Cassie Cage is staring at me, blowing a huge bubble of her pink gum. She then turns her back to me, clearly unimpressed with who she's faced with - though my chosen combatant, Kung Lao, looks equally unafraid. Behind us waves crash against the dock we stand on as a storm rages around us. The famous Mortal Kombat announcer yells "Fight!" whereupon I plunge headfirst into my opponent.
This time it's not just one version of my old favorite Kung Lao I can choose from, but three, and it's therefore easier to find a Kung Lao that more than ever fits with my personal play style. I quickly grow fond of the variant that favours his hat rotating around his body like a force field, a trap for the poor bastard who happens to get too close, which coincidentally is exactly what I'm hoping Cassie Cage will do.
But suddenly a rotten corpse washes up on the shore. Cassie quickly grabs the bloated carcass and hurls it at me, right in the face. Slap. Almost like being beaten with a huge cod. I lose my focus for a bit and my health meter starts depleting rapidly. My chance at a comeback is the X-ray attack I've just gained access to, and I manage to connect with it. A low leg sweep is followed by a quick launcher that sends my opponent high into the air. The background goes black and a distant but familiar melody plays. Time for... Fatality!
Something that strikes me is how Netherrealm Studios seems to have managed to fix the flaws the series always suffered from and succeeded in modernising the game to make it feel like a sequel rather than an upgrade, something that unfortunately is not always the case in the fighting genre. Additionally, they have replaced and renewed most of the ensemble of fighters, in which we now find, to name a few, Cassie Cage, D'Vorah, Kotal Kahn and Ferra/Torr.
Each character comes packaged with three variations on their fighting style, each radically different from the other. It is not the same thing as ISM-variants from say Street Fighter Alpha 3. We're talking completely different sets of special attacks, and more. This is best illustrated with Ferra/Torr, a huge beast with a Quasimodo-esque companion on his back who meddles with the battle in various ways. In one version, however, he leaves Ferra at the side to watch the fight instead of participating, whereupon Torr becomes a fighter reminiscent of the Street Fighter IV version of Zangief.
During my session, marketing game manager Brian Goodman from the Netherrealm stands nearby, and I ask him why they have chosen to add more fighting styles. He says that by collecting data they have noticed that most people only play 2-3 different characters, and in this way they've turned this into 6-9 variants of the same fighters. Thus, there are now variations even for those who just want to play as Scorpion or Sub-Zero.
The latter can be played as the regular Sub-Zero, but for those who want to be defensive, you can now focus on ice traps instead, something of a nightmare when used in the hands of a skilled opponent, as I quickly found out. Another Sub-Zero feature is that the ice copies of himself can now be picked up and tossed against opponents in a move that makes him much more erratic than before.
The main gameplay difference however has to do with the backgrounds. Netherrealm Studios have been inspired by their most recent title, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and given them a prominent place in the battles. As mentioned earlier, there are corpses to throw in the port stage, but it is also possible to wall jump, slugging opponents with logs in the forest, kicking your opponent while hanging from branches, and much more. While it might feel like a gimmick and definitely gives an enormous advantage to those who know the stages properly, they are still relatively toned down compared to Injustice and give the matches an extra dimension.
Mortal Kombat's excessive use of violence is more pronounced than ever. To such an extent that after only two hours I felt that the X-ray attacks just might be slightly too drawn out. They are now so incredibly pervertedly hyper violent that everything that happened in Mortal Kombat (the reboot from 2011) feel like pillow fights in comparison. Getting a sword inserted in the neck and then your head turned 360 degrees before the skull is crushed and spine broken is simply business as usual. Brush it off and fight on.
Yet it is the Fatalities that linger in my mind as I thank Netherrealm for the opportunity to play the game. Let's return to that fight with Kung Lao. Kung Lao uses his hat like a rotating saw blade, then he hits Cassie Cage. Kung Lao presses a helping foot on the back of her head as she slowly, slowly edges towards the saw... Well, let it be known that 1080p resolution and new-gen graphics provide us with a level of detail that beats all previous splatter records in video gaming. Just wait until you see what Scorpion and Quan Chi are up to with their Fatalities.
My expectations for Mortal Kombat X were high, and after playing it, I can safely say that they remain just as lofty afterwards. Mortal Kombat looks to finally have gotten the depth the series always lacked. Add to that copious amounts of new content and features that really feel relevant and rebuilds the core of the series.