The Mortal Kombat franchise has seen better days over the past few years, but now that the franchise is in the hands of Warner Bros. and NetherRealm Studios, it looks like much better days are ahead for Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and friends. The new Mortal Kombat (no subtitle or iterative digit here) aims to bring back the best aspects of the original arcade trilogy with a modern update with fresh visuals and design updates. The game was not playable at the show, but I was able to watch two of the developers duke it out across several familiar locations with eight beloved playable characters. It looks that Mortal Kombat is finally on its way back to glory.
Long-time Kombat fans will be glad to see the return of Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Mileena, Nightwolf, Sektor, Kung Lao, and Reptile. Each of the kombatants has been given a visual makeover, yet they are all immediately identifiable at first glance. Palette swaps are a thing of the past, as previously similar characters such as Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile are all now visually distinctive. Reptile is now obviously part lizard with green skin and lizard-like features. Scorpion’s costume retains its yellow shade, but now sports extra flair. Sub-Zero is still Sub-Zero, of course. Sektor is even more of a cyborg and Mileena wears even less (if that is possible). Moreover, each character has their own motion capture animations, giving each one a distinct appearance and style. They each even have stylized entrances such as Scorpion rising from Hell. Stages such as The Pit II and The Living Forest are back for revised encores. It’s invigorating to see this much care given to a franchise that many had written off, which brings us to to fighting action itself.
Each character retains their familiar attacks. Scorpion still has a way with “GET OVER HERE!”, Reptile still has his acid spit, and Sub-Zero can still freeze characters in mid-air. There are plenty of new tricks to learn though, as the Dial-A-Combo system from the old days has been replaced with conventional fighting game mechanics. The speed has been cranked up to keep everything moving, appearing to bring it on par with Super Street Fighter IV. A super combo bar has been added as well, bringing larger regular attacks into the mix. The most brutal addition are the special x-ray attacks that cause the action to zoom in and slow down at key moments to show characters’ bones breaking and organs crushing on impact. The small audience watching the gameplay demo cringed at seeing and hearing snaps and pained grunts.
Speaking of pain, the infamous fatalities are back as well. The developer staff was reluctant to show them at first, but eventually the crowd “convinced” them to show us Sub-Zero yanking out spines. Reptile chewing on faces, and – most scarringly memorable – Kung Lao turning his trademark hat into a buzzsaw, grabbing his opponent by the legs, and bisecting him/her right down the middle before holding up the bloody halves in triumph. It’s gory, over the top, and everything one would expect from the Mortal Kombat franchise. At the end of the demo, the crowd was treated to a fatality montage for every currently announced character, and I believe I can call it right now that parents have a new bloody scapegoat when it comes to video game violence.
With plenty more characters waiting to be announced and planned DLC, there’s a lot more to see about the new Mortal Kombat before it releases next year.