PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
September 19, 2023
There is always a lighthouse. There is always a man. There is always a finisher uppercut into a rain of blood and viscera—or something like that. Mortal Kombat 1 marks the inevitable return of one of the most iconic fighting game franchises of all time, bringing about its known and loved level of violence and campy fun. This time around the universe is reset by Kronika’s Hourglass, a story beat introduced in the game’s previous installment, allowing for a sort of soft reset to the storyline. Both a great entry point and a release full of fan service for existing Mortal Kombat fanatics, Mortal Kombat 1 brings the guts and glory you’d want from a release like this.
The game introduces Liu Kang as the Fire God and Guardian of Earth-realm—literally developing the new timeline under his influence. In a bit of a role reversal, it’s Raiden who acts as Earth-realm’s champion, chosen by Liu Kang to compete in friendly rivalry with Outworld. Much like other recent Mortal Kombat releases, the game’s story mode is made up of cutscenes interspersed between different 1 on 1 fights. The campaign will see you play as different characters across the Mortal Kombat cast as you explore the Earth-realm/Outworld rivalry and take on a threat that Liu Kang never saw coming. It’s all outlandishly camp and silly and sometimes bends itself in knots to make things make sense. But it’s exactly what you’d want and expect from this series.
The campaign is appropriately short but a lot of fun. The acting performances are largely superb and we get to see certain characters take the spotlight in ways never seen prior. Other characters, such as Nitara voiced by Megan Fox, ended up being a bit more impressive in design than in any actual narrative way. Hopefully, this simply provides options for more narrative and character development in the future of the game/series.
The polish associated with the game is reflected beautifully in this main campaign. The writing is full of sassy quips between characters and there’s just this overall feeling of spirited theatrics that’s just so boisterous, ludicrous, and fun. Graphics are of course incredible and it all runs effortlessly on the PlayStation 5. Perhaps more could have been done to splice the standard campaign formula with some fresher ideas, though by the final chapter, you’ll have witnessed your fair share of gleeful shenanigans.
Of course, your average gamer isn’t simply jumping into Mortal Kombat 1 for the story campaign. Multiplayer is the flesh and bones of the organism and likely the area you’ll be spending the majority of your time. Whilst I can’t comment from a competitive standpoint, my casual fighting game knowledge tells me that things here are fluid, engaging, and appropriately balanced. In many ways it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, with only little changes impacting the overall experience between this release and the prior one.
One of the more noteworthy changes and one that was talked about a lot pre-release was that of Kameo fighters. Selected as a secondary option pre-match, the Kameo fighter will pop in to support at the press of a button, dashing on-screen to unleash their attack before quickly scuttling off again. You’ll have to wait for this to recharge before sending them in again, but they can be used incredibly effectively to help with attack combos, enemy-juggling, combo-breakers and more. The Kameo fighter is a great way to incorporate classic Mortal Kombat fighters who may not have had a place in the base game’s roster. It’s not quite the “everyone is here” approach, but it’s heartening to see your favourite fighter represented in the game, even if it is just in Kameo form. Of course, there’s still plenty of holes in the Mortal Kombat roster than can continue to be filled with post-release content. The cynic in me views this as a deliberate choice—withholding loved fighters to make more money on DLC later. Though it’s hard to complain about what’s currently on offer.
“…helps you get back into the action even quicker without making any notable sacrifice to the glorious theatrics.”
I think it’s safe to herald Mortal Kombat 1 as a cinematic triumph. All the small details in the animations, menus, loading screens and more make the experience feel alive and glorious. From the opening quips to the victory poses, even a simple multiplayer match is chock-full of personality and glee. Watching the incredible and violent X-ray attacks and finishing moves simply will never get boring. I even noticed some of the animations and sequences feel snappier and faster, a great and subtle quality-of-life improvement that helps you get back into the action even quicker without making any notable sacrifice to the glorious theatrics.
With an in-depth tutorial, local multiplayer, and online multiplayer—Mortal Kombat 1 offers all the basics you’d need and it works like an absolute dream. The new fighters in the roster all feel unique and enjoyable, and any changes to the move-set of already-existing fighters feel appropriate and fun. More than ever before, it really feels like each fighter has their own unique identity that’s appropriately reflected in the gameplay, visual design, and sound design.
Invasions is the new game mode for Mortal Kombat 1, taking over the role of the ‘Krypt’ from previous installments. It’s here where players should expect to find seasonal content that’s frequently updated and the ability to unlock gear for your fighters. It’s functionally pretty great. Again, it’s largely a conduit to allow for more single-player fights, so it’s by no means wildly innovative or different, but it does tap into Mortal Kombat’s best elements in a smooth and easy-to-digest way.
Invasions allows you to plot your path and fight off enemies as you progress through different worlds, level up, and unlock new cosmetics. There are actually quite a few gameplay ideas in here including RPG elements, a type-effectiveness system à la Pokémon, minigames such as the ‘Test Your Might’ game, Towers where you battle your enemies one after another, surprise encounters, and consumables that can help you in battle. It’s pretty nifty all up, though you are sacrificing the more atmospheric and exploration-driven systems found in the Krypt.
Though I really quite like the Invasions game mode, it also helps highlight how Mortal Kombat 1 is a game of sidegrades rather than evolutions. Invasions takes over the Krypt, Kameo fighters replaces the level-based interactables, and new fighters come in to replace old ones rather than expanding the roster. It’s all great stuff but nothing so amazing that you forget what came before it. Of course, as a live service game, only time will tell how much longevity all of this will have. Though early signs point to very promising things indeed.
- Beautifully polished and exquisitely executed
- More of that Mortal Kombat charm you'd expect
- Invasions Mode brings a lot of new ideas
- Quality-of-life improvements that help you enjoy every second
- Sidegrades instead of evolutions
- An opportunity for expanded story content and/or roster wasn't taken
Mortal Kombat 1 may not be a massive evolution of the fighting game formula, but what’s on offer is still incredibly detailed and lovingly implemented. From the camp fun of the game’s main campaign, to the beautiful flow of online fights, to the string of new ideas found in the seasonal Invasions Mode. There’s a lot to digest here and a lot to enjoy. Another success by NetherRealm Studios, solidifying them as a masterful fighting game force.