Mortal Kombat Hands-On

Blood--and lots of it--abounds in our first hands-on with the latest in the long-running fighting franchise.


Mortal Kombat (2011)

If you liked the gore and abundant ultraviolence of the earlier Mortal Kombat games, then we've got good news for you: The new Mortal Kombat is one of the bloodiest games we've ever seen. Even if you weren't particularly fond of the blood but just liked the games for their fighting style, then you'll have plenty to look forward to with this latest entry in the franchise. According to series creator Ed Boon, the new Mortal Kombat will be a spiritual successor to Mortal Kombat II and III, which will be music to the ears of longtime fans.

According to Boon, this reinvigorated Mortal Kombat will focus on providing deep mechanics for veterans, an accessible combo system for all newcomers, and a strong return to the mature-rated violence and fatalities for which the series is best known. Boon says the team is aiming for a dark and gritty look, and in terms of story, the new game will take place after the events of Mortal Kombat Armageddon but will have some time-travel elements in place. Thus, all of the characters you'll see will be classic ones from the first three games, with many of the locations also hailing from early in the series. In the E3 demo that we managed to get hands-on time with behind closed doors, there were eight playable characters: Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Mileena, Johnny Cage, Sektor, Nightwolf, Reptile, and Kung Lao, with Boon saying he's aiming for roughly 26 characters overall in the final game.

The first thing you'll notice about Mortal Kombat is that (just like the reboot that gave us Street Fighter IV), the game looks familiar yet strikingly impressive at the same time, thanks to the visual upgrade modern consoles can provide. The characters themselves are nicely detailed and sport damage to their clothes in real time (as well as showing open wounds as the fight progresses). Blood will even splatter and eventually congeal on you and your opponent, turning darker in color as the match progresses. The stages, too, are looking good. Some familiar levels we saw--such as The Pit from the original and The Living Forest from the first sequel--have plenty of animated sections and loads of character.

Speaking of character, the fighters themselves seem to sport their familiar move sets and abilities, meaning series veterans (and even folks who haven't played a game in the series for years) should be able to quickly get a grasp of the game's basic mechanics. The developers, though, aren't just pumping out facsimiles of what has been done before. The game's fighting system will apparently allow you to create custom combos, That is, it will give you the ability to experiment and string together your own set of moves. We've been told that the timing of moves will be open enough for players to be able to connect their favorite attacks together, although we'll have to get more time with the game to see how this affects the overall balance of Mortal Kombat.

Probably one of the biggest changes (at least for anyone who hasn't played the game in many years) is the addition of a multilevel power bar that can be used for several different purposes. Performing souped-up versions of your regular special moves takes up one section of the bar, and this is done by simply holding down the block button as you input the command. For example, Sub-Zero's ground freeze will normally only have an area of effect directly in front of the frosty ninja, but if you power it up, the frozen area will extend across the entire screen.

You can also pull off a breaker move, which will automatically interrupt an opponent mid-combo, which costs two whole sections of your bar. But if you manage to hold off and get three full sections, you'll be able to pull off an X-Ray attack. These devastating attacks (we saw one that took off almost half a bar of health) will result in a gruesome combo sequence, with the camera zooming in for close-ups that reveal the bones breaking and organs exploding inside your opponent's body (as can be seen in the game's reveal trailer). A couple of X-Ray attacks we saw were bloody indeed: Reptile, for example, will grab an opponent's head; stab his eyes with two sharp, clawed fingers; break his neck (in slow motion); and land a devastating punch to the midriff that breaks the rib cage into tiny pieces.

But an even bigger addition is the ability to have tag-team matches in the style of Capcom's vs. series. Mortal Kombat will have a dedicated Two-Versus-Two mode (as well as the traditional solo matches), and you'll be able to swap out characters on the fly during a fight. If you've played a Capcom vs. game recently, then you'll know what to expect: Characters will perform an attack as they swap in (leading to interesting combo opportunities), and you'll also be able to call them in for a quick assist attack move. Unlike the Capcom vs. games, resting characters won't regain any health, although the game's developers said that issue was still yet to be fully decided upon. Swapping characters have their own unique animations, so they won't simply jump out of the way when summoned out of a fight. Mileena, for example, gives a loud hiss and rolls away, while Johnny Cage makes a throat slit move before leaping away.

And then, of course, there are the fatalities. The ones we spied during our hands-on session were truly brutal and are sure to elicit disgust from the squeamish and delight for those more macabre minded. Mileena's fatality, for example, sees her throw her sais into an opponent's feet, locking him or her into place before ripping off his or her torso. Reptile grabs open an opponent's mouth, spits acid into it, punches a hole in his or her stomach, and rips out his or her intestines. Sektor slices an opponent's upper body into several pieces, before individually targeting him or her with missiles to destroy him or her even further. Words don't do justice to the level of gore on show here, so you'll have to trust us that these moves are pretty extreme (either that or watch some gameplay videos).

Mortal Kombat is looking extremely promising at this early stage, offering series devotees and lapsed fans plenty of reasons to check it out. Boon also hinted that the game would contain plenty of hidden secrets, something that has been a strong part of the series since day one. We're looking forward to finding out what these secrets are--as well as just getting more hands-on time to see how balanced the gameplay is--so keep it locked to GameSpot for more soon.

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