PlayStation 58.50
Overall 8.50
I am no fighting game enthusiast but one fighting game franchise keeps me coming back game after game, MORTAL KOMBAT! With its excellent cast of characters and decades long mythology I play MK games more for story than I do the actual combat but lucky for all of us MK has actually been a really good fighter since MK9. Mortal Kombat 1, titled so because of the resetting of the timeline, is the next step in the formula that began now more than 10 years ago. You would think a full story reboot and the first “next gen” (it’s not) MK of this gen would be a great place to really try something new with the formula. Well instead it’s more of a small step sideways with a new Kameo system and new single player mode that misses the mark.

Let’s start with the story mode because that’s why I play these games. Once again you play through a 6-7 hour campaign where you switch characters and play the fights between the cutscenes. MK1 has by far the best production value of the series, well any fighting game really. The biggest improvement in this game comes from the animations and interactivity with the backgrounds during these cutscenes. It feels like a full on CG movie most of the time. There are certain limitations still present with how scenes stay in one location because they have to use the background but nothing like how it was before where it sometimes felt like a play. This game can stand toe to toe with any single player driven games cinematics.

Absolutely nothing has changed in how the player interacts with the story mode, you play that chapter’s character, complete about 4 to 5 fights against opponents and that is basically it. I guess they are going for the if it ain’t broke don’t fix it mentality but it’s maybe time to be more ambitious, I would kill for a full on action adventure game mode.

But this is what we get and it’s still a blast. This is my second favorite story of the series, the first still being MK9 for its brilliant retelling of the original trilogy. By wiping the timeline clean this story is now allowed to change characters backstories, relationships, and add depth to characters who rarely had any. I love the twist of Raiden now being a normal human, scorpion literally being Sub-Zero’s brother, Milenna is the queen not Kitana, Shao Khan just being a general and much more. Grunt characters like Baraka and Reptile are given emotional story arcs breathing depth to characters that hardly had any.  The cast is an odd mix of the usual OG stars and a collection of rejects from the dark PS2 era days. Not sure anyone had Havik, Reiko, Ashrah, and Lei Mei ever playing roles in a major MK story but here they are and they are all interesting.

Across the board the voice acting is superb outside of one character, Megan Fox’s Nitara, mainly cause she is just there for a pay check. As a mercy she has very little screen time so it doesn’t drag down the well paced and exciting story. By far the biggest standout is the stories main villain Shang Tsung, who is no longer voiced by his movie actor Cary Tagawa, but by Alan Lee which gives one of the best I want to punch this asshole performances ever. He channels Tagawa but is never doing an immitation, it’s the combination of the excellent face animations and his smug slimy voice that gives this game a fantastic villain you love to hate.

The final hours of this story mode goes full on bat shit insane. I was in MK heaven, I don’t want to spoil it but man I loved it, it’s so beautifully absurd but I am left wondering WHY IS THAT NOT INCORPORATED INTO THE OTHER MODES. It might have gone too wild cause now I am left to wonder how do you top those stakes but with many characters left out of this story and some really juicy storylines for characters to take in future the next MK game already has a great setup. All in all the story mode is excellent.

Well let’s get to the actual point of the game, the fighting, which is still great. I personally really love this combat system, I have loved it since MK9. There have been some tweaks that made it feel faster, some slower, some more technical, some more combo focused but the essence of the original games is felt. While it still won’t be in SFs technical level, this franchise has been a very good balanced fighting game for a while now and this one feels about as good as it ever has. Again not being a fighting game expert I cannot breakdown if every character is balanced, or if the timing of certain combos is off. I have read about glitches that might unfairly give extra time for a combo to player 1, a huge no no for fighting games. I can’t break down how patches impact the meta of character power hierarchy. What I can do is tell you if I had fun playing this game and yes I did, more so than the last one I would say.

MK1 introduces the Kameo system which means after you pick your fighter you pick a secondary character that can aid you during the fight at the cost of a power meter. This allows a bunch of other MK characters to be in the game without actually being in the game, like Sonya, Jax,and Kano. At first I found the system to be distracting; I couldn’t figure how to fit their attacks into my flow but with practice you can learn how to use them to extend combos, rescue you from being pinned down and create a volley of pressure attacks that are every hard to block. It’s also just fun to have weird combinations like Sub zero and old scorpion, or Cage and Goro. Each of these fighters come with unique xray attacks and a fatality, usually classic ones reborn.

