As massive fans of Mortal Kombat X, the first Mortal Kombat game since Trilogy on the PS1 that we’ve actually loved (although we did like the spin-off Shaolin Monks), we’ve had a lot of our hopes and expectations pinned on Mortal Kombat 11, the latest in the long-running series of brutally bloody beat ’em ups from NetherRealm Studios. In fact, we were so excited about it that we actively avoided all trailers and news about the game, its roster and everything else.
Mortal Kombat 11 does have a lot to live up to. Mortal Kombat XL, the complete version of X with all the additional characters, is a near-perfect fighting game combining a great story, spectacular visuals, tonnes of great characters (including all the iconic horror DLC ones) and all of the ridiculous ultraviolence the series is known for. Tournament snobs may still favour Street Fighter but if you want to do more than just the fighting, the completeness of Mortal Kombat XL meant it had something for everyone. Mortal Kombat 11 has arrived four years after Mortal Kombat X and it feels at once familiar but also something of an upgrade but with enough sophistication to the fight engine that it does take a bit of investigating. In short, this isn’t just a game about decapitating ninjas and painting the Earth Realm red.
Unusually for the genre, but in keeping with NetherRealm Studios’ usual MO, Mortal Kombat 11 offers a significantly large story campaign. The lore of Mortal Kombat has always been entertaining (I even liked BOTH films) and there’s plenty of it here but we’re getting into Marvel territory now with alternate timelines and all sorts of weirdness and that’s definitely key to the story here.
Since reshaping the future in 2011’s Mortal Kombat (essentially Mortal Kombat 9) and killing Shinnock in X, Raiden has started to take his responsibilities as the protector of the Earth Realm to heart and has gone a bit dark and is violently shutting down all threats. This has attracted the attention of Kronika, Shinnock’s mother, who wants to use her time-shaping abilities to rewrite history and create a new timeline where Raiden doesn’t exist.
Although she looks, feels and sounds a bit villain-y (she is, after all, the mother of Shinnock despite looking like his edgy emo daughter), Kronika isn’t looking to be evil but rather is just single minded in wanting to create a balance between good and evil and so it’s up to you, playing as a selection of heroes, to work your way through the 5-6 hour campaign and stop her from undoing all of the good work that the heroes in Mortal Kombat X did.
This constitutes a mix of fights (more on those in a moment) and a LOT of cutscenes and while that might sound like a drag, fans of the series, and its lore, will absolutely love the high quality, cinematic storytelling which is genuinely well-acted for the most part and tells an interesting story, even if the time shifting aspects of it do water down some of the drama of it all. It’s a lot of fun though and it’s not hyperbole to say that the quality of these cutscenes is maybe the best we’ve seen on the PS4 so far with the attention to detail being second to none and everything just looking astonishingly good.
Once you’ve finished the story, you’ve still got a lot of game left too. Of course you get your classic Towers mode. This is essentially the arcade mode from the original games with options to play shorter or longer towers (ie – less or more opponents) and these each come with a character-specific ending which is a great touch. Considering that we remember playing through Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2 just to see a couple of still images that wrapped up each characters’ stories, it’s great each fighter here gets their own distinct ending.
Unlike the story mode where you don’t get multiple rounds, or the ability to kill off your opponents, playing Towers gives you the full fat fight experience and what an experience it is. Fans of the series will be familiar with it right away but will also have a lot to learn.
Each face button is mapped to an attack- punches and kicks off of the lead or back hand/foot – essentially giving you your jab, cross, front kick and power kick off of the back foot – and these have combinations for each character, much like something like Tekken where some characters are capable of stringing together punch combinations or even mixing up punches and kicks, while others are more of your ‘one and done’ kind of fighter, trying to land those big shots.
As expected, you also get your special moves such as Sub-Zero’s ice blast, Scorpion’s spear attack and Liu Kang’s fireball and each character has several of these. They are all usually pretty easy to trigger too, meaning that you’ve got all of your best moves ready to go as long as you put in a little practise.
The brutal X-Ray attacks from the last two games give way to equally brutal ‘fatal blow’ attacks which aren’t actually fatal but will allow a fighter to take around a third of an energy bar in one incredibly violent sequence. These actually look like fatalities but they aren’t. As ever it’s a little odd to see a fighter keep scrapping when they’ve just had their brain impaled via the eyeball, but hey this is Mortal Kombat, we’re not here for the realism.
There are now additional techniques such as perfect blocks that allow you to take less chip damage and then counter, evasive get ups, extended special moves and more that will give you an edge over your opponent if you put in time to learn how to use them. Indeed, there’s a lot to learn here, making Mortal Kombat 11 feel as sophisticated when it comes to its fighting as any other celebrated fighting game. You’ll need to put in your homework to learn how each fighters’ moves combo together and, as ever, you’ll get out what you put in with this game.
Of course, you can’t talk about Mortal Kombat without mentioning the fatalities and they are as worryingly creative as ever with some frankly ridiculous sequences on offer if you can find and pull off the correct button press combination. Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t hold back when it comes to showing a bit of blood to the audience. And by a bit we mean all of it. You can honestly just have a few hours fun by following a list of them online and seeing what insane nonsense Ed Boon and co. have come up with this time.
