Mortal Kombat: Deception Exclusive Hands-On

We get a select look at how the upcoming fighter from Midway is coming together.

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We've been chomping at the bit to get our hands on a proper preview version of Mortal Kombat: Deception since we got our first look at the game's trailer earlier this year. Our exposure to the game before E3 and during E3 only served to pique our interests even more. Thankfully, we've managed to get our hands on work-in-progress versions of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, and we've spent a good chunk of time with both to find out how the game is coming together (and also recorded plenty of fights for your viewing pleasure). Hopefully it won't come as a tremendous shock when we say that the game's coming along "pretty freaking good," especially given the positive direction that development's been going in.

Deception gets bloodier every time we see it--and it's pretty darn fun, too. Click "Stream for Free" for higher resolution.

Our versions of Mortal Kombat: Deception were both fully loaded, and they let us check out the intro cinemas so that we could explore the grips of modes that each game is going to offer. The first thing you'll see when the game loads up is an intro cinema that brings you up to speed on what's been going on since the last game. You'll discover that, unsurprisingly, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi really can't get along. However, their broken alliance is reforged when a new menace arrives in Outworld to remind folks that despite the fact that they can't get along, they better learn quickly if they want to survive against a foe that can kill them all. (Truly a lesson for life.)

As with 2002's Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, you'll want to create a profile before you dive into the game. You'll simply choose a name, an icon, and a code to tie to your save file, and then you'll head out to explore the game's modes. The main menu will offer kombat, chess kombat, puzzle kombat, konquest, Xbox Live (or simply MK Online for the PS2), the krypt, content, profiles, and options to choose from. Kombat is the classic MK-style fighting that will send you up a ladder of fighters on your way to a nasty end boss. The mode will let you pick arcade, versus, and practice fights. Chess kombat is the Archon-style mode wherein you'll create a team of characters and then fight against the CPU or a human opponent in a chesslike game. Puzzle kombat is the Super Puzzle Fighter-esque puzzle game that lets you pick from an assortment of superdeformed characters from the main game to pit against an opponent. Konquest is the game's adventure-style mode that blends the standard fighting gameplay with a training mode and a free-roaming, RPG-style structure.

We've covered the puzzle and chess modes before, and aside from some visual tweaks, these modes haven't changed too dramatically in terms of gameplay. Kombat and konquest, however, have taken proper shape in this latest version of the game. Kombat will follow the same structure as the arcade incarnations of the game, so it will send you on a tear through a horde of foes, culminating in a fight against a character who's cut from the mold that's known as Midway's patented "Most Hateful Boss Ever."

You'll find 12 fighters initially selectable, along with another 12 to unlock. The first batch of fighters will be made up of old-schoolers Scorpion, Mileena, Baraka, and Sub-Zero. The roster is lent a nice blast from the past with the inclusion of Kabal, Ermac, and Nightwolf. Bo'Rai Cho returns from Deadly Alliance to wield his mighty vomit attacks. The last four members of the roster, Ashrah, Dairou, Kobra, and Darrius, are newcomers who round out the cast by featuring unique handling. While we've seen a good chunk of the rest of the roster, it will include some surprises that are sure to please longtime fans.

The new combat additions, such as extra juggling and new fight indicators, have made the fighting engine even more impressive.
The new combat additions, such as extra juggling and new fight indicators, have made the fighting engine even more impressive.

The fighting system has shaped up well. Although the base for combat is the system seen in Deadly Alliance, the new tweaks--such as a more juggle-friendly combo system and the fight-state indicators that inform you when you can and can't be hit or when you're setting yourself up for an instant death via some of the game's interactive backgrounds--are all working well. Players familiar with Deadly Alliance will find a collection of new fighting styles, though things like style-branch combos and such are still present. All in all, the game plays roughly the same as Deadly Alliance, but you'll notice that the juggles and other little tweaks here and there make the game feel a bit more like some of the older, 2D MK games.

