Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mortal Kombat XL review

    Mortal Kombat is one of my favorite series but it's a series which suffered a great deal, well, pretty much since Mortal Kombat III. It's said every series has a expiration date and it was clear they ran out of ideas roughly around the time Shao Khan invaded Earth Realm. It's kind of funny given Mortal Kombat has a much better history of getting itself adapted than most other fighting games.

    When Netherrealm Studios took over the franchise, it was questionable what they were going to bring to the table and the answer turned out to be story. Mortal Kombat 9's story mode wasn't the first time such a thing had been added (that was Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe) but it managed to give a coherent story of the first three games while also adding a time-travel narrative that didn't work too well in Star Trek (2009) but served decently in Mortal Kombat. It also ended on an amazing downer note which forms the basis for Mortal Kombat XL.

Cassie Cage is my favorite character of the new game.
    For those unfamiliar with this ending, which is spoiled by playing this game, they had Raiden royally screw up his attempts to save the timeline. His mistakes in trying to prevent Shao Khan from taking over the universe ended up getting half of the cast killed because it turned out the former wasn't down with that plan. While Raiden "won", he ended up winning in the most awful manner possible with his surrogate sons dead and enslaved by Quan Chi. Worse, Liu Kang died at Raiden's hands, cursing his name. It was a brilliant bit of tragedy to a series which once lowered itself to a Teen rating. Great storytelling that was matched by everyone else's stories too.

    Indeed, the biggest flaw with Mortal Kombat XL is one I never thought would exist for a Mortal Kombat game and that it has too much story. A quarter of the game takes place twenty years before the remaining 2/3rds and there's a lot of stuff which references past games in both continuities as well as discusses the politics between dimensions. For an enormous video game world-building nerd like myself, it's awesome but others may find it off-putting.

    The premise for the tenth game in the franchise begins with most of the original Mortal Kombat heroes dead and raised as undead slaves of Quan Chi: Liu Kang, Kitana, Kung Lao, Nightwolf, and Sindel. Shinnok, the evil Elder God, is invading the Earth Realm with his armies of demons and the only person who can stop him is Johnny Cage. Honestly, it would have been the set up for a bad joke in the previous Mortal Kombat timeline despite the fact Johnny Cage is one of the most popular characters in the franchise.

Baraka isn't playable. Which is ridiculous.
    It's not really a spoiler to see Shinnok doesn't take over the universe in the opening chapter and gets defeated by Johnny Cage despite the fact the former is more powerful than Shao Khan and Raiden combined. What follows is twenty years of peace which is detailed in the Mortal Kombat comics I recommend people read even if they aren't GREAT like the Udon Street Fighter comics. The modern era is one with Outworld and Earthrealm having an uneasy detente while various secret plots are enacted.

    The big reason for Mortal Kombat XL is it allows an entirely new generation of fighters to be created and grow up, most of which who have some sort of connection to the previous generation of fighters. There's Cassie Cage, Jacqie Briggs, and a few other Earth Special Forces which are tied to previous heroes. Surprisingly, most of these generation Y heroes are pretty awesome. Cassie Cage is the appropriate combination of snarky and awesome and reminds me of one of my novel characters.

We're not going back to 3D and I think that's a good thing.
    Some fans are going to be annoyed by the fact so many of the previous generation are not only undead but (seemingly) permanently evil. I don't know if that's possible but I actually think Liu Kang is more interesting as a villain than he ever was as a hero. Frankly, he wasn't doing that much for me as a Bruce Lee clone and The Chosen OneTM. Him as a broken hero who has lost his faith in the Elder Gods (not that they've done much to cover themselves in glory lately) works much better.

    I do have some complaints about the story even though I'm, overall, very positive about the developments within it. For one, Mileena and Baraka are two of my favorite characters in the franchise. They get the short end of the stick storyline-wise and I find Mileena a far more sympathetic character than Kotal Khan. Kotal Khan is supposed to be the "good" (or at least neutral) new ruler of Outworld but every scene he's in shows him to be a complete tool with no real honor. Mileena isn't any better, don't get me wrong, but at least we're not being told she's a good guy.

