Still Gratuitously Gory, ‘Mortal Kombat 11’ Introduces Some Massive Gameplay Changes
That you don't have to be a fighting game fan to feel the difference speaks volumes about just how radically NetherRealm Studios have transformed Mortal Kombat for the famous series' eleventh main installment.
Backstage at London's MK11: The Reveal event at Camden's KOKO venue, I get to play a succession of matches before the sold-out crowd gets its hands on the game - and I am immediately struck by how little of my Mortal Kombat X know-how, purely casual though it is, can be put into successful practice in the April-due release.
I pick Sub-Zero, the character I would usually turn to on MKX - my 'main', if you will. The franchise mainstay's ice powers are present and correct, but how they work, and precisely what they are, has been changed. His Ice Ball projectile is the most noticeably altered ability - it now inflicts damage as well as freezing his foe in place for a couple of seconds, presenting a perfect chance to land a powerful uppercut.
But it's not just individual fighters who've been tinkered with - as MK11 director Ed Boon tells Game Informer, the whole approach to combat has been altered for this new release.
"The overall fighting is a little tighter. It's focused more on what they call 'footises', jockeying, space control. Our arenas are smaller, and it's a lot more about strategy than all-out aggression. In Mortal Kombat X, it was way more of, like, a rushdown - get in the guy's face run up to them, make them guess high or low. So we're really holding back on that, and making it more strategic."
He continued: "We don't want to just release a game that feels like a prettier-skinned version of the previous one. We really want people to play it and go, 'Wow, there's a lot of things that are different'."
Job done, Ed. Everyone with any fondness for fighters that I speak to at The Reveal, once they've had their time with it, echoes my feelings: this is a sharper, more responsive Mortal Kombat, closer than it's ever been to a Street Fighter-style way of play (no disrespect intended - Street Fighter remains the king of pro-scene fighting games, and to edge closer to it is an improvement indeed). Tactics are paramount, button-bashing a surefire way of ending up sliced, diced, burned or worse - yes, those fatalities remain truly gruesome.
But all-out aggression is still an option, if you're on the receiving end of a beating. A new addition to MK11 is the Fatal Blow, activated by hitting both triggers and available - just once per match - when your health falls below 30%. Go for it and miss, no worry, you can try again - but when it connects, it's your one and only use for a combo that tears your opponent's health bar to pieces.
Fatal Blow is a tide-turner, a game-changer, and it's going to be fascinating watching its impact on this game's professional scene - being on the receiving end of one is no fun whatsoever. Expert players can also make use of a Flawless Block, a split-second-timed defensive move that'll open up a window for a counter. It's a parry, then, sort of.
As well as Sub-Zero, MK11's big proper reveal also showed that Raiden, Scorpion and Sonya Blade - this time voiced by WWE wrestler Ronda Rousey (see the trailer, above) - are among the series stalwarts showing up again. Also back are the blade-armed Baraka and the swords-wielding Skarlet, while the hulking Geras is an all-new addition.
A towering titan, Geras can manipulate time, even stopping the game's clock to pound on his opponent. He's said to be in the service of another newcomer, Kronika, who's also MK11's story mode main boss, and is sure to be a go-to for those who like their grapplers. All playable characters are, for the first time, customisable.
Switching to that story, Boon has explained that it follows on directly from the events of 2011's Mortal Kombat, and will involve characters meeting themselves, at different moments in the MK timeline, and quite possibly murdering their younger selves. I mean, not permanently... Does anyone ever really die in Mortal Kombat? So many broken bones, crushed internal organs and pulverised brains, and yet, back they come. Always, and forever.
You can check out the new game's story prologue trailer below. Mortal Kombat 11 releases for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and PC on 23 April. A ruddy good time, guaranteed, be you casual or hardcore.
Featured Image Credit: NetherRealm Studios/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment