“Let There Be Blood.”

There is something twisted in finding boundless satisfaction watching your opponent suffer a grizzly death in NetherRealm Studios’ latest. Though mistaking Mortal Kombat X for just another ultra-violent installment in the controversial series would be a colossal disservice to the fighting game that resides in the bloodbath. Deeper mechanics, fluidity, and presentational polish make Mortal Kombat X an excellent fighter, and easily the most fun I’ve had with the genre.

NetherRealm Studios has taken an abundant amount of risks in which most pay off, with only a few noticeable stumbles ensuing catastrophic results. New and interesting characters find their way onto the roster, while meaningful and distinct variations support returning ones. Variation is a huge upside to MKX, adding diverse longevity to an experience layered with mastering performance. This iteration’s roster flaunts a respectable 24 fighters, with one-third being new characters. Each fresh face brings something new and exciting to the fights, justifying their place right next to the greats.mortalkombatx_2-100578811-origCharacters unique fighting styles are ironed out into a sleek and convincing presentation. Each one feels quite different than the last, all offering a new and engaging technique to master. Much improved animations do away with small details that used to distract me from the fighting in Injustice and previous Mortal Kombat titles, successfully bringing the fights a more dynamic finish. Walk speeds are nimbler, basic jabs feel more useful, jumps have longer lasting verticality, and if pulled off, combos flexibly begin and recover more satisfying than ever. The awesome, new variation system in which players are given the option to choose from three possible abilities before beginning a match, provide more opportunities to discover and explore each characters distinct approach to combat. These technical fixes help elevate MKX to the smoothest-playing Mortal Kombat to date.

Eye-catching design of fighters look terrific on current generation hardware, as the frame rate keeps up with swift and lethal blows. Backgrounds also make quite the appearance with their intractable objects and visual magnetism; it’s hard not to get distracted from the match. Yet, visual inconsistency between characters were amongst MKX’s few fatal missteps. While many fighters look great, some newcomers to the roster suffer far less detailed facial textures and bland design. Their plainness surely stuck out when facing MKX’s best looking characters such as D’vorah, in which heavy detail clearly went into the construction of her face and costume. It’s strange to see a handful of models fail to reach the same high-level quality of other fighters.mortalkombatx_3-100578813-origEach character packs a long list of attacks and combo chains that all serve an exclusive purpose. There’s a ton to master and explore here, all of which seamlessly transfers over to the magnitude of different ways to play. Classic, local player vs. player packs the expected punch, with each match resulting in the joy of outsmarting the enemy at your side. A great training mode wonderfully educates players on how to pull off that perfect stomach-churning fatality and when ready, a solid suite of online features await. When participating in online brawls, the netcode is mostly up to the task of keeping online fights bearable. Though input lag occasionally made pulling off extensive combos more frustrating than I was accustomed to when playing locally.

For those players looking to MKX for a more solo experience, story mode, Tower and Krypt are sure to satisfy. Yet, MKX’s story takes more hits than it deals. Underwhelming inconsistencies lay around every corner as MKX attempts, narratively, to produce something more than just brutal neck-breaking. This unwarranted approach comes to odds with the dark and gruesome signature the franchise has built up until this point, making the story’s message muddled and forgettable. At least it’s something for folks who like a single-player, but NetherRealms intention to provide meaningful context for the bloody brawls falls apart in the process. The real issue is that the story gets caught up in wanting to be about characters with emotional connections. Attempting to interweave themes of family, romance and long-standing substantial rivalry, in a world about death and brutality simply doesn’t work. However, story only matters so much in a fighting game. Tower mode finds more success with its traditional pitch, while Krypt is mildly amusing with its unlocking of costumes, finishers, and materials. Though solo play isn’t MKX’s strongest suit, it offers just enough to dabble in its options before returning to what makes Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat.mortalkombatx_8-100578818-origThe vast enjoyment of breaking the skulls of opponents is rudely disrupted by the presentation of day-one downloadable content. As the AAA gaming scene inappropriately becomes more accustom to microtransactions, MKX joins the growing list of games guilty of monetizing greedy, payable options. Dealing out additional cash to receive tokens which are sold on PSN and XBL, will get you the option of easy execution, two-button Fatalities, or skipping story or Tower fights, entirely. These upsetting messages appear when scrolling over buyable characters on the character-select screen, and even front-and-center on the main menu. MKX crosses the line too far for me to simply overlook it or come to terms with it. While I’m strictly critiquing what is on the disk, this intrusive “buy me” is upsetting for someone who dished out $60, just to see the massive amount of priced content available, day-one. It’s not right and is more repulsing than the most gruesome moments of the game.

Summary: When it comes down to it, combat and variation are the deciding factors of a good fighting game, both of which Mortal Kombat X excels at. The ability to choose between three drastically different variations of all 24 characters adds smart and meaningful longevity to an experience brimming with discovery. Though its story is nearly impossible to take seriously and its microtransactions utterly off-putting and upsetting, at its core Mortal Kombat X fundamentally means well. Continuing to raise the bar for the series quality standard, Mortal Kombat X is amongst the fighting genres greatest.

Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on Mortal Kombat X. Find me @BraxHaugen.