Not a big fan of Revenant Kitana's new look.
    The developments with Scorpion and Sub-Zero really surprised me and managed to turn around what I thought was a doomed premise. Getting rid of the cyborg ninja subplot really allows the two stories to have more dignity. I also never imagined we would be getting, Scorpion as a wise father figure. The fact Scorpion is still the kind of vengeance-obsessed nutcase who will do anything to avenge his clan isn't forgotten, though. It also causes massive trouble in this game. I also like the new, older Sub-Zero who is trying to do the right thing despite the fact everyone around him is an impatient jackass.

    So, while it's ridiculous judging a Mortal Kombat game by Story Mode primarily, that's where we're at. I enjoyed it for introducing the next generation, having them lose enough not to overshadow the new generation, and then come into their own in the final round. Is it ridiculous we have moments like Johnny Cage and a SPOILER character defeat Shinnok? Characters who are not gods? Yes, but that's Mortal Kombat for you. This is the game where you can rip out Raiden's spine and always has been.

    The graphics are excellent this time and while I may regret the loss of Sonya Blade's ridiculous outfit from the previous game, I think the designs for this game are excellent. I especially liked Cassie Cage's outfit. I will say, I didn't much care for the aging Johnny Cage's new look and think they should have let him stay as young as they've let his wife or Kenshi. Scorpion having resumed his humanity is also a bit of a back and forth for me. Shinnok's look is ridiculous, though, and he appears to be a male Maelificent. Not exactly a look which inspires terror in the hearts of mortals.

Shinnok has looked better. Like...any other look than this.
    The gameplay is streamlined and it's to the point even I can perform fatalities. I enjoyed making use of the stage's bonus weapons and benefits to smack around opponents with pots, old women, monks, and Shao Kahn's hammer. I miss Friendships from the game and am probably the only one who'd like to have Cassie Cage give her mom a gift or Shang Tsung present Sonya Blade a rainbow. Some people will object to "Easy Fatalities" where you just hit the Right Trigger then the X button but I'm not one of them. I'm a button masher to begin with and the fact I can complete the game is an feature for me rather than a flaw.

    I'm not a big fan of the Faction system where all of your points online go to an arbitrary team which "competes" against one another but whatever floats your boat. I do like "quitality", though, where if you quit during a match then your character's head explodes. That's a nice way of rewarding players who stick to the end. I haven't completed "Tower Mode" for every character, which is basically just original recipe Mortal Kombat, but I've enjoyed the stories I have completed as well as the extra costumes for characters.

Xenomorph is the best non-sentient fighting game character aside from Panda.
    As for the horror movie DLC characters, I was hoping we'd get Freddy to return with Robert Englund voicing him but I'm not going to complain about the Predator, Alien, Jason, or Leatherface. Actually, I am going to complain about Leatherface because I just find that guy gross and his ending horrifying even by Mortal Kombat standards. I've always wanted to play Jason Voorhees in a video game, though, and this combined with the recent Friday the Thirteenth game is great.

    One element I strongly have distaste for is the fact this is a game which is wall-to-wall with microtransactions. I have a larger tolerance for these than most gamers as I'm willing to pay extra as long as I'm getting extra. Sixty dollars is not my absolute limit for playing a game and I find packs with 80s Horror Movie icons not so bad to pay for. However, this pushes even my buttons as it seems like they've left out half of the roser in order to eventually sell them back to you. It's doubly noticeable when Baraka is in the game along with characters like Rain but you can't play them. Then again, perhaps that's why I'm playing XL rather than the original X.

    Netherrealm Studio is probably too busy making Injustice 3.5 to get cracking on Mortal Kombat XI but I really look forward to the next installment of this series and want to see some more spin offs. I love the franchise and think this is the best they could have done with the game.


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