For a fighting game series, Mortal Kombat has an irregularly deep back-story. This long-running tale of a fighting tournament that maintains balance between the earth realm and Outworld has been in motion for around eight years. While the series has more than its share of detractors, most of the games in the series have been rather good. Lately, however, the Mortal Kombat mythos has lost a great deal of steam. Mortal Kombat 4 wasn't received particularly well, and the series' first non-"fighting game" entry, MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms, either. Still, you got the impression that the people working on the games genuinely cared about them and took the time to ensure that the storyline maintained most of its continuity. Mortal Kombat Special Forces contains none of this, resulting in holes in the plot, slapdash level design, and a general sense of "Let's just make sure the game doesn't crash so we can get it on store shelves and earn back at least a little bit of the money we spent" on Midway's part.
Mortal Kombat Special Forces' instruction manual claims that the game strives to fill in some of the blanks about the rivalry between Jax and Kano. But the game really creates more questions than it answers. For instance, if this is supposed to take place before the first Mortal Kombat game, why does Jax have metal arms, which he didn't receive until Mortal Kombat 3 was released? Possible continuity problems aside, Special Forces is decidedly low on story. The game opens with a '70s cop-show-style intro movie, and from there, cinematics of any kind are extremely hard to come by. Between levels, you're given a small bit of story progression via radio transmissions that take place between Jax and Gemini. Gemini stays behind at the Special Forces HQ, while you, as Jax, plod through several locales, beat the pulp out of numerous thugs, struggle to find keys, hit switches, and fight bosses. You're given many of Jax's standard attacks right off the bat, but executing special moves such as the dash punch and ground pound use up a portion of your special meter, which is replenished by executing combos. Defeating enemies earns you experience points, and every time you level up, you're given a new combo move. The combos are MK3-style button-tapping combos, though they require little to no sense of timing at all - just hit the buttons in the proper order, and you'll execute the "git some suka" or "super uppercut" moves with ease. As if having to use a combo called "git some suka" weren't bad enough, Jax occasionally does a bit of trash talking when you execute a combo. This means you'll get to hear Jax say "Want some fries with that whoop-ass?" significantly more than you want to. As you progress, the combos become more and more devastating, some of them even ending in fatalities, provided that the enemy's life bar runs out as you're delivering the final hits.
The game is really driven by collecting items. To progress, you'll need to find tons of keys, security passes, and the like. The game is seen from a multitude of seemingly random camera angles, none of which give you a clear-cut view of the action. In fact, the later levels are downright frustrating - almost all your enemies are armed, and they can see (not to mention shoot) you long before you have any idea that they even exist. They rarely miss, so your only options are to run in the direction of the shots until you see the enemies, pull out a weapon of your own, and spray fire in the general direction of the shots or use the game's atrocious first-person mode. If you're armed, you can use first-person mode to more accurately direct your fire, but it's limited in that zooming in with the sniper rifle doesn't affect the draw-in distance. So if an enemy is out of your normal sight, zooming in won't help at all.
In a word, MK: Special Forces is ugly. The models are blocky, and the textures are horrifically muddy. Occasionally, walls burst at the seams, and the clipping is also fairly random. Backing that up is the sort of soundtrack that demands to be silenced. The music is overly repetitive, the sound effects are drab, and the voice work is dull and uninspired.
Even at a semi-bargain price of $19.99, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces isn't worth your time, let alone your money. Even die-hard Mortal Kombat fans will be sorely disappointed with Midway's latest offering, so we'll just have to wait and see if the MK series can recover from this near-fatal blow.