Saturday, December 21, 2013

Visiting a previously ignored franchise, part 2

Last time I talked about how I had ignored Mortal Kombat for the lifetime of the PS3, and went through the basics of the 2008 title "Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe". The other part of this reunion between me and Mortal Kombat is the 2011 reboot of the Mortal Kombat series by NetherRealm studios.

A big chunk of the Midway team that worked on the Mortal Kombat franchise and some of the other teams that worked on Midway projects in the Chicago area became NetherRealm Studios. (In 2009 after the acquisition they were just called "WB Chicago" but they got renamed/rebranded in 2010.) So, despite having been purchased by Warner Brothers, it was essentially the same team that worked on the previous game.

Having seen the success of Capcom's Street Fighter IV where 3D rendered graphics were employed to simplify development but did not use a 3D fighting system, the Mortal Kombat franchise went back to a single plane of combat. In addition to streamlining the gameplay, the 2D nature of the arenas meant that they could recreate many of the iconic arenas from the original games like the bridge over a pit of spikes, the walkway over a pit of acid, the walkway across the top of the evil monks' tower, the walkway across the front of an audience of monks both during the day and at night, Shang Tsung's throne room, and even Shao Khan's throne in an arena. (As an amusing bit of fan service, Tanya who was my favorite character from MK4 and not playable in this game as far as I am aware is occasionally one of the two people chained up next to Shao Khan's throne.)   Instead of being forced to make every fight location a large open arena with a few interesting features off in the distance, the arenas are more like hallways and walkways bringing the camera closer to both the fighters and the backgrounds. In a game where nearly all of the characters have some sort of projectile attack, having 3D movement would nullify a lot of those attacks, so now ducking without blocking is useable again for avoiding some projectiles without taking block damage.

Somehow, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe managed to tone down the violence enough to get a "T" rating but this game is much more like the original three games in terms of the tone of the violence. With the reboot, we can expect ridiculous things like complete bisections done by the sharp edge of a hat and uppercut-powered decapitations, but is supplemented by better quality graphics and some new attack types.  Mortal Kombat had started using a meter for special attacks some time ago, but it was either for a 'rage attack' feature (MK Trilogy, MK vs DC) that allowed you to do more damage and move more quickly for a limited period of time or for a 'breaker' feature that allowed you to break your opponent's combo midstream (MK vs DC). The games between Trilogy and MK vs. DC that used 'breakers' (Deception and Armageddon) just gave you three breakers per match. In the reboot, the gauge has three segments and is now used for enhanced attacks (more damaging versions of the character's special moves) which use one segment of the gauge, breakers which use two segments, and an even more damaging attack, the X-Ray Attack which uses the entire gauge. Not every character has the same attack properties for the X-Ray attack - some must be done in the air, some must be done as countermoves to an opponent's attack, and some start like a regular attack on the ground and can be chained in from a regular attack.

The story mode in the game is centered around Raiden, the thunder god.  At the beginning of the story, he is about to be defeated by Shao Khan, so he sends a message to his past self in an attempt to change the events that got him in this predicament. As the story unfolds, we play as other characters in a nostalgic tour through the story of the first three Mortal Kombat games, with subtle nods here and there to other parts of the series. However there are some unexpected plot twists here and there, and even though the game has been out for a while I'm in no mood to spoil them.

Like many of the other facets of the game that have reverted to the original style, the special moves are performed a lot more like they had been in the original three games, and in general the moves available to characters are in keeping with their original versions. Since this was the team's second attempt at using the Unreal engine for a fighting game, and they were likely able to re-use a lot of program code from Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, the game is much smoother and better animated than MKvsDC. All of the character textures are a big improvement, and most of the animation is more fluid and better executed. Like Street Fighter IV's improvements over Street Fighter II, they have managed to make a new game that pays a lot of respect to the old game, adds enough new features to be interesting, but doesn't take much away from what we liked about the games in the first place.

One of the gag features made it to the reboot, the Babality, so instead of turning your opponent into chopped entrails after the announcer says "FINISH HIM", you can turn them into an infant version of their character. Amusing, certainly not necessary, but since I haven't done one successfully yet I don't know if you get a end of match bonus on par with having successfully performed a fatality.

Now there is another game done by the same team which is only the DC Superheroes, which is Injustice:Gods Among Us, and the second version of that game dubbed "Ultimate Edition" which includes all of the additional characters released via DLC was released just over a month ago. It's not a Mortal Kombat game at all, as the control scheme is radically changed, but now knowing that NetherRealm has gotten their act together again I suppose it's something that I'd be willing to consider instead of dismissing it out of hand.

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