Mortal Kombat (2023) comes with awesome new gameplay features and an entertaining story. Its gaming modes lack the much-needed depth to be the best.
Released: 14 September 2023 | Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch
NetherRealm Studios has a huge task to fulfill with Mortal Kombat. The team had to find new ways to make Mortal Kombat look and feel fresh. All this while maintaining the high bar of quality the fanbase has come to expect over the series’ 30-year lifespan. Mortal Kombat (2023) partially achieves this aim with interesting new gameplay and an intriguing plot. The total overall package lacks the much-needed depth for it to truly be a masterpiece.
Table of Contents
It takes up immediately after MK11 Aftermath, with Liu Kang advancing to godhood. As the Keeper Of Time, he has the ability to construct a new universe as he deems appropriate. Because of that, his creation sends familiar characters down unexpected pathways.
Raiden, for example, is no longer the all-powerful Thunder God. Instead, he is a humble farmer from a little village. Every character undergoes a basic transformation, albeit some are more visible than others.
As a result, the playable roster consists of returning characters from past games. No new fighters this time around. However, due to the narrative focus of the game, each character seems fresh and (or at the very least has some new features to their style), creating the sensation of discovery generally reserved for brand-new faces.
Mortal Kombat (2023) reinvents previous names, which works fairly well across the bulk of the characters, however, some don’t feel as original as they could have.
Reptile is an excellent example of a character that has matured. He’s still a green-clad ninja with acid spit and the ability to disguise himself, but his Zaterran shape-shifting skills are considerably more prominent here. As a result, he may go back and forth between the two forms at whim, without the game skipping a beat.
Reiko, on the other hand, who has only been featured twice before, is merely a powerful soldier with grapples in his move-set. It’s not a horrible pick, and his movements serve him well, but his character doesn’t alter enough to keep him as intriguing as the other members of the ensemble.
As the tale progresses, so do the gaming elements, with aerial combinations being one of the most clever. Not only do combinations seem more flashy in the air, but the range of possibilities provided by this new innovation provides a new level of excitement that previous MK games lacked.
Some characters may chain many air combinations together, resulting in tremendous damage while remaining cool as heck. It’s the type of mechanism that motivates players to practice their timing, because pulling off one of these is not only effective but also extremely satisfying.
Fatalities, the franchise’s brutal, gory trademarks, are a major return element. Thanks to a combination of imaginative murdering and all-too-realistic sound effects, the signature finishing maneuvers are as horrific as ever. A number of these stunned me, and I have a stronger tolerance for gory stuff like this than most people.
Brutalities return as well, and they operate identically as before, acting as surprise end-of-match exclamation points coated in blood. Mortal Kombat may have a new beginning, but it still plays the classics bloodily wonderfully.
The ‘Kameo’ assist feature is the most significant new element to MK1’s fighting. Following my selection of one of the 23 playable characters, I may pick from a second roster of fighters that serve only as auxiliary help characters. The majority of them are non-playable characters, while a couple are variant versions of playable fighters.
When I choose a ‘Kameo’, I have three more attacks at my disposal that I may call at any moment. ‘Kameos’ are useful for extending combos, countering opposing strikes, and providing more mobility in a hurry.
‘Kameos’, unlike conventional abilities or combinations, have a cooldown. This guarantees that each Kameo activation feels significant and tactically significant. Given how flexible some of these techniques are, having infinite access to them would ruin the game.
Motaro, for example, may create a shield to defend against attacks and transport a player around the stage. Spamming one of those abilities would make battling him difficult, but the cooldown prevents that from happening.
‘Kameos’ is a clever approach to incorporate people in the game that would otherwise be excluded. Even in this limited capacity, seeing faces like Sareena on-screen is incredibly exciting, as she has followers who have been requesting to see her for years.
While it isn’t a fully-fledged character, it acknowledges her existence and offers me hope that more unsung heroes and villains may see the light of day in the future.
I also like how some ‘Kameos’ are old-school versions of playable characters, such as Sub-Zero and Scorpion. ‘Kameos’ provides a delightful new layer of strategy to the battle mechanics while also providing some high-quality fan service with long-dormant characters.
Almost every character in the game, whether playable or ‘Kameo’, has incredible voice work, with the majority of the chosen talent dripping personality, toughness, and grit from every uttered syllable. Unfortunately, Megan Fox, the most well-known actress in the game, is an exception.
