2015’s Best Games: Mortal Kombat X
To round off the year, we’re taking a look back at our favourite games of 2015 – it’s been a hell of a year! Next up, there’s blood everywhere as Mortal Kombat returns to form…
We’ve long enjoyed Mortal Kombat as a form of entertainment, but it has never really been a good fighting game. Go back and play the early games and they’re clumsy, ugly pastiches of the Capcom and SNK greats that still hold up today, only made novel by the ability to eviscerate or humiliate your opponent upon victory. It took years for Ed Boon and his team to get the memo that said we wouldn’t mind some decent gameplay to go along with that shock factor, but the 2011 reboot at least showed steps in the right direction – it was still a bit of a mess, but a more versatile combo system meant that there was at least some room for skilled play, and the game marked the franchise’s first outing among the competitive elite at tournaments like Evo. Landing the DC license (somehow, after the embarrassment that was MK vs DC Universe) for Injustice meant NetherRealm had to step up its game and the results spoke for themselves – for the first time, the team had produced a fighting game that the community could take seriously. We’re delighted, then, that MKX shares more with the DC fighter than with its predecessors because for the first time in the series, Mortal Kombat X is a fighter that has more than just comedy value and novelty going for it – it’s actually a damn good fighter.
The first step on this road to top tier status was streamlining the roster and while fans who have lost a main in the cut may disagree, we’d argue that MKX’s character line-up is all the stronger for the cuts. Gone are the days of palette-swap ninjas and colourful robots – every one of X’s 24 stock fighters is unique in terms of both design and combat style. Stripping out a lot of duplicates has also made room for plenty of new blood, and there’s a lot to like about MK’s new generation of heroes. Perhaps best of all is the fact that many of them don’t even fit easily into the usual fighting game character archetypes – D’vorah blends speedy rushdown attacking with traps and a fair ranged game, Cassie favours a mixup-heavy aggressive approach but can also zone relatively effectively, Erron Black seems like a ranged specialist but also has one of the best high/low games going… even the big guy doesn’t have to play to hard-hitting expectations, as Ferra/Torr can be far better at dealing with projectile spam than any large character has any right to be, depending on which variant you choose.
That’s the other major factor here, actually. Every character now comes in three flavours, the variant you choose granting access to exclusive moves, combos and perks. Some benefit little from this (Mileena has two near-identical forms and one useless one, for instance) but in more extreme cases, it’s like having three different characters to pick from. Newcomers Takeda and Kung Jin showcase this better than most – Takeda’s Ronin style is focused on close-range combat, while Lasher gives him far better spacing tools and mid-screen punishes and Shirai Ryu basically turns him into a Scorpion clone, while Kung Jin (arguably the best character in the game at the time of going to press) can do a mean UMVC3 Hawkeye impression for a great keepaway game or go full ham with his staff for rushdown depending on which you select. It really is a game-changer, and it’s worth spending time with all three once you settle on a character to see which best gels with your personal play style. You might even find that a particular variant on a character you never even liked clicks better than you’d expect – Bojutsu Kung Jin was a damage-dealing epiphany for us (even though he’s an asshole) while Kano’s Cutthroat and Commando styles both offer tools that make us like the idea of a character we haven’t thought twice about since his 1992 debut. Powerful things, these variants.
As a NetherRealm game, it should come as no surprise that MKX is packed with solo content. It’s kind of an unwritten rule that these guys always have to deliver a comprehensive single-player package and unsurprisingly, the team has once again done an outstanding job. There’s a suitably stupid story mode to enjoy, Towers galore to throw yourself at at and even a rotating set of challenges thanks to the Living Towers. These are challenges that change on a weekly, daily and even hourly basis, leaderboard battles that give solo play the same kind of importance as direct multiplayer competition and they’re oddly addictive – NetherRealm even went a step further with Tower Battles, an ingenious way of letting players challenge online opponents without directly confronting them, by pitting all entrants against the same Tower and seeing who comes out on top. Online players are equally well catered for, although the netcode isn’t all it could be right now. Defending against simple high/low mixups and guaranteed punishes on unsafe moves don’t work out as they should unless your online opponent in within spitting distance, something we hope is patchable as the actual modes and content on offer make us want to keep coming back, even if the scrubby, latency-abusing Scorpions and Cassies might have other ideas.
Brutalities are also a game-changer, offering the closure of a Fatality in a fraction of the time for those skilled enough to meet the required criteria – expect these to be popular among high-level players. Long story short, it’s great to see MK finally deliver a game that holds up on its own merits without having to rely on shock tactics to keep players interested. Greedy DLC model aside, MKX is an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys kicking the shit out of friends and randoms alike.