Mortal Kombat 9 Review – PS3

Mortal Kombat 9 - Mileena, Kitana and Kung Lao face off

We’re going to go out on a limb and say there’s no way you can enjoy both Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. You can play both and have a good time of course, but if you were given a Sophie’s Choice moment and had to have one taken away from you, you’d undoubtedly find you had an allegiance to one over the other.

So, for the sake of transparency, I’ll admit that I’ve always preferred Mortal Kombat – and I have history. I’ve played all entries side-by-side since my childhood and have always swung towards Mortal Kombat’s sense of ridicule and extremism. But I didn’t really take sides until I played the most current update of Mortal Kombat.

Critics lauded Street Fighter IV when it was released and I was swept away in the wave. I played it, completed it, unlocked all characters but didn’t find much in the way of single-player excitement. The opposite is true when it comes to Mortal Kombat – whether it’s Story Mode, the Challenge Tower, The Krypt and more, the amount of care and attention to detail shown in regard to the amount of content on offer here should be a jewel for NetherRealm Studios to wear proudly in its crown.

What’s the Story, Mortal Glory

Reptile and Sub-Zero kick off in Mortal Kombat 9

So what’s impressed me so much? Quite simply, story mode. The amount of detail, scripting and effort that has gone into producing a campaign that utilises only the best characters in the Mortal Kombat universe is a triumph. For all the entries that have been released down the years, each one has seemed like nothing more than a casual update in an effort to keep the series fresh. Instead each new entry simply built on wobbly foundations.

It’s been a very public admission that the Mortal Kombat universe was getting overcrowded and that things needed to be scaled back to the series’ glory days of the original trilogy. With a lot of the chaff brutally amputated (Bo’ Rai Cho, thank Christ…), NetherRealm’s scriptwriters have reshaped the entire Mortal Kombat timeline and given Warner Brothers plenty of room to manoeuvre in the future.

Each and every fighter (bar Kratos) is beautifully interweaved, with fantastic pacing throughout. A brave move for NetherRealm to leave fatalities out of story mode altogether, but it’s a dead weight that isn’t missed as characters are fleshed out, explored and given a stage to shine on through each individual chapter. Much more involving than Street Fighter’s slapdash story arcs, which now seem mute and redundant in comparison.

Combining Kombat with Klass

Liu Kang takes Kano's face off in Mortal Kombat 9

So we know why we’re fighting, but does Mortal Kombat hold its own when it boils down to a one-on-one scrap? Button-mashers (like myself) will be very pleased with the pick-up-and-play mechanics, while there is ample room to master each character’s specific move set and combo list. Tag combos are a great way of mixing things up in multiplayer, with fatalities as big and as brutal as ever- but more refined and with thought put into them than purely being there for shock value.

Giving each fighter their own sense of character in story mode is likely to encourage players to find a favourite and stick with them, taking them online to prove their worth. The game does a great job in pairing you with characters to try out through both Story Mode and the Challenge Tower. I’ve steered clear of Jax all my life, but after having to ally myself with him during his chapter, I found a pal for life who has quickly become my number one choice when fighting against friends.

Admittedly movement isn’t as fluid as in Street Fighter IV, and it can be a pain trying to execute moves with the analogue stick. Opposing characters can be incredibly cheap – Quan Chi has the most irritating ‘jump on you from the top of the screen’ move that he constantly spams and is near impossible to avoid. But Mortal Kombat more than makes up for it with sheer brutality. The X-ray moves for instance are a joy to behold, giving a real sense of achievement when you manage to pull one off, and conquering a tag battle in Story Mode is a real leap-out-of-your-chair moment.

A Kryptic inclusion?

Sonya Jax it in - Mortal Kombat 9

Beating challenges gives you ‘koins’ which you can spend in the Krypt for extras. Much derided in the press, I wasn’t much looking forward to exploring it, but after spending a lot of time in there I found it added an extra element of replayability to the game – I might not have tackled Challenge Tower for as long as I did were it not for my need to unlock some more second fatalities and costumes. Some of the rewards are terrifically ass (come on… speed paintings??) but we’re willing to forgive because of the eclectic Mortal Kombat history at NetherRealm’s disposal. The Krypt is fan service, nothing more, and it’s all part of a title dripping with fabulous content (or kontent, haha…).

Mortal Kombat also looks gorgeous on an HD-TV. Characters feel weighted and solid, while possessed environments moan, gurn and growl in the background. There are slight niggles with Mortal Kombat alongside some of the aforementioned cheap moves. Shao Kahn is without doubt the most unfair last boss ever seen in a fighting game – no exceptions – and though we’ve got no beef with the Krypt we think having to crawl through it on your hands and knees to find fatalities is something of a bugger.

But as an overall package and reinvention of the universe that’s gone before it we can’t help but drool at Mortal Kombat. A series that once seemed to be going nowhere has reinvented itself for a new generation whilst keeping its fans and the hardcore happy, leaving a lot of loose ends behind to create an incredible sequel.

91/100