Very few franchises have the success and the ability to have their games span over multiple decades. It’s surprising of those that do, quite a few are from the fighting genre. But growing up, my go-to fighter was always Mortal Kombat. Sure, I was playing the game at a younger age than I probably should have been, but it’s made the series have a really nostalgic component to it, and I get incredibly excited every single time a new entry is announced and seeing how the lore is going to be expanded and what new directions many of the characters will head. Now with the latest entry, Mortal Kombat 1, the series is, as the name suggests going back to the beginning in a pretty clever way. This allows it to be the perfect jumping on point for new players of the MK series, as well as providing a fresh new take on many of the expectations we have of the characters that have become staples in the franchise over it’s 30+ year history. Mortal Kombat 1 retains the spirit of what makes Mortal Kombat a great series, offering up a great story that both hits you with some powerful, emotional story moments while simultaneously not taking itself too seriously as a whole but most importantly is a true evolution of what made Mortal Kombat 11 so great when it comes to the gameplay.
The prologue of the game, along with the pre-release marketing are pretty upfront about setting the scene of what to expect with MK1 when it comes to its story. Following the events of MK11, Liu Kang has become a fire god and uses Kronika’s hourglass to craft a brand new timeline, shaping civilisation and the new lives of all the characters in new ways. It’s not the first time the Mortal Kombat franchise has been rebooted, but I thought this idea was pretty clever, because it doesn’t take too long to realise that MK1 is simultaneously both a multiversal reboot and a sequel to the events of MK11. Providing Netherrealm the ability to completely rewrite the stories of each character and providing a fresh take on some of the most iconic as there are certainly plenty of twists and turns along the ride of the main story. Reset your expectations for how certain characters may act, as this takes place in a brand new timeline, but there are of course plenty of nods and Easter eggs celebrating the franchise’s history.
Because it’s a reboot, the main roster of fighters are made up of characters that have previously existed in some form in previous entries. While their stories have been recrafted, thanks to Liu Kang’s timeline meddling, what you expect from the characters when it comes to their core fighting traits and techniques remain mostly the same. Sub-Zero still throws ice balls, Scorpion can still teleport strike, Smoke is back and still utilises smoke magic, but the move set and character strengths and weaknesses have still been iterated on, as you would expect with the launch of any new mainline MK release. It is really cool though to see plenty of characters get a return to the series after being absent from MK games for many, many years.
Where the biggest change up is going to occur with MK1 is with its new Kameo fighter mechanic. It’s not your standard tag in mechanic where a support character is able to jet onto the screen, perform a predefined move and then leave. Depending on the way your support character is deployed and the context in which they’re used can have massive and varied impacts on the overall battle. And these characters now assist when deploying your Fatal Blow attacks which change up the move at least from a visual perspective.
The Kameo system is more than just a cool feature though. It offers a deep level of customisation to your playstyle, provides another layer of longevity to the game and will also keep every opponent on their toes during competitive play as each match has a far larger ability to be unique. Fights don’t just come down to learning individual enemy characters and how they play, but also understanding how certain Kameo fighters can be utilised and how their moveset is able to complement the core fighter. There’s also some great nostalgic nods with many of the Kameo fighters taking the appearance of the fighter as they appeared in previous entries in the series. It was really awesome to see Jax and Sonya show up looking more modern and better than ever but sporting their looks from MK2 and 3 respectively.
Upon booting up the game, it doesn’t take long to witness that this is NetherRealm’s most visually gorgeous game yet. The engine powering the game has had noticeable improvements since MK11 which was also a big leap forward at the time and is still one of the best looking fighting games available today. But MK1 just takes the whole presentation to another level. Not only are the character models, textures and facial animations more detailed than ever, one thing that really impressed me were the fidelity of the environments used in the games story mode and invasions boards and especially in the stage backgrounds. There are so many cool little details to witness, and makes the stages feel huge even though the action still takes place on a single vertical plane. I was also surprised by the diverse range of environments and biomes that the main story takes you through. These areas are so fleshed out and detailed and some are just used for a single scene. And it wouldn’t be a Mortal Kombat game without plenty of over the top and incredibly gruesome fatality sequences, and MK1 has some of the best in the franchise. The upgrade in visual fidelity also makes them appear more realistic than ever. It makes me recall a time when many of us couldn’t play MK9 because Australia didn’t have an R18 rating for games. It’s a good thing we do now, because there’s no way MK1 would be released here if we didn’t.
When it comes to the gameplay presentation, I loved that MK1’s menus are clean, easy to navigate and often lead straight into the gameplay in Versus mode, following a little moment of banter between the kombatants which is likely cleverly hiding the loading that typically takes place between character and stage select and loading into the gameplay in fighting games. This helps the whole gameplay process seamless and makes the game feel more alive and focussed.
MK1 features a number of different modes that are available to jump into which each offer a slightly different fighting experience to help match what you may be feeling at any one time. I don’t always feel like having myself pummelled into oblivion by competitive online players, so options are something I always appreciate when it comes to fighting games. There’s the Kampaign mode which is where you can play through the 15 chapters that make up MK1’s main story, The Invasion mode which I’ll expand on shortly and also the Klassic Towers, which allow you to play through varying arcade towers of differing difficulty to unlock character endings. This is something I’d recommend enjoying after completing the main story, as the endings act as epilogues to the characters, many of which take place after the ending of the main game. The game also features local, online and tournament VS mode. A Learn area where you can play the fairly in depth fighting tutorial, enter practise mode to learn a new character’s abilities and fatalities, which will be extremely helpful for newcomers to Mortal Kombat and those looking to learn a new main character.
Where fighting games typically find their longevity is within their online components and with competitive tournament play. But with MK1 there’s a newly introduced mode called Invasions that I think is going to provide a lot of longevity to the game and also have people coming back time and time again to witness how this mode changes and evolves. Invasions is a new single player mode that allows you to select your main and Kameo fighter and progress through various large scale game boards completing a huge amount of challenges that are presented as nodes you can use as travel points across the board. The mode features a huge amount of things to do and unlock and the mission variety keeps the experience fresh and interesting as you work at completing each node on each of the currently available boards, featuring fights, mini games, towers and even boss encounters to complete. Invasions is planned to change seasonally so it’s a mode that will be continually iterated on and change periodically with the launch of each season, making me really interested in seeing how this mode changes over time, what types of content we’ll see and just how long NetherRealm plan on supporting it.
From a performance standpoint, I have had zero issues with MK1 throughout my whole time with it. I’ve completed the main story, most of this season’s Invasions mode and put the online mode through its paces with a heap of online battles. The performance all round is really solid, especially the online play which does utilise rollback NetCode. It’s possible that some that play the game far more competitively could have minor gripes with particular things but with how I enjoy Mortal Kombat, it’s exactly what I wanted a new entry to play like.
Overall, Mortal Kombat 1 is exactly what I wanted from the next step in the franchise. It takes the story in a fresh new direction and opens up the MK universe even further and its Kameo system completely changes up the fighting gameplay, whether you play just solo or competitively online. I really liked seeing fresh takes on many of the series’ most iconic characters and am looking forward to jumping back into the game each season to play through the new Invasion, beat new bosses and collect new gear.
A PS5 review code was provided by the [ublisher for the purpose of this review.
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