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If Mortal Kombat is famous for one thing it’s the violence. Over the top, gory, and often resulting in the sorts of videos that YouTube will demonetise faster than Kano can remove a heart.
But the thing is, it’s clear to me – especially in the last three games – Mortal Kombat’s biggest strength isn’t just in the column inches it can squeeze out of shock and awe, and it hasn’t been for quite some time. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Mortal Kombat without them – but where the aptly-proverbial meat on the MK bones now is really story and single player modes. And NetherRealm are as aware of this as anyone.
No, a Mortal Kombat storyline isn’t going to win any awards for complex, nuanced writing. It’s very silly and over the top – take Lui Kang’s journey over the last three games, for example: he started off as a martial arts expert, training under a god, then entered a tournament to save mankind, died horribly, was resurrected as a zombie on the side of evil, then time got messed up which meant he came back to the side of good, ended up becoming a god himself, and then got the power to reset history. Without context, it reads (presumably very deliberately, given NetherRealm’s close association with DC Comics) like a comic book story got turned up to 11, punted off a bridge, and landed in a pit of spikes below.
That story is essentially junk food – nonsense, but entertaining nonetheless. Whether it’s the rivalry drama of Sub Zero and Scorpion, the age-old tale of living up to your parents expectations that we saw from the Cage family drama last trilogy, or the Game of Thrones-esque plotlines of succession and birthrights with the whole ongoing Mileena/Kitana/Jade/Shao Kahn stuff, MK’s mythos has a lot of silliness to dive into. This is a big reason for its huge fanbase and dedicated followers who come back to the game over and over again.
Beat-em-ups have historically struggled with story modes. Many of the best, including the legendary Street Fighter, have had issues justifying their single player modes above much more than “here’s a series of fights against opponents until you beat the boss.” Street Fighter 5 barely had single player at all to begin with, as it only came later as post launch content and DLC, rather than being something considered from the start. Street Fighter 6 is changing that, having a new bespoke World Tour mode that will see you create a character, meet the famous cast, and generally serve as a fully fleshed out campaign mode. And I’m convinced Mortal Kombat – and what NetherRealm did with MK9 through MK11 – is a huge part of why that is.
No one in the genre does a campaign quite as good as NetherRealm has managed, and between MK and Injustice, that team has elevated the mode to something more than just an afterthought. NetherRealm has made the Mortal Kombat campaign modes something to actively look forward to, rather than a simple training mode for each fighter before you take them to online multiplayer. I’m hoping they can pull it off again in this one, but they’ve already earned a good portion of my trust so far.
Many fans were worried when it was rumoured the MK series would be having yet another reboot so soon after the last one, with 9 (or officially ‘Mortal Kombat’) effectively resetting things from 2006’s Armageddon. But for me, I’m looking forward to seeing what NetherRealm will do with Mortal Kombat 1’s almost fresh start to the story and a wealth of possibilities as we buckle up to do this all over again. The over-the-top fatalities? They’re just the gory icing on a bloody cake.
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