Quite possibly a contender for fighting game of the year, Mortal Kombat delivers on nearly every count.
Mortal Kombat 2011 revisits a pivotal point in the story following the events of Armageddon. The Thunder God Raiden is mere moments away from a seemingly inevitable demise at the hands of Shao Kahn. In desperation, Raiden supplants an ethereal message through the fabric of time that extends all the way to the very first Mortal Kombat tournament, where it reaches the ears of his past existential form. Struggling to come to grips with the strange message he receives, Raiden soon realizes that both Earthrealm and Outworld are in serious jeopardy. Thus, he takes it upon himself to rewrite the outcomes of three major Mortal Kombat tournaments in the hopes of preventing the armageddon that occurred during the ninth tournament, securing a path for the chosen Earthrealm champion, and sealing the fate of Shao Kahn once and for all. This is the game's Story mode; where you'll go through a series of pre-determined fights as the tale unfolds using specific characters that are chosen for you. Most of what you'll see is quite shocking to say the least, and there's no way to bypass these lengthy (and often violent) cutscenes. Furthermore, the difficulty will often spike sporadically with handicapped two-on-one skirmishes and opponents ranging from stupidly simple to incredibly cheap. For what it's worth, it's a pretty good story for a fighting game but, given the complex nature of a typical Mortal Kombat storyline, don't be too surprised if you're left with more questions than answers.
Mortal Kombat 2011 also offers other gameplay modes to whet your appetite. Ladder is a barebones, no-frills Arcade Mode; a mainstay that has been in place in nearly every Mortal Kombat game in existence. You'll select a character from an impressive 28+ roster and fight pre-determined opponents leading up to Shao Kahn and a newly-animated ending for your chosen kombatant. Exclusive to the PS3 version is Kratos from God of War; who can be used in Ladder and Versus modes (he is not present in Story Mode.) Compared to his recent guest spot on Soul Calibur Broken Destiny for the PSP, this amoral Spartan is a natural fit in Mortal Kombat's arenas, and he handles quite well here with some brutal attacks and fatalities of his own. The Challenge Tower presents a series of unique, character-specific objectives spanning as many as 300 or so floors. Mini-games such as Test Your Might, Test Your Sight, Test Your Strike and Test Your Luck can also be enjoyed if you want to take a break from throwing your fists and tearing off heads. No matter which mode you choose, you'll earn Koins to spend in the game's Krypt, which makes a much-maligned return from recent MK games like Deadly Alliance. Rewards include conceptual artwork, new costumes, music, and even new fatalities. And there are a lot of them to unlock---over 100 or so different items are yours for the taking. It may not be as varied as previous efforts, but unlocking every single item and earning the koins to do so will keep you quite busy. Just be wary when you're biding your time in the Krypt----a nasty surprise lurks in the depths that will often make things interesting for you when you least expect it!
Through its emphasis on time travel, Mortal Kombat 2011 brings back every character from the first, second and third games in the series. Classic Kombatants like Liu Kang, Mileena, Sonya Blade, Jax and Scorpion; they're all here, primed to fight and prepared to die. Although the absence of new characters and most of the fighters from games outside of the initial trilogy is somewhat disappointing, seeing every familiar face from the original trilogy will surely be a welcome sight for sore eyes; especially for die-hard MK fans. Under a gorgeous 3D environment, the gameplay also makes a humble return to its 2D roots---sans Street Fighter IV---doing away with the complex weapon system and Soul Calibur-esque three-dimensionality. This is a welcome incentive for people who fondly remember the good old days of the franchise in its earliest form and would rather to play it in that style.