I don’t dispute she’s a talented actor, but there’s a noticeable difference in her spoken lines compared to the rest of the group. Everything she says is drab and boring, and she doesn’t fit in with the rest of the ensemble.
It’s easy to overlook Nitara in combat. This is partly because someone else recorded her grunts and assault noises, but she sticks out like a sore thumb throughout the campaign. I like the idea of a high-profile actress appearing in this blockbuster video game–especially one known for playing a vampire in a movie and having a general vampire vibe.
But Nitara would have been better served with a voiceover that fit in with the rest of the group, especially since NetherRealm fell into a similar trap after Ronda Rousey’s performance as Sonya Blade in MK11.
Mortal Kombat (2023)’s plot is a lively, winding, and surprising adventure that ends in some of the franchise’s craziest scenes. Some plot beats are lifted directly from Mortal Kombat history, as a nod to those who have been with the franchise for all 30 years.
Others are pure mayhem in the greatest possible sense. I laughed out loud several times throughout the campaign’s last chapter, notably in one scenario that I wish was twice as long as it is.
The decision to develop people in novel ways throughout the tale is daring and effective. I really admire how it explores these new techniques through character interaction, such as the relationship between Kitana and Mileena or the decision to transform Tarkatans like Baraka from a race of savages to typical Outworlders suffering from crippling sickness.
These new notions ground what is essentially a fantasy narrative of magic and parallel universes with a little dose of realism, adding emotional weight to each scene.
However, the campaign is not without flaws. A few decisions strike out to me the more I think about them. One example is what happened to Ermac. Without spoiling it, Ermac’s whole multiple-souls-warrior aura gets a fresh twist that erases everything wonderful about him.
Not only does it appear out of nowhere with little explanation–the cause for this alteration is a mystery–but it remains throughout the rest of the tale.
This choice appears to have been made just to give veteran fans something to chew on, but it did break my immersion in the plot for a moment. The campaign does an excellent job of transforming the world. Yet a couple of those modifications diminish rather than enhance the impact of the afflicted character.
There is one limitation to this campaign, and that is its linear nature. After it is completed, there is nothing further to do. The last chapter does provide some diversity in that you may select your fighter, which modifies a few aspects of the final battle, but that is the only difference.
Furthermore, unlike the last game, you are allocated a character in each chapter rather than having some alternatives. Fortunately, the plot is excellent. It’s good enough to compensate for these flaws, although there is still little opportunity to replay after the final chapter.
Outside of the superb story mode, there are other ways to play Mortal Kombat (2023). While these modes are enjoyable, they don’t provide the same degree of exciting gameplay throughout.
Single or Multiplayer
Online modes featured ranked, casual, and private rooms, as well as ‘King Of The Hill’. Stuttering was minimal in my online matches. However, the lack of a spectator option in private rooms is a significant step backward in comparison to other fighters.
Single-player options include the typical towers of Arcade mode, along with distinct endings for each character. This time MK 2023 includes a brand new game mode, called ‘Invasion’. Ascending through the iconic Towers is like playing old-school MK in the arcades.
Individual character endings are brief episodes, like in MK11, but the extra lore they provide gives new fascinating possibilities. The finale of Smoke, in especially, solved one of my personal burning doubts concerning Mortal Kombat (2023).
Meanwhile, invasions take place throughout overworld areas, with players sprinting from one goal to the next. The concept is excellent, and like the campaign, there’s enough of nostalgia to be had from the older Sega Genesis version of the original MK.
However, the bulk of the stages on these maps comprise a single one-round combat, implying that the majority of the stages can be completed in 10-15 seconds. Some battles include variables, such as an extra obstacle thrown at me, but they don’t add anything to the experience.
There’s virtually little difficulty here, especially in later parts when I’ve gained strong Talismans and Relics to boost my powers, and it starts to feel like a slog.
In comparison to MK11’s familiar offerings, like the ‘Krypt’ and the ‘Towers Of Time’, Invasions seemed to be a letdown. It’s fun and enjoyable, but the grind feels and lacks diversity, which make this mode feel less significant.
This new age of NetherRealm’s top fighting game has a lot to offer. Mortal Kombat (2023) gives its mythology a much-needed fresh pair of eyes, reinventing the roster in new and exciting ways. Not every option in character design or development works, but those that do have an immediate impact.
Fighting with these new characters is fantastic. I really like the air combos and the ‘Kameos’, though other game modes are a little lacking. Mortal Kombat’s future is bright, and MK (2023) is the first step on that new route. I’m just hoping the next chapter offers something new to chew on.
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