Mortal Kombat X didn’t have to do much in order to grab some attention. Surfing on the bloody tides of success set in motion by the the series’ 2011 reboot, it could have got away with being simply a shinier, new-gen upgrade. A few more giblets served up on a slightly dirtier plate. But MKX isn’t doing that. Like a grotty, snotty, rather drunken 10-year old boy having a gross-out competition with his equally wretched best friend, the new Mortal Kombat is giddily pushing its nasty excesses to new heights. And then it’s kicking them off those new heights, sending them tumbling into a bone-snapped heap, throwing spears at their twitching remains, and then setting fire to them.
Take, for instance, Scorpion’s new Fatality. With a jet of flame, he burns straight through his opponent’s chest, leaving a giant, smouldering hole where their internal organs used to be. Truly, smoking is bad for your lungs. But he’s only just getting started. A swift spin-around later, and he’s whipped out his swords, beaten his clearly already-dead quarry into a doubled-over position, and sliced their face clean off, taking a healthy chunk of skull with it. And it’s STILL not over.
Then the camera gets involved. Clearly it knows its way around this sort of material. It fact it has probably won trophies at numerous snuff-movie awards ceremonies, held far and wide, over a great many years. It lingers in pornographic detail on the offal-spewing cranium, as a chunk of severed brain slithers slowly out and falls to the ground, with a satisfying ‘Plop’. All while the half-tongue--still left protruding--continues to wiggle its last. Sickening, gratuitous, and unnecessary three times over, it is without doubt the funniest thing I have seen at Gamescom so far.
It's the little details that do it. Now reaching the stage where the limitations of the human body itself are beginning to hamper its ability to push the creative dismemberment much further, Mortal Kombat is focusing on squeezing the most deliciously concentrated ick it can from its combatant's bloody conflicts. As well, of course, from their torsos. This is an experienced, old-hand director, honing and polishing the finesse of his craft with confident poise. Like Stanley Kubrick... if he was a total, raving psychopath.
It's there in all the tiny improvements to the flagrant goreography. The perfectly-timed snap of over-extended vertebrae, held just long enough to build optimum tension, before dropping a stunningly brutal punchline. It's there in the very angle of that spine; natural enough to be grimly plausible, but acute enough to telegraph exactly how bad this is about to get. And of course it's there in all of the game's new moves and finishers, such as Sub-Zero's ice spear. You see it's not really ice. It's a sharpened, frozen staff of his opponent's intestines, recently hacked out and primed to go right through their face. And it does.
But MKX's improvements don't just come in the from of its delicious penchant for finely executed dismemberment. The fighting itself has received a major overhaul, in terms of both variety and depth. Whatever the final roster-count comes in at, you can triple it straight out of the box, because every fighter now comes in three different flavours, with different move-sets, attack variants, and combat focus.
It's a hell of an impressive piece of work, as well as a cheekily smart subversion of the fighting genre's irritating predilection for cloned characters. Where some scrappers will reskin and repackage their fighters to fill out their line-ups with little additional effort, MKX is doing the inverse. It's giving visually similar--but subtly distinct--variants of its cast radically different play-styles and situational uses. Examples? Let’s check out the two new characters revealed for Gamescom.
Kano and Raiden are in. Officially. Not much surprise there, given that they’re as synonymous with the series as lard is with obesity, but their six new forms are a hell of an engaging proposition. The Thunder God variant of Raiden, for example, is built for opening attack windows and then exploiting them for extended damage. His lightning ball projectile freezes his opponent in place, while all of his standard combos can be elongated by holding down the attack buttons in question. In another guise however, Christopher Lambert's finest hour becomes all about the lock-down game, packing multiple lightning traps with which to trip, snare, and otherwise incapacitate his enemy.
As for the cockney chrome-dome, his Cybernetic variant gains multiple, long-range projectile uses for his eye-laser (including a Fatality in which he guts his fallen prey like a fish, before burning their head clean through). In Commando mode, however, he gains a set of counter moves, which make him able to reverse almost anything thrown at him, provided you can read the height of your opponent's attacks in time.
It is important to note though, that in all his variants, Kano's headbutt makes a brilliantly sickening sound upon connecting. An initial meaty thud, breaking almost instantaneously into a rattling clang, it's an absolutely monstrous piece of sound design, and a testament to the attention to delightfully savage detail this game is taking throughout. To be this gloriously horrible is bona fide artistry.