mortal_kombat

The acceptable face of violent decapitation.

The existence and commercial acceptance of Portal 2, Heavy Rain and LA Noire suggests that we’re entering a brave new world of electronic storytelling, where journeys amuse, surprise and delight in equal measure, and our decisions are informed by morality and characterised by more shades of grey than the lost episode of 24 that featured Kilroy airing his scrotum during an alien invasion in the centre of Manchester.

LA Noire’s acceptance to the Tribeca Film Festival may have had the faint whiff of PR tokenism, but it also shows that the lines between both art forms are likely to converge over the next few years, with cinema embracing the young upstart to prove its future offers far more than plastic glasses and blue cat-aliens, and games returning the favour to gain more artistic legitimacy. And then there’s Mortal Kombat, happy to sit at the back of the class and throw rubbers at the smart kids’ heads while they’re busy earning respect for our hobby.

Though Mortal Kombat is no stranger to experimentation; it’s nearly 20 years old and has spent a large part of its teens trying new things that both failed and were ultimately fairly embarrassing. But hey, we’ve all been there. And if your teenage failures were witnessed by millions of adolescents – the demographic most likely to not let you forget – you’d probably be a little bit angry too. So Mortal Kombat 2011 aims to rewrite the rules, not by refining a system of combat that was never the most sophisticated in the first place, but by embracing its coarse charms, smashing your face in with ‘kontent’ and spelling things inkorrectly.

By pitting the kind of generic martial artists you’d normally find generously distributed on the bottom shelves of a video shop against the kind of creatures you’d find on Napoleon Dynamite’s schoolbook, Mortal Kombat was obviously a product of its time. But the new iteration’s greatest strength is resisting the urge to forego its fantasy elements in pursuit of realism. So you won’t find Goro working as a bus driver, or Kano played by Danny Dyer. Instead it offers a compendium of violent brutes, robot ninjas, scantily clad ladies and ugly people with four-arms beating the crap out of each other in two-dimensions. And it does so wonderfully.

As unlikely as it may sound for a fighting game, the story mode is Mortal Kombat’s most compelling element, condensing the narrative of the first 3 games into an enjoyably ridiculous soap opera that intersects every violent bout with wilfully cheesy dialogue and ridiculous plot twists. In fact the levels of treachery and backstabbing surrounding the tournament are so ridiculous that Mortal Kombat’s story mode is arguably a more accurate FIFA game than FIFA ever could be, with Shao Khan and Shang Tsung filling the roles of Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner, respectively. And of course there’s Goro, who’s like a more socially advanced Wayne Rooney.

The Mortal Kombat story mode is generously long. In fact by the time you’ve finished, you’d be forgiven for not wanting to spend another second ripping people’s heads off and vomiting down their necks. Not that I found the fatalaties all that compelling – my fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be and the graphical fidelity on display actually made me feel quite bad about performing them. But anyway, that’s Mortal Kombat in a nutshell: a wealth of riches wrapped up in a deceptively simple outer-casing – a bit like an aggressive Karl Pilkington. And even if you don’t move beyond the basic arcade mode, you’ll still find a suitably authentic Mortal Kombat experience that’s been lovingly updated to please those who remember ‘ABACABB’ and the yoof of today, who probably recognise the aforementioned collection of letters as the correct way to recite the alphabet.

Alongside arcade and story, there’s a Challenge Tower, which consists of 300 tasks, including needlework and pet grooming. Just kidding, of course it involves ripping people’s arms off before the timer runs out and shooting zombies with missiles, that kind of stuff. Each challenge unlocks ‘Koins’, (natch), which can be redeemed in the Krypt (also natch) for fatalaties, violent pictures and new togs for your Kombatants (um, yeah).

Despite the detail involved you still get the impression that game play was at the forefront of this reinvention – and they’ve actually gone for a ‘less is more’ approach. So there are no swords, side-steps or superheroes. Though if you’re really desperate for a multimedia crossover then one of the world’s most famous deceased child molesters is available for download (don’t get your hopes up, Ready 2 Rumble fans). Combat is meaty and immensely satisfying and the moves of yore are updated and replicated perfectly – alongside some new additions like Super Meters, which seem to be de-rigueur for the modern fighter.

There’s not a lot to complain about with the new iteration of Mortal Kombat. Sure, it’s cheesy, and stupid, but after years spent in denial it has finally realised that these are the things that made it great in the first place – and it’s now embracing them with all four arms. It’s never going to be a brain surgeon, or a nobel-prize winner, but it would make a fine plumber. And there’s no shame in that.

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