Konquest is still taking shape and offers a mix of third-person adventuring, combat, and mission-based events. You'll play as a young boy named Shujinko who will encounter many Mortal Kombat characters throughout his adventure. You'll start out in a small town, learning the basics from Bo'Rai Cho, but you'll eventually embark on a quest that takes you through the various realms of the Mortal Kombat universe.

Your time in konquest mode will leave you with keys that you can use in the krypt area of the game, which returns as home to the bulk of the unlockable content that runs the gamut from artwork to hidden characters and costumes. The currency system from the previous game also returns here as well. So while some coffins can only be opened with keys from konquest mode, most of them are still purchased with one of the several different types of coins in the game. You'll earn coins in just about every mode, and you can wager them in the offline versus mode.

Even in its early state, the game plays almost flawlessly online.
Even in its early state, the game plays almost flawlessly online.

The online modes are a breeze to access on either console. When on the PlayStation 2, you'll just select MK Online, and you'll use the online profile that you have on your memory card. The lobby will let you both check out different rooms and hop into them. You'll be able to chat via text in the lobbies. Hopping into battle is a breeze. Basically, it just takes a few button presses to issue or accept a challenge, and then you're in. You'll be able to engage in normal one-on-one fights, chess, or puzzle battles, depending on your tastes. Once you're in a fight, you'll be able to chat via the PlayStation 2 headset during your match. Once you've brought the pain to your foe, you can choose to go for a rematch, which takes you to the character select screen or hops you out to the lobby. The system is easy to use, and it worked well when we tried it.

While it's not surprising to note that puzzle kombat and MK chess run smoothly online, kombat is worth crowing about from the rafters. Despite the game's work-in-progress condition, our matches ran smoothly and were very responsive. There were some very minor hitches that were to be expected, especially considering that we weren't playing the final game, but the fact that we managed to play MK online--and that it ran well--was downright momentous. The voice chat was a nice touch, although during the more intense matches, you should plan on hearing a lot of silence punctuated by occasional bursts of profanity--which is a lot like playing in the arcades.

The graphics in Deception continue to improve with every chance we get to look at it. The character models are detailed and, thankfully, bleed really well. The environments are looking good and are also hazardous to your health, with some whimsical bits like the beach area that switches from a sunny setting to a more demonic one. The various modes are each looking sharp, and more subtle touches are being added, such as further loopy animation for puzzle kombat and a liberal helping of blood and viscera throughout.

For the record, the Xbox version is currently the better-looking of the two games, but it's looking like the graphical disparity between the two versions isn't going to be quite as obvious as it was with Deadly Alliance. This time out, both games perform comparably, right down to the widescreen and progressive scan support.

Deception's audio is an engaging mix of screams and collisions that are heavy on the bass to help sell the onscreen pain. The announcer is his usual imposing self, although we do still miss the gravitas provided by the MK II announcer. Aside from this, the character voices are well done. There are a few rough patches in the konquest mode in terms of voice acting, but it's still a work in progress that will hopefully improve. The music is a solid assortment of Asian-themed tunes with some rock thrown in that fits the MK style well.

Much more is coming on Deception before its release, so stay tuned.
Much more is coming on Deception before its release, so stay tuned.

As we've said before, Mortal Kombat: Deception is looking as though it's going to be the best entry in the series yet. The fighting system feels good, and the fat grip of modes to go through provides a meaty chunk of gameplay that's got a little something for everyone. And that's just the offline portion of the game! When you factor in the online-enabled versions of kombat, chess kombat, and puzzle kombat, you wind up with an entry in the MK series that surpasses the typical expectations placed on a sequel...and then some. The improved visuals are just icing on the already appealing cake. If you're looking for an online fighting game for the PlayStation 2 or Xbox this fall, you would do well to consider Mortal Kombat: Deception. The game is a welcome addition to the PlayStation 2's online lineup, and it's a good complement to the Xbox's fall brawling roster, which includes Dead or Alive Ultimate. Mortal Kombat: Deception is currently slated to ship this October for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Regular and limited edition versions of the game will be available for both platforms as well. A GameCube MK:D will follow. While it will lack online play, it will include some bonus content that will help flesh out its package.

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