Mortal Kombat is back, sans DC Universe heroes, loaded with much of the blood, gore and cruel violence the series is infamous for. But Mortal Kombat for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 is also worth discussing for its deeper fighting engine.
Yes, there will be horribly painful fatalities, which developer Netherrealm Studios showed off at E3 2010 today, but there will also be gameplay changes. The game, simply title Mortal Kombat, is a 2D fighter. The characters are, of course, rendered in 3D, but like MK games past, players are locked into a 2D plane.
Mortal Kombat borrows a feature from other series, like Street Fighter, adding powered-up EX-style moves with a new meter. That meter, at the bottom of the screen, fills as players brutally smack each other around. Not unlike the Pro Moves of Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, those powered up moves make attacks more deadly, harder to avoid. To pull them off, players must pull off a special move, like a fireball, plus tap the block button.
In the case of a fighter like Sub-Zero, his trademark icing of the floor extends from a small puddle to a much longer stretch, making it almost unavoidable. For someone like Reptile, his acid spit becomes more of an acid vomit. (Speaking of vomit, that's one of his fatalities. In the finishing move montage we saw, Reptile opened up the mouth of his dazed foe, then proceeded to puke forth huge volumes of green acid, eating out the insides of an unlucky Johnny Cage.)
Super meter moves also modify attacks in other ways. In the case of Reptile's force ball move, not only did it make it much bigger, it popped Reptile's opponent higher, adding more frames of attack opportunity. These moves are key to expert level combos and play.
Those super meter moves eventually add up to a brutal combo move now known as an "X-ray Move." If it connects, the X-ray Move will lead to a sequence of uppercuts, groin punches and elbows to the back. The scene desaturates, and the camera zooms in to show internal organs bleeding, bones being shattered and blood and teeth flying.
The gore in Mortal Kombat is all physics based too. Blood splatters more realistically, attaches to players dynamically and darkens over time.
There's also a new Tag Team mode coming to Mortal Kombat, similar in style to King of Fighters and Capcom's Vs. titles. Players can tag in allies one of three ways, with a simple swap, an attack swap or a special attack swap. The last swap technique in that list drains the player's Super Meter one bar, so it can't be spammed.
We saw the expert class designers of Mortal Kombat pulling off amazingly deep and long-chained combos using a combination of all these super moves, X-ray moves and player swaps, something frame-counting fighting game freaks will likely appreciate more than your casual MK fan.
We got a chance to play the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of Mortal Kombat, playing with the available characters Scorpion, Mileena, Reptile, Sub Zero, Kung Lao, Johnny Cage, Nightwolf and Sektor. Those classic kombatants, like the classic arenas Dead Pool and Living Forest, were all rendered with great detail. The cybernetic Sektor, in particular, was impressively modeled. Mileena? Well she was impressively minimally clothed.
You'll get a close look at each of them with custom intro and outro animations, like Scorpion's descent to hell and Mileena's grabbing and gnashing of her teeth at the camera.
Oh, those fatalities. The one's we saw featured Sub Zero ripping out someone's spine through their torso; Nightwolf lobbing a green axe into someone's head, then decapitating him; Reptile liquefying someone's insides and Mileena faking a kiss, then ripping off a head and chowing down on it.
Mortal Kombat's reboot isn't out until spring of next year, but Netherrealm already has big plans for the game. There's a roster that appears to be more than two dozen deep, with a spot dedicated for downloadable content—that may include classic character skins, downloadable fatalities and add-on arenas. All appear to be under discussion.
Mortal Kombat feels like a solid return to form, a gory, bloody bash, full of what made fans fall in love with the series, a few smartly borrowed mechanics that could make non-fans appreciate what it has in the fighting department.