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Kritical Konsensus: Mortal Kombat X marks the spot

Reviewers pull out all the stops, spines to applaud Netherrealm Studios' latest fighter

Mortal Kombat X launched today, and the critics have spoken. Sort of.

With the game's online modes unplayable until its official release, many press outlets opted to post provisional or in-progress reviews that talk about its offline action with a promise to later update them with word of how it performs online. And while the early nature of these reviews stopped some sites from slapping a score on their assessments, it didn't stop them from making some pretty definitive claims.

"Mortal Kombat X is the best Mortal Kombat, period," said IGN's Vince Ingenito. "It's deeper, mechanically richer, and more fully featured than any of the nine games before it, hands down."

"Mortal Kombat X is the best Mortal Kombat, period."

Vince Ingenito

Ingenito lauded developer Netherrealm Studios for shaking up the game's roster, bolstering the expected series staples like Sub-Zero and Johnny Cage with eight brand new fighters. He also liked that each character has three different variations to choose from, which change the strategies for playing as--or against--them.

"Liu Kang has a variation where he can switch on the fly between healing and damaging stances, new grappler Torr employs an assist character to double-team opponents, Kotal Khan can place totems to grant himself temporary buffs - this is the kind of stuff you see in Persona 4 or BlazBlue, and seeing NetherRealms open up so many fun new doors is really refreshing," Ingenito said.

Not everything was to his liking, however. Ingenito lamented the series' continued use of a block button (rather than the Street Fighter-style blocking method of simply holding the joystick away from the opponent), and he dismissed the single-player story mode as too much of a departure from the series' past.

"The inconsistency that sticks out the most for me though, is the content of MKX's so-so story mode, and how completely at odds it is with the aesthetic Mortal Kombat has built over the years," Ingenito said. "Again, NetherRealms has created something substantial for folks who like having a single-player experience, but it's far less successful than previous attempts. The spotty writing and voice acting are largely to blame, but the real issue is that it's weaving a tale of family and young adults coming of age in a world about death and brutality. Without the storytelling wit to do something interesting and unpredictable, it's simply a poor fit."

That story mode was singled out as a strong point by a number of other reviewers, not least of which being Games Radar +'s Lucas Sullivan, who gave the game 3.5 stars out of 5. Sullivan praised the single-player as a "charmingly campy" romp that lives up to the standards set by 2011's Mortal Kombat entry.

"For all its cheesy or over-the-top moments, this epic, chronology-hopping saga is ceaselessly entertaining."

Lucas Sullivan

"For all its cheesy or over-the-top moments, this epic, chronology-hopping saga is ceaselessly entertaining," Sullivan said. "You'll laugh when Johnny Cage dishes out an egotistical zinger before a brawl, and you'll pump your fist in excitement when Sub-Zero doles out a frosty beatdown. Even more impressive is how the plot actually makes you care about these characters; unlike the intro/outro clipshows most fighting games have to offer, MKX's story bothers to include things like character development and heartfelt moments in between all the ridiculous action. Every cast member comes to life through great voice-acting and a surprisingly enjoyable script that hits all the right humor and intrigue beats."

Sullivan also approved of the variations for each fighter, but did note a drawback of that (mostly beneficial) system.

"Once you've got to grips with the concept, this additional layer of depth adds to the variety and strategy before and during each match, without being so overwhelming that it becomes convoluted," Sullivan said. "Problem is, you're given a single sentence of description for each variation, and figuring out to properly play them is left entirely to you. Prepare to consult some FAQs almost immediately."

That said, the difficulty in making the jump from clumsy beginner to competitive battler doesn't weigh down the rest of the experience too much, in Sullivan's estimation.

"Though it doesn't always do the best job of preparing you for battle, Mortal Kombat X is enough outrageously violent fun to justify a little self-education, provided you've got enough patience," Sullivan said.

Like Sullivan, Polygon's Michael McWhertor was another fan of the story mode, as he noted in his provisional 9 out of 10 review.

"Family relationships are touched on throughout the campaign, and it's fun to see the dynamics of Mortal Kombat X's mothers, fathers, sons and daughters explored. The story is complex, stuffed with playable and non-playable combatants from throughout the franchise, but NetherRealm juggles all those characters deftly."

"[I]t sure is a new level of creepy to see Jax crack his daughter's head in half or watch Cassie Cage delight in tearing off her father's jaw."

Michael McWhertor

Of course, Mortal Kombat is synonymous with violence, and the latest installment dutifully pushes the envelope when it comes to gore.

"Fatalities are more gruesome, more graphically violent than ever," McWhertor said. "Characters are split and sliced in half in newly disturbing detail, and the dripping viscera on display is more unsettling in its realism than ever before. This is a pretty sickening game if you don't like the sight of blood. I've always given the sadistic violence of Mortal Kombat a pass, because it's so ridiculously over the top that it's hard to take seriously. We've seen allies brutally kill each other in other MK games, but it sure is a new level of creepy to see Jax crack his daughter's head in half or watch Cassie Cage delight in tearing off her father's jaw."

While Polygon's review remains provisional, McWhertor did include some early impressions of the game's online play, which seems to have improved even as he's played it.

"Some early matches felt a bit sluggish, while others had a handful of full-second delays in action as the networking code caught up," McWhertor said. "But recently, the game's online performance has seemed solid; I've experienced a few fights that felt almost indistinguishable from offline fights. We'll be keeping an eye on the game's online performance at launch."

We'll give the last word in this round-up to Bryan Dawson of GamesIndustry.biz sister site USgamer, who gave the game 4 out of 5 stars.

"Even with its shortcomings (a brief story mode, imperfect net code, missing characters), players would be hard-pressed to say MKX isn't the best Mortal Kombat has to offer," Dawson said. "Even little details such as the dialogue between characters, unique to each pairing, add quite a bit to the experience. In all, it's a must-have title for any MK fan. On top of that, it makes for a solid addition to the competitive scene and should enjoy a long tournament life for competitive players."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar

Brendan Sinclair

Managing Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot in the US.