And, apart from the classic 2D fighting, Mortal Kombat 2011 is not without some interesting new innovations and tweaks to its kombat system. For one, each character has their own uniquely individual X-Ray attack that can be performed when your Super Meter is at its maximum. It isn't so much the thought of how much damage it can do, but rather the unsettling cutscene of the attack being implicated displaying innermost bones being broken into fragments and teeth literally spraying out from a skull like a disjointed water spout; followed by equally cringe-inducing sound effects and low-pitched agonizing screams. Some of these might seem a little over-the-top, but they can be extraordinarily helpful when a situation calls for it. And it's as easy as pressing both shoulder buttons. The Super Meter not only accommodates the use of X-Ray moves, but they also give the player opportunities to instantly break an opponent's combo string as well as pump a little damage juice to a character's traditional special moveset through Enhanced attacks. For example, when Sheeva throws one of her "Enhanced" fireballs, it will knock down an opponent. Likewise, if Jade tosses her "enhanced" boomerang, the projectile will return to her hands after the first throw, hitting her opponent twice with the initial rebound. They may not be terribly powerful, but they are helpful. These new elements add some spice to the traditional Kombat arena, giving a fresh feel to familiar characters.
Also new to the Mortal Kombat series are tag battles which, apart from Ladder, is a gameplay mode in and of itself. They're not unlike Marvel vs. Capcom where you have a team of two characters and can switch freely between them at any time during a fight. Yet, particularly with Mortal Kombat, they add a refreshing new dimension to its traditional gameplay stead, and characters can effortlessly coordinate attacks and string combos together to dish out a comparable degree of damage. That's basically about as far as it needs to go and, in case you're wondering, you can't perform tag-team fatalities involving two characters (though that would have been awesome). Some may question the effectiveness of a tag system given the differential nature of MK's gameplay engine when compared to other 2D fighting games, but the system works remarkably well here, implemented earnestly without the need of going overboard.
If you remember Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, you might have balked at its Teen rating and how the blood and violence had to be toned down out of respect for the DC roster. While such intentions were all well and good, it came at a heavy cost to the Mortal Kombat characters because their fatalities were compromised. For Mortal Kombat 2011, the gruesome Finishing moves have returned to full form and, if anything, they're bloodier and more delightfully disgusting than they've ever been. Each character has at least two or so different fatalities (some of which are unlocked through Krypt mode) and a far-friendlier Babality (for love). Many of them are easier to pull off through simplified button commands, and you're actually given the directions in the pause menu, eliminating any real need to surf the internet (as was curiously suggested in the Deadly Alliance manual) In fact, when compared to recent Mortal Kombat offerings like Deadly Alliance and Deception, Mortal Kombat 2011 gives a greater accessibility towards newcomers with comprehensive tutorials and a gentler learning curve, while maintaining a steady challenge for seasoned players. There is even a helpful option that allows the player to practice fatalities. How neat is that for someone just getting into Mortal Kombat for the first time?
From a technical standpoint, Mortal Kombat 2011 looks and sounds great. Anybody familiar with the first three Mortal Kombat games will delight at the return of older stages in addition to the new ones----such as the very first stage of the very first Mortal Kombat (with the clapping audience), the bridge overlooking the spike pit from Mortal Kombat 2, and the underground subway of Mortal Kombat 3; all of them have been given an extensive makeover, and it is entirely possible to perform specific stage fatalities as well. Sounds are delightfully brutal, especially the deafening death throes of characters on the receiving end of a gruesome Finishing move. The music has been lifted from past MK games and given the preferential remix treatment, sounding as wonderful as it's ever been.
The throwback to the bloody nature and the simplified gameplay of the original trilogy are more than a welcome precedent to a franchise infamous in many ways for not only going against the grain, but shredding it to itty-bitty pieces. These things and so much more are contingent to Mortal Kombat's very existence and, without them, it would probably not have achieved the worldwide success that it enjoys today. Out of respect for MK vs DC Universe, merely lowering its bloody volume doesn't do it any favors. Fatalities, bloody deaths, decapitations, explicit gore; this is Mortal Kombat's pure, unadulterated nature. That said, Mortal Kombat 2011 lives up to its lofty expectations in spades, and might very well be a contender for fighting game of the year.