Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks

To find out more about this game why not visit the official Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks website .

Since making its arcade debut 13 years ago, the Mortal Kombat series has bloodied a multitude of platforms with an absolute gutful of titles.

Along the way a veritable soap opera has developed around the Shaolin Tournament combatants and the latest addition to the MK clan offers the opportunity to discover more about two of Earthrealm's finest fighters.

Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks takes a flying backwards leap along the MK timeline and expands the story of Liu Kang and Kung Lao in events set immediately after the first Mortal Kombat tournament, nestling neatly between the first and second games in the series.

Besides the temporal about turn, the traditional MK beat-'em-up gameplay has also undergone a pretty significant shift in direction towards action-adventuring.

As we discovered during our first exploration of Outworld - the realm that serves as the backdrop to Shaolin Monks - the focus remains firmly fixed on fighting and features the usual abattoir-style brutality that's synonymous with Mortal Kombat.

Certainly, during the opening section we played, the emphasis was definitely on spilling guts, with any adventuring being limited to little more than wandering through chambers until we stumbled across the next rabble of rogues to rough up.

Much of the adventure elements are provided by the environments, which offer an explorable, interactive world loaded with some brute force puzzles and fairly ingenious - and amusing - traps.

The two Earthrealm good guys, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, have also been furnished with a range of moves that allows them to exploit their surroundings with deft athleticism. Wall climbing, swinging and wall running are all now part of the pair's abilities.

Weapons have also been thrown into the mix and range from ridiculously large swords, which can be used to slice foes in two - either vertically or horizontally - to more organic and infinitely blunter implements. Such as bones.

Of course, a Mortal Kombat game is nothing without a healthy splattering of unarmed slaughter and, thanks to an all-new fancy pants fight engine, developer Midway LA (previously Paradox, who were responsible for the rather poop Backyard Wrestling games) seems to have successfully implemented a vast array and variety of moves while also managing to retain a distinct MK feel.

A multi-directional combat system, which allows the player to dish out a pummelling to enemies regardless of whether they're to the front, back or side of your character, handles pretty well, and a string of differing moves can be blended neatly into one combo.

Both Liu Kang and Kung Lao have their own unique move sets which - besides ground, aerial and grab attacks - feature their classic super moves and between 10 and 15 fatality treats.

Fatalities promise to be as gruesome as ever, although executing them has been massively simplified. Once a fatality move is unlocked, the player is rewarded with the button combination and, when the fatality meter is full, the attack can be unleashed by inputting the code with a leisurely press of the thumbs.

Shaolin Monks' various facets seem to connect tightly enough, although we'll have to venture deeper into Outworld, and sample the RPG-lite elements of earning experience points and upgrading attacks, before we can assess just how much adventure there is to be had.

We were a little surprised - and disappointed - to find that the main story mode doesn't offer a 'drop-in drop-out' feature (similar to the one employed by Lego Star Wars). Instead, there's a single player mode that doesn't supply an AI companion and a co-op mode that can only be played with a friend. One combined 'in-out' mode would have been preferable.

Head-to-head scrapping is offered by a versus mode and, despite being an obvious sideshow to the main feature, is a decent extra. The combat engine ensures fighting remains unmistakeably MK, while the interactive environments provide a distinctly different flavour.

By touting itself as an action-adventure, Shaolin Monks encourages comparison with such exquisite gems as Prince of Persia and God of War, which is probably a tad unfortunate as it just isn't going to come close to emulating anything like their high standards.

However, Mortal Kombat's sticky trail of decapitations and dismemberment is always an enticing one to tread and Shaolin Monks looks like being a decent enough diversion away from the series' traditional arena-based mutilation.

To find out more about Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks, click the link below to watch the latest trailer and keep an eye on next week when we'll have an exclusive interview with the game's producer.

Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks will be released for PS2 and Xbox in autumn