The pacing of the fight feels right. I think some previous ones messed with the speed of attacks and movement, this one found a great middle ground. I did not like how MK11 had multiple versions of characters with unique move sets, I’m old school, my character should have all his moves if I choose them, and thankfully every character has just one robust power move list. I enjoy trying out everyone and I find a bunch of characters to be an absolute joy to play.  Some have really unique styles of combat like Rain and his ability to set portals and traps. You have an assortment of juggle masters, some strong wrestler types and the far off projectile focused fighters. Of course who can forget the Fatalities, I will never be sick of them, somehow they are still very creative and hilarious at times.

My only gripe with the combat is how air juggle focused the game is and that’s a negative for me cause long combo strings are not my thing. So I played a few matches online, most of the time getting my ass whooped by people with combos that take like 40% health in one go. Any time I was matched with an equally inept player the fights were very tense and enjoyable. The online ranking mode is barebones and the incentive to level up is just a bunch of cosmetic shit. It seems what SF6 is doing is way more interesting in both online and single player content and that hurts cause MK is usually the one with the better single player content.

This game introduces Invasion mode as it’s big single player time sink. The classic towers are still there with character endings for everyone, I love to do those but I do like a mode with some progress. Invasions replaces the timed tower modes of MK11 with a board game like world map where your character moves across the world like moves on a board game. Each stop is a different battle against one of the characters and usually there are some bonus effects happening. These include fireballs raining from the sky, or random saws flying across the stage. Your enemies could have special protections in the form of a shield that just randomly shows up throughout the fight making your hits ineffective, a really dumb way to artificially create difficulty.

To tie it all together there is a very poorly thought out  RPG stat system with status effect pros and cons, like a giant Pokémon chart of different types of magic being more effective against others. Honestly I don’t care for any of it. Yeah Sub Zero is ice, great, Scorpion is fire, and did you know ice is vulnerable to fire, wow. So your hits might do an X percentage more damage, amazing. Then there are medallions that give you an emergency power, I haven’t found the need to use it. As of now I have yet to finish the mode so I can’t say how these elements come into play for the end game but so far I have totally ignored all of the elemental stats and done fine with the fights. The board has paths that are blocked by keys and some hidden secrets are around which can make exploring fun. It’s a good idea but the execution is bad, mainly cause moving around this board is SLOW! So instead of a constant stream of CPU battles you get CPU battles in between really slow boring animations of your character lightly jogging to the next space. Oh and pray you didn’t find a key for a blocked path on the other side of the map, prepare to slowly spend a minute just getting back. We lost the krypt for this?

I am a sucker for “adventure” modes but those usually feel like progression matters. Here the leveling up and earning of rewards is so slow and so pointless I don’t feel compelled to continue. Oh yay I leveled up scorpion which took like 10 fights, I get a new harpoon skin, wow!! This is where the clear GaaS micro transaction shit rears its ugly head. There are like 5 different currencies, why I have no clue. Of course there is a store with timed cosmetics you can buy. Can’t have any kind of online game without some sort of season pass reward tree, a tree of shit. One of the currencies allows you to donate to “the shrine” where a statue gives you a random gift. I timed the animation for this crap, it’s well over 20 seconds just to spend 100 coins to get something like new shoes for Milenna. Fighting games have done the cosmetic rewards so much better than this. VF4/5 built entire modes around drastically changing how your character looked BUT this happened quickly, you pick a character and each win gives you something to make you stand out while feeling like you are progressing up the difficulty ranks. MK1 rewards and progression is so painfully slow, mainly cause they want the player playing non stop, sigh… that’s the state of modern games.

Invasion could be so much more, I feel the next MK should take the next step and go all in on a true single player adventure mode. It’s a damn shame too cause I love fighting in this game, I could keep fighting just to see all the fatalities and endings. But the best fighters create a compelling reason to get better, to feel like every battle matters.

Graphically the game is gorgeous with the best character models and backgrounds of the series. It’s not a generational leap at all, MK11 is still a stunner to look at but it has all the small tweaks to make it look better. The music is what you expect from MK, nothing memorable though. I did enjoy the tutorial mode, it goes very in depth into how to properly utilize the games combat system, complete with optional metrics like frame times per attack. There is so much depth that I can appreciate from a design perspective even if I personally didn’t dive into it. I do wish they had better character tutorials though, all they have is a basic combo guide which is hard as hell to complete, again 8-10 move string combos are not my thing.

Mortal Kombat 1 excels at being a deep but still immediately accessible fighting game that is visceral and fun to just mess around with. The mythology continues to be the main selling point with one of its greatest story modes. Sadly ugly GaaS practices feel like it’s holding back the other modes from being as engrossing and fulfilling as they could be. MK1 might be a safe sequel but it’s still a blast to play.
Posted by Dvader Thu, 12 Oct 2023 09:51:27
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