Initial release date: September 14, 2023
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows
Developers: NetherRealm Studios, Shiver Entertainment, QLOC, Saber Interactive Inc.
Mode: Multiplayer video game
Composer: Wilbert Roget, II
Genre: Fighting game
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
"Review copy provided by Warner Bros. Interactive."
For the last thirty years, the Mortal Kombat saga has been a steady pillar in the fighting game arena, holding its ground even during moments of drought in the genre. Presently, the drought is over with the arrival of titles such as Street Fighter 6, King of Fighters XV, and the anticipated Tekken 8 rekindling excitement. NetherRealm Studios is making their mark with Mortal Kombat 1, a curious title suggesting a series reboot but is actually a sequel to MK11 Aftermath, now showcasing a tag-team dynamic. Is Mortal Kombat 1 equipped to square off against these new acclaimed fighters? Or does it miss the finishing punch? Let’s evaluate its prowess.
Mortal Kombat has consistently presented a distinctive approach to fighting games. This iteration remains true to its roots. It retains simplicity with four main attack actions (back/front punch/kick) and user-friendly special moves. The game remains loyal to its heritage while introducing noteworthy adjustments. A standout feature in Mortal Kombat 1 is the Kameo fighters: tag-team allies who can be summoned with a quick right trigger tap. This isn’t a novel idea in fighting games, but its integration into Mortal Kombat's universe lacks thrill. Once called, Kameo fighters unleash a move and then retreat. Their usage is capped, and there are instances where summoning them isn’t possible. While there are moments of synergy between the main and Kameo fighters, sometimes they disrupt the rhythm. With a mere 15 Kameo fighters, some being mere replicas of primary fighters, it feels somewhat half-cooked. However, the revamped combat mechanics in Mortal Kombat 1 mostly impress. The pace has increased, diverging from the meticulous style of Mortal Kombat 11. The game provides ample room to craft your combat style, integrating air combos and smoother gameplay elements. Some features from Mortal Kombat 11 have been omitted or simplified, streamlining the gameplay further.
The most profound transformation is seen in the fighters. Although no new characters are introduced, many familiar faces like Liu Kang, Sub-Zero, and Raiden have undergone significant overhauls. These changes might initially perplex, but any doubts dissipate when you feel the refined gameplay. There’s less disparity among characters in terms of prowess, fostering a competitive atmosphere. Although tier lists will still emerge, determining my primary choice remains an engaging quest.
Graphically, Mortal Kombat 1 dazzles. Stages are rich in detail, and the facial animations are on another level, surpassing even its contemporaries, all while maintaining a steady 60fps on PS5. However, cutscenes remain at 30fps, which can sometimes jar.
Story-wise, Mortal Kombat 1 is NetherRealm’s finest narrative yet. Contrary to its title, it isn't a reboot but a continuation from Mortal Kombat 11. Liu Kang, elevated to godhood, reshapes the universe, altering character destinies to avoid past clashes. This offers a fresh perspective on classic characters, making them more intriguing. Moreover, Mortal Kombat 1 introduces Invasion mode, providing alternative tales, portrayed through board-game-like maps and fights. Though it has depth, its presentation feels lackluster compared to Mortal Kombat 11's Krypt. In addition to these modes, Mortal Kombat 1 includes classic Towers and online options. Online performance was stable in earlier tests, so there's little cause for concern. However, the customization and gear system from previous titles is absent, replaced by a typical live service setup, with promises of regular content and cosmetics. This shift towards microtransactions is standard in current fighting games, but it's more conspicuous here.
Conclusively, barring its robust 6-7 hour campaign, Mortal Kombat 1 feels slightly lacking in content. While new fighting games often face this challenge, it's unexpected from NetherRealm, known for its content-rich titles. When stacked against Mortal Kombat 11, it feels like Mortal Kombat 1 could have offered more.