The Generation Game has never been so brutal
NetherRealm Studios is almost unique in being a western developer putting out beat-'em-ups, so often now the exclusive reserve of Japanese creators. That gives its titles, such as 2011's Mortal Kombat soft reboot and 2013's DC superheroes brawler Injustice: Gods Among Us a unique flavour compared to much of the competition.
It's a flavour that's distinctive in Mortal Kombat X too, which feels - initially - remarkably similar to Injustice. There are the 2D fights across 3D stages, the interactive tools dotted around the arena delivering bonus damage to your opponent, the escape methods preventing being pinned in a corner. Play on though, and the depth of MKX's combat reveals itself, proving it a remarkably competent fighter.
Epitomising the maxim "easy to learn, difficult to master", each character has multiple fighting styles, with different special moves and skill sets related to them. In any form, combos strike that tricky balance between complexity and satisfaction; something you need to work at to execute but ending up being not maddeningly difficult. X-Ray combos are the piéce de resistance, a cavalcade of literally bone-crushing moves that deliver the most damage (and a perverse sense of glee, admittedly). However, Mortal Kombat's staple Fatality finishing moves actually get the short end of this particular stick, as each character has at least a couple of very simple executions, which cheapens them.
Mortal Kombat X is as enjoyable for its story as its fighting system though, another differentiator from Japanese brawlers that have a framework, but rarely a narrative. A generational tale following the classic characters -- Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Jax, Liu Kang, et al -- and their successors twenty years later, it mixes in high fantasy and reality-hopping as the dark sorcerer Quan Chi seeks to release the fallen Elder God Shinnok from captivity. Game of Thrones it's not, but it's engaging stuff all the same. Quick time events in story cutscenes keep your attention too, before dropping you into the meat-and-bones one-on-one fights.
The new characters also serve to diversify the gameplay with new and unusual movesets. D'Vorah's insectoid skills or two-for-one fighter Ferra/Torr's mix of speed and brute power create new challenges for series aficionados to overcome.
The online offerings are a bit confusing in places, with multiple tiers in operation at once and an ever-changing array of objectives. However, this ensures there's always something to be doing when playing online, and every victory - and even defeat - earns points for your faction. With five to choose from based on series lore, it adds a nice level of persistent rivalry, even when you're not actively fighting another player, making for an impressive continuation of the series that proves there's far more to Mortal Kombat than just good ol gore and violence.