The Mortal Kombat series is one of the premier arcade series around today. The series, which until now utilized digitized actors to give the game an extra layer of realism, has been the topic of comic books, movies, action figures, and even Senate hearings. The fourth time around the game has gone polygonal, giving the developers much more leeway when it comes to adding new moves, holds, and characters. Also, weapons have been added into the mix, with each character possessing a different sword, club, or staff to beat his enemies with.
The storyline of MK4 picks up the loose ends left behind by both MK3 and the console-exclusive MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero. With Shao Kahn defeated, Shinnok picks up the slack as the main bad guy. However, he is also a selectable character, which left arcade players with no big boss to look forward to. To remedy that, the home version contains MK1's four-armed bad boy, Goro. Goro looks terrific in 3D, moves very fluidly, and has all the great moves he had in MK1, as well as a few additional ones. He isn't selectable from the start, but a code makes him (as well as Noob Saibot, another hidden character) playable. Returning characters include Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya, and Raiden. Most of the old characters retain their old moves and add a new one here and there. The new characters fit very well into the MK universe, a welcome change from most fighting game sequels.
While the graphics may not be quite as detailed as the arcade version, they are very close, and the game runs very fast with hardware acceleration. The software-rendered graphics look pretty blocky, although a patch has been released that allows a higher resolution in software mode. The music comes off the CD, resulting in an arcade-perfect soundtrack. The character voices, while occasionally goofy sounding, are all present. The arcade version's endings used the game engine, but they have been redone for the PC version, and the results look fantastic. The game now plays the high-quality rendered FMV endings instead.
Whether or not the game plays like the arcade version all depends on which controller you use. You're going to need at least a six-button gamepad to properly play the game. The Sidewinder pad works perfectly, although some of the game's fatalities are hard to do on any controller other than the arcade's. MK4's combo system has been greatly simplified when compared with previous MKs. Each character can start a combo the same way, and some of the more damaging moves in the previous games (the uppercut, for instance) have been weakened. The introduction of weapons seems silly at first, but once you've played for a while and gotten used to using them, they really do add a new dimension to the game. Each character has two fatalities, and there are two stage fatalities. The fatalities look nice, but too many of them are merely 3D updates to old fatalities, and the new fatalities in MK4 simply aren't that great. It would have been nice to see some more innovation here. A few modes have been added to the game, including a practice mode, which shows all the characters' moves and fatalities. There are also three types of endurance fights, a team battle mode, and a tournament mode.
If you aren't a fan of the previous Mortal Kombat games, this one won't make you a fan. It's pretty much the same game but with a few 3D elements tossed in. But fans of the other versions of MK4 won't be disappointed with this excellent translation.