Wednesday, October 18

End of Days

The gang's all here.

The Latest... and LAST Mortal Kombat game is here. Mortal Kombat Armageddon is the swan song for the brutal and bloody fighting game... at least, on the current generation of gaming consoles. With MKA, Mortal Kombat guru Ed Boon promises that there will be deaths, there will be changes and a clean slate for the next MK. Well... Ed Boon promises a lot of things.
Mortal Kombat Armageddon certainly looks slick. There's a new opening cinema featuring armies of MK heroes and villains clashing in a savage battle to the death to start off things. The game comes with a massive cast of playables- literally every Mortal Kombat character that has ever appeared is in MKA... from staples like Sub-Zero and Scorpion, to obscure add-ons like Hsu Hsao and Dairou (Who?). Even MK's fearsome boss characters like Shao Khan and Goro are playable right from the start.
Aside from the huge cast, MKA adds in a Kreate-a-Kombatant mode that's easily the most expansive so far in a mainstream fighting game... easily dwarfing the Character Creation mode in Soul Calibur III. With KAK, you can adjust a character's costume, fighting style, special moves and even their ending (text). The options are many and you can surely create a unique fighter to throw into the battle with the regular MK cast or even online.
Also new in MKA is the Kreate-a-Fatality system, a kind of mini-game where you string together little fatality moves in a chain; the more punishment, the bloodier the fatality and the more rewards you get (in the form of Koins you can spend to buy new options in KAK, or unlock extras in the Vault).
Then there's the new Konquest Mode, a beat 'em up adventure where you take the role of a warrior running around the world, beating up cannon fodder and kicking open chests for power-ups and unlockables. It's pretty fun and very similar to MK: Shaolin Monks. Finally, Motor Kombat is a Mario Kart-esque mini driving game with SD Mortal Kombat characters.

All these extras are well and good, and seeing them all on paper makes MKA seem like the total package. Unfortunately, even with all the extras in the world, tons of secrets, a huge cast and the capability to create even more kombatants with the KAK feature, Mortal Kombat Armageddon is shot in the foot by one single thing... the actual fighting system.

It remains a fact that MK's combat is, compared to every other established fighter (from Tekken to DOA to VF to Soul Calibur) is clunky, sluggish and restrictive. It all basically boils down to memorizing specific combinations of buttons and then dialing in these canned combos once you find your opening. There's little room for anything else- you'll just find yourself being pounded by an enemy using the same long combo over and over. Not even the ability to change fighting styles (which is actually reduced in MKA from previous games) or use a weapon improves anything much. The new 'Counter' system (lifted from Dead or Alive) brings to mind the old 'COMBO BREAKER!' moves from the old Killer Instinct games... which hearken back to... the 90s??
All this is exacerbated even more by a general unresponsiveness or lag in the controls. Often you'll press a button just to see your character do nothing but stand there to get flattened or bounced by an enemy combo. Gameplay here is like going through a maze- you can't move as well as you can, restricted as you are by the set paths you are given. If you try, you'll stall and get punished for it. On the bright side, the CPU A.I. has been somewhat tweaked so as not to be obnoxiously frustrating... there is 'balance' now, in a sense. Which is good or we'll probably be seeing lots of MKA discs being thrown out windows.

The clunky fighting takes away a lot from the enjoyment of this game, despite the fun that could be had with the KAK. Which actually makes me realize that in the end, Soul Calibur III and it's Create-a-Character feature is still better than MKA. Perhaps it's knowing that their fighting system sucks is why Midway threw in almost everything AND the kitchen sink into the game, but didn't even bother to include staple fighting modes like Time Attack, Team Battle, Kumite (or an equivalent) along with the regular Story/Arcade mode and VS mode. All the extras in the world can't repair a broken fighting system.

As for the nitty-gritty...

Graphics: Overall, not bad really... the character models are large and detailed. Guys are buff with huge hands and feet and small heads, while women are suitably attractive (if a bit slutty). But this is the same look that MK has had since MK Deadly Alliance, two games ago... and it's pretty dated and old by now. The animation, however, has a stiff feel, particularly with a lot of special moves. The stages and various venues do well to maintain the bleak, scary atmosphere that MK loves.

Sounds: Once again, the MK characters lack any unique voice as many voice samples are used for multiple characters. Unintelligible grunts, cries and yells fill the air. Every male says "UGABAAADDOOO!", while females shriek "YOBADDDOOOBADODEI!" when they do special moves. All of it sounds like chopsocky BS made up by voice actors on the fly... because that's what it is. Music ranges from techno to heavy techno... it's Mortal Kombat.

Gameplay: Well, the extras are nice distractions but would you really buy MKA to play a mini-racing game?

Lasting Appeal: Usually the Story Mode would be a must to play through as you'd want to see the endings of the characters. Unfortunately this is cut down by the fact that each character only has a short text-only ending (with your character doing a kata in the background) that will probably disappoint most gamers expecting a slam bang finale. Plus, most of the endings are cop-outs or just plain crappy. Only the most fanatical will try to unlock all 62 crappy text endings.

The Kreate-a-Kombatant feature has hours and hours of fun in it, and wannabee game designers will spend lots of time unlocking stuff to use for their dream warrior. These hours will surely outlast the actual time they play with their created fighters though... Konquest will be usable only for earning Koins, and once you unlock the good stuff in the Vault, that's it. Motor Kombat will be good for a race or two, and that's it.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon is supposed to signal an end to this series, and I hope they take the chance to kill off everything wrong with it... the fighting system, the aging graphics engine and the far-too-drawn-out story. It's time to throw out everything and start fresh. MK has a lot of ground to cover to catch up to the rest of the fighting game genre... they had better get going.

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