Mortal Kombat is one of the few titles in the gaming industry that can be said to truly live in infamy. The arcade original was miles ahead of the competition in its hyperrealistic depictions of gore and kung-fu violence. It was a pop culture phenomenon that left a generation of parents terrified of video games. Its enormous popularity led to the creation of the ESRB rating system, and the reputation still stands that Mortal Kombat is the go-to game for gore that goes above and beyond.
Visually, Mortal Kombat X is a champion. The series’ iconic characters have been given extremely detailed recreations, both inside and out. Watching high-level play in motion is fluid, with the animations breathing life into every punch, kick, and toss. Super-powered “X-Ray” moves give a glimpse under the skin as your fighter smashes their opponent like a lifeless ragdoll, just before clawing their eyes out. The violence in Mortal Kombat X is often comedic in execution, yet the detail is very real. Even weathered gamers, who might believe that they’ve been “desensitized to violence” will wince at the game’s most gorish moments.
The world of MKX is almost unnecessarily detailed with an epic story spanning multiple realms, factions and alliances. This is a series that started with the most simplistic of gaming premises: a championship fight to the death with all manners of challengers, both human and superhuman. As a newcomer, MKX’s story is just about impossible to follow, split into fourteen chapters following various champions over a 30 year period. While it’s rather uninteresting to watch, the game’s story mode is exceptionally well done, providing a cohesive introduction to the game’s mechanics, and most of the playable characters. Once you finish, you’ll find plenty more fights in the Towers, which set you on a path of fights for the highest score, often with specific modifiers. In a genre that often overlooks the single-player experience, MKX satisfies.
Yet the meat of Mortal Kombat X is ultimately in the combat, which balances on the fence between spectacle display and technical challenge. Every match in Mortal Kombat X looks great, but it’s got enough meat to its system to keep you playing long into the night. Characters have lengthy lists of moves, combos and custom finishers to master, with an entire online community of weekend warriors to knock you down a peg. There’s certainly a hurdle to playing competently — timing combos is often unintuitive, and the game’s training mode doesn’t do much to actually educate you on the fundamentals. Keeping track of the various meters, stage hazards and your opponents’ tells is mentally taxing, but can become deeply rewarding.
While Mortal Kombat X feels in many ways like an authentic experience built for the core fans, it’s also host to some of the more blatant monetization schemes rampant in gaming today. Every move you make, and every bone you break helps to earn “Koins” — a new currency that exists between game modes, and can be used to unlock new costumes, finishers and concept art from the “Krypt”. But it isn’t as simple as just using Koins to buy the content you’re looking for. Instead, these unlockables are doled out seemingly at random — you’ll unlock a chest in the Krypt, without any knowledge of its contents. Rewards come in for visiting on a daily basis. You also can find consumable bonus items, like the ability to easily execute a Fatality, or skip past a fight in the story mode. Of course, all of this content can be unlocked for the low, low price of just $19.99. There’s no way around it — it’s a free-to-play system, locking valuable content within a game that you’re paying $60 for. The grind gets excessive, and it hurts the game in the long run. Combined with the game’s fairly extreme Season Pass proposition — $30 for four characters and a handful of skins — and you can’t help but feel sorry for Mortal Kombat die-hards, who could pay upwards of $110 to see all of the content available to them.
Mortal Kombat X sits between realms, simultaneously the mass-appeal stadium of violence, and a niche-skewed fighting experience that rewards persistence and skill. For the most part, it feeds both sides without sacrifice. However, a handful of greedy tactics undeniably harm the overall experience. It’s still a trip to hell worth taking, though.