With over twenty characters to learn, including three brand new ones, there’s plenty of game here to keep you going for months. But Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t stop there, and it is what the game does next that is a cause for concern. You won’t be surprised to hear that the Krypt is back, the treasure room area where players can use the Kombat Koins that they win in battle to unlock chests. This has been a staple feature in the series for a while now and, visually speaking, this is the best version yet with you actually running around Shang Tsung’s island (with an appearance by the man himself, voice acted by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from the original Mortal Kombat movie!) getting to see locations from the first game but now in glorious three dimensional form. There are a few Easter eggs here too so it’s quite good fun to spend some time here.
The thing is, Netherrealm kind of want you to stay here for the rest of your life it seems. There are so many chests to open and, frankly, most of them aren’t worth it because where you want costumes and fatalities, they’re all too keen to give you icons, consumables, endless customisation items and a bunch of other things that just aren’t very exciting. There’s a puzzle element to the Krypt which involves you finding objects to open new areas but it just comes down to you running around an area using a less than helpful mini-map. You can’t even use a guide to find the best gear because everyone’s Krypt is randomised.
To add to this you don’t just use Koins. You also use Soul Fragments and hearts to open up different containers. The hearts open the best chests, where you’ll find the most useful stuff, but these take forever to earn and you usually need 250 of them and they aren’t nearly as common as the other currencies.
We mentioned customisation. Mortal Kombat 11 is big on this and while we like the idea of giving these iconic fighters a unique look, unlocking gear is just unbelievably gruelling and that’s following the 1.03 patch which makes things better. We’ve completed the story, ran through the Krypt for absolutely ages, beaten a bunch of classic towers and also a few Towers of Time (unique towers that are unlocked periodically and offer more gear but at the cost of harder match ups) and it seems like we’ve got nothing good. And it gets worse.
You can augment your gear with items that improve the damage on various moves. To do this you have to use that gear (face masks, gloves, weapons etc) a load of times to level them up at which point you’ll open up an augment slot. However, you won’t know which of the five types of augment that slot will use until you open it up. At which point we found out that none of our augments fitted the gear we were using. So the answer there is find more augments (which is random and takes forever) or start levelling up new gear, which frankly we can’t be fucking arsed to do now.
Also spoiling the party, the Towers of Time are pretty difficult and steer you towards using consumables that give you extra health, support attacks and immunity to various elemental attacks. We don’t want this. It’s just a layer of complexity that fighting games don’t need. Mercifully, the 1.03 patch does make these easier (although we still had to use consumables in some towers) but it’s still not exactly what we want from a Mortal Kombat game.
The thing is, if you just had the story and classic towers, we’d be ready to proclaim this the best Mortal Kombat yet. It’s absolutely gorgeous, with the in-game action matching those fantastic cutscenes and then some. The level of detail is just astonishing and there’s so much going on that you really feel like they’re getting the best out of the PS4 with this game. It all moves at a great pace too, giving you that high-octane Mortal Kombat 2 kind of vibe but with a level of eye candy that might end up giving you eye diabetes.
All of the humour and violence that we’ve come to expect is there and it is there in spades and you can tell that it is a labour of love at times but the customisation absolutely sucks, the Krypt is a grind that we can’t wait to be over and all these types of currency make us feel old and confused. At times this reminds us of the mobile game that came out with Mortal Kombat X where we didn’t really know what the game wanted from us or why it kept giving us things that made our players look marginally different. Add to that the fact that you can create new builds of each player with their own unique move sets and it’s just all a bit much.
The ability to customise your favourite fighter for online play is something we do like, it was one of the best things about Virtua Fighter 5 back on the Xbox 360, but it’s just such a faff here and requires so much time and luck that we just don’t think we can be bothered with it. Especially as playing against randoms online is miserable in a Mortal Kombat title at the best of times. That said the online setup here pretty beefy with leagues, ranked matches, private matches and rooms to hang out in and the netcode seems pretty much immaculate so far and if you can get some decent humans to play with, you’ll get plenty out of the online component here. Also, they’ve done away with those terrible boss battle things from Mortal Kombat X, which is a relief.
We’ve sat on this review long enough to see 1.03 come out and while we applaud NetherRealm for listening to the fans and toning some of the grinding down, it’s still there and seems so baked into the game and its customisation that we feel like its not going away. We can ignore it and absolutely adore the best aspects of this game but where we just loved Mortal Kombat X, a little bit of the shine has been taken off with this game. It’s beautiful and brilliant in so many ways but there’s just this giant chunk of it that doesn’t seem like any fun. Add to that these horror stories about the staff having to work crunch periods of 100+ hours and we feel a little guilty about enjoying the core gameplay here as much as we do. We just hope that Ed’s boys learn from the criticism and stick to doing what they do best which is making the sort of bloody masterpiece that Mortal Kombat 11 is when it’s just being Mortal Kombat.
(Note: Review code provided by Warner Bros.)
+ If you like Mortal Kombat (and we really do) there's tonnes of lore (and gore) here
+ Fight engine is nicely responsive and sophisticated
+ Great story campaign
- Krypt is a grind
- Too many currencies
- Augments and consumables add unnecessary complexity and affect the purity of the fighting