soldiers and dropping them from high in the air. A few helicopters appear, and their powerful weapons take down one of the largest creatures. Inside the helicopter, we see the familiar faces of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, as well as the blindfolded swordmaster Takashi Takeda Kenshi [March 12, 11:56 a.m.].

They’re en route to Raiden’s Sky Temple, where the lightning god is making a last stand against Shinnok’s forces. Whirring over the on-the-ground action sounds like a pretty great plan until the windshield is pierced by another familiar sight: Scorpion’s chain-blade. The soldiers in the back of the helicopter look around frantically, when Scorpion surprises the crew by appearing in the rear of the aircraft. There’s a battle, of course, and I’m paying such close attention to it all that I miss an unexpected quick-time event. It doesn’t kick me out to a game-over screen, but the action immediately shifts to show Johnny Cage blowing a series of blocks and taking damage. I do a better job of keeping up over the next few sequences, and Johnny reverses the course of the fight. He more than holds his own until Sub-Zero joins the party, freezing a couple of attackers’ heads and shattering them against each other.

The battle continues for some time, with everyone getting in a few great hits – especially Takeda Kenshi [March 12, 11:56 a.m.], who proves himself a worthy addition to the crew. The chopper doesn’t fare so well (it is a video game, after all), and the group heads onward.

With the setup out of the way, I was eager to do more than tap buttons every once in a while to keep the action going. Soon enough, I got my wish. I’m not going to go beat by beat into what happens next, since the overall flow is similar. In the portion of the campaign I played, you roll through the story in cutscenes that set up the next conflict, which is resolved by – you guessed it – a one-on-one match. I didn’t get to uppercut anyone’s head off (that might break the storyline a little bit), but the campaign is far from sanitized. Characters still shed buckets of blood during matches, and bones and sinew are torn asunder in gruesome detail via the X-ray attacks.

From what I could tell, Johnny has mellowed out a bit over the years. He still has a sharp comedic edge, but he doesn't seem as obnoxious and egotistical as he has in past games. Maybe he's saving all the autograph signing for chapter two. One thing hasn't changed, however: Johnny's just as quick and responsive to control as ever. It's been a while since I played the last Mortal Kombat, but it was easy to dive right back in. The combat is fluid and satisfying, whether I was uppercutting some fool a few yards into the air or using his projectile attack just as someone leaps toward me.

I was impressed by the story mode’s overall production, even if the tale gets a bit hokey at times. The invasion scene at the beginning was a particular standout, as were the scenes in Raiden’s temple, where our heroes had to face off against some of their closest former allies. I like getting context for why people are pummeling one another beyond the usual, “Hey, let’s fight!” kind of setup that typically takes place. While there’s still plenty of that, I got a better sense that the events extend beyond what you’re experiencing on the game’s 2D plane. And it’s leagues better than the old days of seeing a succinct text wrap-up accompanied by a still image before the closing credits roll.

Mortal Kombat X is set to release on April 14.