Mortal Kombat 1 Review – A flawless victory
2023 has delivered yet another scintillating blockbuster in Mortal Kombat 1. NetherRealm has managed to push the exceedingly high bar for the beat ’em up genre and land a match-winning blow with expert storytelling, the best graphics ever seen in a fighting game, and some seriously sickening kombat.
The last couple of entries in the MK franchise have been highly polished, no doubt, but there’s been something missing from their overall presentations. The slower-paced nature of recent gameplay has divided the passionate community while over-the-top, time-traveling tropes haven’t just crept into the story, they’ve dominated it.
After extensive time with MK1, I can say that many of these concerns have been alleviated. NetherRealm has clearly gone back to the drawing board and whipped up a punchy number that meets the needs of hardened MK fans while simultaneously catering to a casual player base.
The intricacies of the gameplay are bolstered by the overall package of the game, making MK1 a bonafide GOTY contender.
Mortal Kombat 1: Key details
- Price: $69.99/£64.99
- Developer: NetherRealm Studios
- Release Date: September 19, 2023
- Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch & PC
Mortal Kombat 1: Launch Trailer
A more grounded Mortal Kombat 1 story
If you’ve experienced either MKX or MK11 for yourself, you’ll know the story has not only jumped the shark, but killed it, brought it back to life, and had it doing somersaults in an alternate dimension against an evil version of itself. The timeline and events succumbed under the weight of its ambition and became a sandwich of lunacy and ludicrousy with a helping of incredulity stuffed in between.
After defeating Shang Tsung in Mortal Kombat 11, Fire God Liu Kang took sole possession of Kronika’s hourglass and reset history in the way he saw fit. This leads us to Mortal Kombat 1. There’s a renewed sense of optimism that Earthrealm, Outworld, and all other realms can peacefully co-exist, smile, and enjoy a Mortal Kombat tournament from time to time… only, this is never going to be the case.
Over the course of many hours, MK players are showered with multiple chapters filled with exciting new backstories, fascinating friendships you would never have seen coming, and a spot of fisticuffs here and there. NetherRealm has stuck by its character-by-character gameplay loop, but it works.
The first two-thirds of the narrative is firmly entrenched in simplicity and avoids the complex timeline manipulation that has become the norm. Instead, MK1 takes time building up its characters and relays this information to the audience in the form of stunning CGI cut scenes inter-spliced with breathtaking physicality.
The voice acting is mostly top-notch across the board too – especially the scene-stealing Alan Lee as Shang Tsung – and there are plenty of Easter Eggs for knowledgable veterans to pick up on, as well as some class cheesy lines that encompass the classic MK tone.
Admittedly, the final act does tread back into outlandish territory and risks compromising its succinct work. However, the concluding moments are utterly mindboggling in the context of the MK universe and fans will be taken aback by what the team achieves with this epic finale. Does it also open doors to a new breed of Mortal Kombat?
An upper-cut above the rest
The crux of a fighting game… is its fighting. The gameplay. How the match unfolds from the second “FIGHT!” is yelled at you. As we learned from the beta, the speed of Mortal Kombat 1 has been ramped up a notch, feeling fast, fluid, and as smooth as the series has ever been across its rich 30-year history.
Its base roster of 22 fighters, plus a pre-order bonus Shang Tsung, all feel unique, despite the downside of every fighter having appeared in the MK universe previously. It would’ve been nice to feed on some new blood, but it makes sense for the purposes of the story. Plus, DLC is set to accomplish this anyway.
Most warriors stay true to their typical forms, although some feature new twists and turns to learn. For example, Kung Lao’s hat spin special is now slower and Liu Kang no longer has his flying double kick – it’s instead consigned to a returning Fatal Blow.
NetherRealm’s big addition to MK1 is the Kameo system. This is a mechanic that demands you pick a secondary character from a separate roster, also comprised of names from years gone by. It’s amazing to see unheralded faces such as Stryker and Motaro re-emerge. During matches, Kameos will have their own handful of moves and Brutalities and can be ushered in with the press of a button – although their appearances are limited by a meter.
They are far more than a gimmick though. Certain fighters who don’t have conventional launcher moves can fall back on their Kameo to do it for them and a Kameo is a great way of keeping a kombo rolling. If you’ve landed a nice 2-piece and flung your foe into the air, you can call in Sonya Blade who will dash across the screen, inflicting more damage, and allow you to keep an even longer attack sustained.
It diversifies the move and kombo pool and allows more freedom than ever. Stage object damage is gone, defense is rewarded with mechanics such as Flawless Block that negates chip damage, and players with a proper grasp of MK are going to have a field day piecing together some deadly kombinations.
Even in this day and age, the talented Ed Boon and NetherRealm understand the importance of single-player content. Story Mode will take you a few hours depending on your chosen difficulty level, legendary Kombat Towers return for those in seek of a quick fix, and the new Invasion Mode replaces the Krypt.
Using a board-game style layout, Invasion Mode challenges players to hop around from tile to tile ticking off new encounters. As we’ve seen before from MK9’s Challenge Tower as well as MK11’s Towers of Time, most challenges are affected by modifiers and different parameters to shake things up. The ability to mix and match Talismans, RPG-like leveling up, and secrets make for a nice distraction from the hustle and bustle of more serious MK action.
I have to admit, I think we could’ve kept some extension of the Krypt in here to make this a komplete package, especially if you grow tired of the Invasion formula format after a while.
In my time with the online, connections were mostly crisp and coherent. The Kombat League is back, along with King of the Hill, and expect this portion of the game to be fleshed out even more as the game’s lifecycle pushes on.
I will die on this hill, Mortal Kombat 1 has no fighting game equal in terms of visual fidelity, detail, and depth. This is now the standard, and players are encouraged to have a few lumps knocked out of them so that they can appreciate the copious amount of detail that has gone into every level background and its accompanying lighting and shadows.
Many people love a new Mortal Kombat release so that they can leap into their nearest YouTube source and find a meaty compilation of every Fatality. To be honest, this would be doing MK1 a great disservice. The wince-inducing horrors are best enjoyed up close and personal.
They slap harder than a Johnny Cage nut shot and the characters themselves are so lifelike. It’s actually uncomfortably accurate to the point that seeing someone being sliced and diced and their internal organs dropping to the floor like groceries falling out of a ripped bag is a reminder of how far gaming has come.
Verdict – 5/5
Mortal Kombat 1 not only reboots its own universe but everything you know and love about fighting games. The way a story is told and how it’s presented. It shows that it listens to its fans and does so by refining its addictive gameplay with noticeable nuances and then slapping on a new Kameo system that serves as more of a game-changer than a game-breaker.
There is a ton of content to enjoy here and NetherRealm has peaked at the right time with fierce competition coming before and after its release. The team will have to test their might to supersede their own work from here on out.
Reviewed on PS5
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