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We've heard it said that the parry and thrust of a decent beat-'em-up is like a game of chess. You react to your opponent's moves, countering his attacks and disguising your own technique, until the superior mind emerges victorious.
Of course, chess doesn't have a rule where you can score a victory via repeatedly kicking your rival in the shins. But anyway, in recognition of the connection, Mortal Kombat now includes a chess mode.
In fact, this jack-of-all-games also includes a new Tetris-style puzzle mode and a hopefully unintentionally hilarious role-playing game. This either means the designers are extremely generous or worried that the game no longer stands up to the competition.
Fortunately, the main fighting bits of Mortal Kombat: Deception are arguably the most well-balanced and intuitive of any Mortal Kombat to date. It's a considerable improvement over 2002's enjoyable-but-confusing Deadly Alliance.
There are more fighting styles, more fatalities and, for the first time, the ability to commit suicide before your opponent can start tearing off your character's limbs and battering him with the soggy ends. A nice touch.
Like Deadly Alliance, the fights take place in three-dimensional arenas, so you can circle your opponent while you wait for the best moment to strike. You can also push opponents on to many grindy, spiky, rippy things that litter the edges of the deadly environments.
Apart from the interactive arenas and a new selection of characters, it does play very much like Deadly Alliance. This time you get two fatalities per character instead of just one, and, as ever, reducing your opponent to pieces of meat is very satisfying.
Kombat Chess is a very odd fighting/ board-game hybrid in which you attempt to take out your opponent's king before he can do the same to you. There's a lot of depth here for anyone interested in a little bit more than just the familiar one-on-one fighting.
While it doesn't stimulate the kind of strategic thinking that would tax a grandmaster, it does a good job of turning a traditional, old school beat-'em-up into something new and original.
If Kombat Chess is recognisably descended from its parent game, Puzzle Kombat has been adopted from the long line of two-player brain-teasers that began with the almighty Tetris. It's most closely related to Sega's Puyo Pop, and could hardly have less to do with a gritty fighting game.
Then there's the real bugbear - Konquest mode, the RPG that has evolved from the training mode in Deadly Alliance. The option to skip through some of the previously dull training tasks is definitely welcome, but as an RPG it has to be said - this is seriously poor stuff.
So Konquest mode didn't do it for us, but apart from that Deception is a high quality, varied, enjoyably bloodthirsty continuation of the most accessible fighting series around. With the extras, it's a killer bargain.
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