Perhaps it doesn’t need saying, but playing Mortal Kombat XL has shown me that its developer NetherRealm Studios really do have an incredible eye for the ludicrously violent and the stupendously hammy. The developer puts the sort of detail into visceral combat and gorgonzola-laden narrative that would be heralded as genius if it was put into something more celebrated and traditional. Hey, we all have passions, and NetherRealm’s just so happens to be finding new and inventive ways of eviscerating flame-headed ninjas and elaborate melodrama. Mortal Kombat XL is certainly filled with those passions, but in a post-Street Fighter V world, what does this definitive version of 2015’s Mortal Kombat X have that makes it stand out from what is arguably the best pure fighter out there right now?
NetherRealm brought Mortal Kombat X to current-generation consoles last year and its ultra-violent accessible scrapping, topped with a plethora of different online and offline modes, won over many critics, including here at PSU. It remains a visually impressive festival of bloody carnage and chaos, from the bustling backdrops to the kombatants themselves. Character models for instance are a big step up from the previous game, and indeed NetherRealm’s last title, Injustice. They sweat, bleed, bruise and get cut to ribbons over the course of a fight, a real treat for gore hounds when combined with the wince-inducing X-Ray attacks that shatter bones and of course, the grimly hilarious fatalities. That’s not to say there aren’t some missteps (why has Johnny Cage turned into Nathan Drake’s waxwork since MK9?), but MKXL rarely puts a foot wrong in terms of presentation.
Mortal Kombat XL’s combat is also pretty solid. With the option to use simplified controls for fatalities, and a generally quite accessible range of movesets and button inputs, it’s a little more welcoming and instantly enjoyable than Street Fighter V, but lacks the nuance and sheer depth of Capcom’s title. As ever, Mortal Kombat is a good alternative to have, complimenting its rival without ever stepping on its toes. Plus, you can’t punch Ryu right through his face in Street Fighter.
With a year of tweaks, fixes and new additions, XL is a pretty wholesome package. Based on playing options alone, Mortal Kombat XL far outstrips the competition. The most notable segments are the overly theatrical story campaign, along with the slew of offline modes. The story campaign is ludicrous, yet not quite as insane as I’d hoped, more of a ‘Game of Thrones Bar Brawler’ than the silly, entertaining and super hammy opus that was Mortal Kombat 9. I wish they’d incorporated the DLC characters into it, if only to see how they’d shoehorn Predator and Jason Voorhees in a battle for Earthrealm. As it is, it feels ever so disappointingly flat. I struggled to care about anything that was going on, nor the characters in it, which is a shame considering how much effort you can tell went into it. A major bugbear with it that remains from MK9 is that a game renowned for its fatalities is incredibly light on this front in regards to the story; as much as I can understand why (it would thin the cast out pretty quickly), it seems like a bit of an oversight. Coming off the back of the genuinely decent Injustice story campaign, it’s definitely a case of ‘could do better’.
The Challenge Towers are a more interesting prospect, giving you a series of matches that allow you to ascend said tower and claim victory. You not only get the vanilla ‘fight a bunch of freaks and a boss then see the character ending’ of traditional Mortal Kombat, but also modifiers for other towers. This was a personal highlight, a simple concept with small twists to keep things fresh works wonders in fighting games, and it is an absolute pleasure in MKXL. The rest of the single player stuff is fairly rank and file, spiced up by the collectable-grabbing slog of the Krypt, and the online integration. Outside the online modes (which I’ll get into shortly) you are told to choose a faction and all fights in that factions name go towards the overall results worldwide to determine an overall winner at given periods, a feature games like Helldivers and FIFA have used to great effect. It’s a nice way to tie everything together to be about more than just your personal glory, though that’s likely still all you’ll care about when all is said and done.
I was expecting more from the online corners of MKX. While the enjoyable and ultra-competitive King of the Hill and regular VS modes return among others,there’s surprisingly less to it than there was in MK9. Tag mode is gone unfortunately; not a huge loss, but failure to replace it with something else is a bit disappointing. However, it helps a little that what is there actually works a lot better than NetherRealm’s previous efforts, with fights online being almost as fluid and fast as their offline counterparts. There’s the odd hiccup, but generally speaking, this is one of the more solid online experiences of recent years, so decapitated heads off to the studio for that.
The biggest addition to Mortal Kombat XL is undoubtedly the new fighters. The likes of original characters such as Tremor are decent enough, if not particularly noteworthy, but it’s the celebrity roster that is more intriguing, enticing and exciting. After MK9 brought in Freddy Kreuger, MKXL goes much, much further and employs not one, not two, but four iconic horror villains to play. Tobe Hooper’s Leatherface comes wielding his chainsaw alongside immortal slasher Jason Voorhees, genital-jawed hunter the Predator, and it’s long-term nemesis, the insectoid Xenomorph from the Alien franchise. Four very interesting additions to any fight roster I’m sure you’ll agree. With the exception of Leatherface, they fit into the style of Mortal Kombat almost perfectly; Leatherface isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just that he feels a little too swift for the character we know of. The Alien is the opposite, as it moves pretty fluidly and true-to-form, with lots of tail-whipping and acid-spitting, but aesthetically speaking, it looks a little too humanoid; more like a skin on a regular character than the horrifying chitinous beast we have come to know and fear (or despise if going by AvP Requiem).
Mortal Kombat XL is about as feature-laden a fighter as you could wish for. If it sinks its hooks into you then you’ve got a very healthy amount of things to do and people to dismember; its best trait is that it caters equally to single-player and multiplayer, ensuring there’s something for everyone. It probably loses a bit of potential depth in regards to the fighting as a result, but the flipside of that is that it’s easier to get into than most fighters. That’s if you don’t mind literal geysers of blood and eye-watering kills, which you clearly don’t. You sicko.