This week, Yahtzee reviews Mortal Kombat 11.
Another Mortal Kombat game, another steam of gore about as meaningful and justified as a layer of gravy in an ice cream sundae. Another opening paragraph in which I try to explain what the fuck I think I'm doing reviewing a one-on-one fighting game when I think fighting games are for people who drink undiluted syrup and enjoy core mechanics reminiscent of having to repeatedly and very quickly enter the combination on a high school locker door with some pictures of bikini girls on it. I mean, I never really engage with the gameplay of fighting games when I can get through them reliably enough by strapping the controller to the end of my knob and having sex with a pinball machine, but the thing is, listener, the idiosyncratic "NetherRealm multi-character story mode" that began in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is something I've actually begun looking forward to, because they are, to a man, hilariously fucking dumb.
I think Mortal Kombat must've caught some kind of venereal infection from the DC Universe during that crossover, and now it's got the same disease superhero comics have. It already had some of the symptoms, like every character having the exact same body type, which was unavoidable in the original Mortal Kombats 'cos everyone was mo-capped from, like, two guys with a box of assorted ninja pajamas. But even in, say, MK9, take all the lads in the roster, put paper bags on their heads, remove their clothes, and tell me how many you're confident you could identify before you're all overcome by sexual tension.
And if Mortal Kombat does have Superhero Comics Disease, then it appears to have entered its terminal stage, as it's officially having its own Crisis on Infinite Earths. To put that another way, the official message of Mortal Kombat 11's story mode is, "Fuck continuity and fuck anyone who is invested in it!" You probably should've known not to get invested after MK9; I mean, any franchise that so openly and deliberately flushes its entire canon down the toilet is almost certainly going to keep doing it, and indeed, the endpoint of the MK11 story mode all but states that not only is everything reset yet again, but no future continuity is going to have any permanence either!
"Yahtz, who the fuck is invested in the 'continuity' of Mortal Kombat? You're supposed to be invested in the 'kicking people in the bollocks so hard that their skeletons pop out'." Maybe, but Mortal Kombat X was making some real moves, in retrospect; there's a time jump, a slew of new characters, existing characters became more nuanced, Outworld becomes a complex community running from the evil Masters of the Universe-on-protein-powder dimension. It really felt like things were growing, and now all that's gone straight in the fucking bin. There's this very "superhero comics" plot about a goddess trying to reset time and enlisting all the baddies who've been widdled on enough times to be invested in a do-over; present versions of characters interact with past versions so Johnny Cage can seriously consider making like the franchise in general and disappearing up his own arse.
You might have noticed the Internet had one of its idiosyncratic "opposite sides of the monkey cage" poo-flinging contests over the NetherRealm lads saying they're not going to put all their female characters in bikinis anymore because it's silly and impractical, which it is, granted, but I noticed that most of these ostensibly more practically-minded dressers are still wearing stiletto heels. And as for "silly", of all the silly things about Mortal Kombat, this seems a very arbitrary place to start, rather than, say, Noob Saibot talking like DOCTOR CLAW FROM INSPECTOR GADGET. If this was about claiming "wokeness", then rest assured, no one is looking to your bollock-kick skeleton-pop-out game for role models, NetherRealm; at least, I fucking hope not.
Mortal Kombat is in the same boat as Metal Gear Solid; it's completely silly, and we're all aware that it's silly, but we never acknowledged that because if it realized how silly it was, it wouldn't be as funny anymore. It's gloriously stupid, how the ultra-visceral core gameplay is placed alongside dialogue and story with the tone of a Saturday morning cartoon. There's one bit in the story mode that summarizes this point wonderfully: Scorpion gets heel-face turned yet again, 'cos the dude's a fucking weather vane on a merry-go-round, and shows up at the good guys' hideout, and obviously, they don't believe him, because what is the story mode if not one ridiculously-contrived reason for a punch-up after another? So after Scorpion successfully beats the snot out of a couple of them, he says, "Wait! You misunderstand my intentions!" "Oh, did we, Mr. Scorpion? Forgive me; I thought you were making your intentions perfectly clear about ten seconds ago when you rammed two daggers into my eye sockets and then power-bombed me into the floor so they'd burst out the back of my head. But clearly, I was jumping to conclusions that you were only trying to give me emergency cataract surgery."
I also note a couple of classic characters showing up in the campaign who are mysteriously absent from the roster, like Sheeva and those two robot fellows which, for me, smacks of the game going, "Hope you're saving up your DLC pennies, you dumb, predictable plebs!" Between this and Injustice 2, NetherRealm are really cornering the market on "live service" fighting games. The "Krypt" mode used to be a fun little way of unlocking concept art, costumes, and finishers; now it's this massively elaborate time-sink obliging us to grind Mortal Kombat fun-bucks, in return mostly for single-use consumables that you can use to make a fight easier, because why the fuck would anyone play a video game to be challenged?
Or, one of seventeen quintillion cosmetics. Not costumes, cosmetics. Costumes are fun; cosmetics are just one of the many exciting ways a live service game tricks you into thinking that something utterly fucking useless has value. Costumes are when Johnny Cage dresses up like Columbo and everyone has a good laugh; cosmetics are when you randomly unlock a pink belt buckle that Commander Character-I-Never-Use can wear instead of the default, which doesn't match or bring out his eyes, but I equip it anyway, along with a puke-colored fishing hat I found because fuck it, I put in the work. And now, Commander CINU has to go into battle looking like he tried to dress himself after Scorpion gave him emergency cataract surgery, and everyone just looks like a mess!
Again, I feel unqualified to discuss the actual fighting gameplay. It's probably all right; animation seems to have improved, although I noticed the fatalities all end with a freeze-frame of the climactic moment, possibly to spare us all the boring stuff afterwards while we fill out the insurance forms and get complained at by the janitors. But it does make them feel a bit anticlimactic; even a fighting game has to rely on context to a point, and on that front, I find Mortal Kombat 11 quite a letdown.
The general presentation comes across as careless. The story's woeful, as ever - thankfully; that's why it's fun - but it's woeful and undermining itself, as well. The pre-fight banter just doesn't have the spark it used to, and if you're going to complain about the characters' looks, fuck the bikinis or the deliberate absence of bikinis or whatever it was that was icing your prostate this time. Complain about how Kotal Kahn has twenty functionally-identical cumberbunds you have to grind for. Complain about how Sonya Blade and Cassie Cage have the exact same face, and whenever they have to emote, they look like they're trying to hold pencils in place with their face wrinkles.
- Always makes a splash: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Mortal Kombat made so much more sense when the plot was just "it is a fighting tournament"
- Doctor Claw should diagnose himself with laryngitis
Extra: Differently Morphous
My fourth novel, Differently Morphous, is finally available in print and e-book editions! Check in with your local bookseller! They'll probably appreciate it; they tend to be lonely people.