It’s never been bloodier. It’s never been gorier. It’s never been quite this — well, completely and utterly insane. And there’s a great game in there, too.
And that’s what we love about “Mortal Kombat,” right?
“Mortal Kombat 11” is here, and the latest in the over-the-top, definitely-not-family-friendly fighting series once again depicts super-powered heroes beating each other up in the most hysterically violent ways imaginable.
For fighting game fans, this entry in the long-running franchise combines the madness we’ve come to expect with exciting new gameplay and a story that spans the series’ 27-year history.
Let’s start here: The “MK” series has always been bananas. Initially a fighting game like any other, the first installment in the series had, gasp, blood shoot out when you beat up your opponent. (At least, some versions did if you entered the right secret code. The ’90s were a different time.) And when you won, you could brutally murder your opponent with a Fatality, a special move that featured beheadings, spine rippings and many more disgusting (and wildly over-the-top) ways to murder your enemies.
The game kept those core concepts, but bigger and zanier, basing its loose story around a tournament with fighters from various realms — Earthrealm, Netherrealm, Chaosrealm, etc. — battling one another, with one victorious combatant being named champion. (As a player, you choose one of dozens of characters with their own set of fighting moves and fight your way through.) Eventually, elder gods and evil emperors and lots more entered the bloody, fantastical, madcap series, too.
A 2011 installment of the series served as a reboot, bringing the game back to its roots while updating it for modern systems and resetting its entire convoluted history. It was a fun trip down memory lane, and a great game, too. Then “Mortal Kombat X” came in 2015, mucking up the story a bit with a new villain, Shinnok, who invaded Earthrealm with a bunch of demons and zombie-like revenants, reanimated versions of the “MK” series’ classic characters.
“Mortal Kombat X” also updated the gameplay, taking the hyper-realistic, bone-crunching, blood-spurting X-ray moves from 2011’s “Mortal Kombat” and adding the ability to choose from multiple fighting styles for each character.
And that brings us to “Mortal Kombat 11.” It acts as the cap to the trilogy started in 2011, modifying gameplay in exciting ways and rounding out the story, too.
The storyline picks up with the death of Shinnok, who is violently decapitated by the series’ erstwhile hero, the now-corrupt elder god Raiden. That’s when Kronika, a goddess of time, arrives. She’s upset with Raiden and wants to stop him, and so she rewrites the timeline, destroying the bad Raiden and bringing forth a host of heroes and villains from the past.
Young versions of Raiden, Kano, Scorpion, Shao Kahn, Skarlet, Baraka, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Jax and Kung Lao arrive, making for some pretty fun dichotomies. There’s a young, jerky version of Johnny mouthing off to his older counterpart. There’s a young, idealistic Liu Kang squaring off against the undead version. Some arrive from the past to discover they died in the future.
The gameplay is much the same as the last two entries, but updated in exciting ways. “Mortal Kombat” has a more exquisite take on combat than its more frenetic counterparts, just with a lot more — a whole lot more — blood and death.
Matches are calculated, less about frantic button-mashing and more about anticipating your opponent’s moves, perfectly timing blocks and dropping special moves and combinations at just the right time.
Allow me a moment to compliment the game’s tutorials, which are some of the best I’ve seen. They go beyond explaining simple moves and combos and into the very granular. The game is a great teacher, offering to show how to string together multiple combos, juggle enemies in the air and even choose combos based on the distance to your opponent. It even breaks down combos and special moves into their component parts and tells you exactly how many camera frames each one takes.
I’m a fighting game fan, and this goes deeper than I thought possible. Play the tutorial, and you’ll upgrade quickly from novice to master.
“Mortal Kombat 11” also added two features that amplify its measured approach: fighter customization and new offense and defense meters.
Customization lets you take any fighter and change their outfit (totally cosmetic) and change three pieces of their gear (things such as weapons and armor). You also can use their standard moves, or pick and choose new ones from a list. Each character has dozens and dozens of outfits, equipment and moves to choose from, and working up a custom version of your favorite characters is fun.
(Unfortunately, all those new pieces have to be unlocked via the Krypt, a giant sort of graveyard filled with chests, each one containing some kind of upgrade. The Krypt is well-known to fans of the “MK” series, but I’ve always found it tedious and annoying, this time even more, as the developers made the Krypt its own game with a map to be explored and secrets to be found. I’d personally rather have a list of things rather than yet another minigame to play, but I digress.)
When it comes to the fight, you’ll now see two meters — one for defense, which lets you pull off defensive maneuvers like rolling away from an opponent when you’re knocked down, and one for offense, which lets you super-power some of your moves.
Of course, there are also Fatal Blows, obscenely violent moves that do a ton of damage, but can only be used once per round when your health is really, really low. They’re desperation moves for when you’re about to go down, and aside from Fatalities, they are the most bloody, disgusting thing about the game. (They’re so exaggerated, I often found myself laughing when a Fatal Blow landed, bullets and knives and chains landing with sickening bone crunch and erupting with geysers of blood.)
You can fight in the storyline, which puts you in the shoes of multiple characters for a few fights at a time, learning the styles of almost every one of the game’s characters as you play through the game’s 12 chapters.
Or you can fight online with your custom characters, creating custom rule sets for madcap matches. There are also the towers, a series of solo modes where you take on one opponent after another.
The Klassic Towers feature the game’s traditional modes, including one where you can unlock “what if?”-style endings where you find out what characters would do if they defeated Kronika and gained her time-altering abilities.
Then there’s the Towers of Time, themed challenges that offer rewards such as character outfits and equipment upon completion.
No matter how you play, you’ll find a lot to love in “Mortal Kombat 11,” especially if you’re a fan of the series.
It takes the game forward in exciting ways, both in story and in gameplay, and offers the same blood-soaked charm it always had.