Mortal Kombat X: The psychopaths came in three-by-three

We’ll be sure to toe the line of decency with this one, but there are obviously varying definitions of the word ‘hardcore’. Be it horror movies, exercise, gaming or the other thing you’re thinking of, the term means different things to different people. Mortal Kombat is a series which has always checked the box when viewed from the ‘graphic content’ perspective, but it’s also historically been looked down on by certain fighting game devotees. Partly that’s down to the somewhat gimmicky nature of all that viscera, but it’s also been a symptom of the basic gameplay building blocks, which prioritised style over substance.

X marks the spot where things change, as this instalment will see that hardcore community catered for better than ever before. It’s not just in the increased level of frame data that can be analysed from the in-game menus (sexy as that may be), but in the headline change from the last MK. We already know that this time out each kombatant (ugh) has three variations, but this was a move made specifically with high-level players in mind.

“The hardcore guys talk about match-ups they rank all the characters depending on which is better than which,” says creative director and series co-creator Ed Boon. “But some people just love a certain character, and so we asked: ‘What can we do to make ‘x’ a better match-up with others?’ So we came up with the different versions, and that spiderwebbed into doing every character like that.”

What have the elite guys made of this so far? “[They’ve been] very positive. Very, very excited. There’s always people who go, ‘Ah no, it’s going to be hard to balance’ and it will be! But at the same time, to just do the last game with prettier graphics… that is the way we’ll just fall off into obscurity.”

Tug of gore
While we clearly know our Raiden from our rye bread, Evo Championship glory isn’t likely to be one of OPM’s 2015 achievements. Fortunately the tweaks to the MK formula benefit everyone, as the result is a game that’s smoother, more finely tuned and, actually, more approachable. Different character variations mean that you can better find one that suits your preferred playstyle, and also mean you have more recourse should you come up against an opponent who you’re having trouble with. After several hours of hands-on time we’ve already felt the ebb-and-flow of repeated fights against the same human foe, with both of you getting to grips with how to use each fighter’s distinctions.

But MKX is also emphasising the benefits of player collaboration, via the all-new Factions mode. An umbrella term for the game’s online structure, when you login you’ll be asked to choose one of five clans to join. Do so and you’ll be allied with everyone else who picked similarly while a metagame plays out for a predetermined length of time. During this all of your in-game actions, across both single-player and multiplayer, will contribute to your crew’s total, with a winner being declared at the
end. You’ll even be able to dive into 5v5 team battles with chosen friends, taking on another Faction directly.

Guts check
Variations aside, the other individual changes from MK9 aren’t exactly eye popping (even if certain Fatalities most certainly, and literally, are). Bringing back the run button, introducing a stamina gauge: it’s hardly the stuff of mic drops. But get stuck in and these alterations quickly add up, fusing with the horsepower of PS4 to result in a beat-’em-up that’s got the brain to match its brawn.

Victory ultimately doesn’t come down to using flashy uppercuts, it’s found in the flowing combos and an understanding of momentum. That said, when you do win you’ll still get a better look at your opponent’s anatomy than you ever truly wanted.

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