Mortal Kombat Armageddon, the seventh game (Trilogy and Ultimate excluded) in the series of brutal fighters, is headed to home consoles later this year, and based on the Xbox version I was able to get some hands-on time with, promises to be the best yet. Now, as a reader I can imagine how many times you've heard the "promises to be the best yet" line, but seriously folks, Armageddon is shaping up to be the wet dream of every die-hard fan, including yours truly. But don't take my word for it; check out this list of features:

  • Over 60 fighters spanning across the entire series
  • A more expansive (and much better implemented) Konquest mode
  • Dozens of arenas from every MK to-date
  • Kreate your own fatality

Kreate your own fatality? You better believe it, and trust me, the list goes on. But rather than bore you with bullet points, let's delve into the game itself, which showcased an impressive amount of playable characters, an updated build of the Konquest mode, and the new Kreate-a-fighter option.

Before I get carried away with the combat system and the solid hour I spent trying to complete the arcade mode - which for the record was excruciatingly difficult, or at least that's what I tell people when they find out I could only make it to the fifth character - I'd like to touch a bit on the Kreate-a-fighter mode, which, even in its earliest form had me hooked right from the get go.

I don't know about you, but I'm one of those types who spends hours on-end tinkering with a game's creation system. My first few hours with Oblivion was spent moulding my future champion of Cyrodill, while I cried like a little baby whose candy was stolen from him when the create-a-player feature was removed from NHL 05 (Bad EA, BAD!), so naturally I wasn't surprised when I found myself messing around with the Kreate-a-fighter feature before actually fighting.

The system works like many others before it. You have a series of options to choose from, that range from your character's appearance to choosing his or her signature moves. Choosing the appearance option lets you shape and distort your character's face, toggle between its gender, pick its skin colour, change the size of its belt and so forth - pretty basic stuff here. Every game includes those options, but the real neat part was being able to customize your fighter's moves, weapon style and a number of handy little extras. You can name your fighting style then assign different punches and kicks to the face and trigger buttons, as well as customize your fighter's special moves. If you want to make a variation of Sub-Zero for example, it's entirely possible, ice blast and all. Or you can create an amalgamation of other characters to create the ultimate fighter. Naturally, you won't be able to add an unlimited amount of special moves to your fighter as that would just be silly, so be sure to choose wisely.

But what's a fighter without a back story and his own taunts? The final two options let players choose his or her fighter's voice and taunts, as well as create the fighter's bio from scratch, including its origin and of course its name. In its early stages, the number of features and fighting styles were a bit limited, as expected for a work in progress build, but definitely put a smile on my face. As any fan of the series will admit, this feature was long overdue.

As for combat, the game plays and feels much like its predecessor, with the exception of a few noticeable differences. The main difference being the ability to jump, which threw me off a bit during my first match as I had no idea that Midway was implementing aerial combat into the game. And when I say aerial combat, I don't simply mean punching and kicking in the air, I mean full-blown butt-kicking combos that can continue on the ground if you can get the timing right - which I couldn't. Despite my love for the series, I'm apparently not as good as I had thought. Chalk it up to old age.

Create your dream character

As I mentioned earlier, the roster has been updated to include over 60 fighters, both new and old. Sheeva, Kintaro, Shao Kahn, Sub-Zero, Stryker, and my second favourite character of all time, Sektor (the first being Sub-Zero), were all in playable form and located amongst a dozen others on the select screen, which in the final version will have two complete panels to accommodate the number of selectable fighters. Most of the characters were instantly recognizable, such as Sub-Zero who donned his classic blue ninja outfit, while others, such as Stryker, were unrecognizable at first thanks to their new modern looks. Now, so long as Midway includes Reptile - and not in his dreadful MK4 garments either - and gives Cyrax a second chance too, then I'll be one happy fanboy.

The first few arcade stages were easy enough, the first of which took place in the Subway station from MK3, and yes you could still knock your opponent onto the tracks just like in the good ol' days. Each fighter has two fighting styles and one weapon style, much like Deception and Deadly Alliance before that. Stage fatalities like the Subway mentioned above have returned and you'll also find weapons littered throughout the arena, some of which are in plain sight, while others must be discovered.

I only made it past a half a dozen fighters before succumbing to a royal butt kicking, but I did catch a quick glimpse of what appeared to be one of the game's end bosses - another four-armed variation of Kintaro. Either that or it was Kintaro, and I need to make an appointment with the eye doctor.

The character models, much like the Kreate-a-fighter mode, are still being tweaked and tinkered with, so there was a noticeable lack of detail in each fighter. Sektor was the most disappointing, with his red armour plating looking unintentionally as clean as a whistle, without any grooves, noticeable wear or the like; while other characters simply sported a lower polygon count. As with any pre-release games, little nuances like these will be fixed well before the game hits store shelves - or at least I hope they will.

Unfortunately, while the move list for each character was given to me, the fatality combinations weren't. And then I was advised about the series' revamped fatality system. It's a little strange at first, but is gruesomely satisfying when you get the hang of it. Once you've beaten your opponent to a pulp and it's time to finish him/her, enter your fatality stance by hitting the left trigger a couple of times, and then enter in any number of button combos to perform the fatality. Sound familiar? Let me elaborate. While in previous titles you would enter a single combo and voila, heads were popping, arms were ripping and eyes were bursting, in Armageddon, you have the option to link fatality combos together to perform more and more devastating finishers. Fatality chains can be linked up to 10 times meaning 10 separate, gruesome attacks in one vicious fatality. Purists might be a little weary about this departure from the traditional button combo, but fear not, you definitely don't have to perform that 10-hit chain kill - if your heart so desires, you can perform plenty of classic fatalities. However, for those interested in slowly torturing your opponent, the chained kills are a godsend, and require quick reflexes thanks to a meter that is displayed and drains increasingly faster after each move is successfully completed.

It's shaping up to be a fine current-gen send-off

The last segment of the game I managed to get some hands-on time with was the Konquest mode - a mode I had begrudgingly endured in Deception just for the extra characters and costumes. This time, however, Konquest mode has been completely redone and was actually quite a bit of fun. The story, as I was told, takes place once again in the Earth Realm, and focuses on a sibling rivalry between two brothers, Taven and Daegon. As Taven you'll have to venture through various realms in search of a powerful weapon to destroy Deception's blaze, and prove to your father who deserves to be his successor. And I thought it was bad when my father forced my brother and me to wrestle, proving once and for all who the better man was. I won by the way.

The version I played only featured a small portion of the first level, with eight levels in total, and, as was the case with Deception, featured plenty of brawling, puzzle solving and exploration. Unlike Deception, where all you could do was give NPCs love taps, in Armageddon you can engage NPCs using quite a few different combos, and once your opponent has had enough, you can press a face button to initiate one of a selection of fatalities. Neato.

The levels also play out much more like Shaolin Monks, which is certainly a good thing. Traps, chests and collectable items litter the playing field, and as you progress your character will learn new moves and be able to wield weapons, like the hammer for example, which appeared to be the only useable weapon in the preview build, but certainly served its purpose.

As of right now, Armageddon looks to be a must-have for fighting fans, not to mention those who have been following the series. More on this bloody potential gem as it becomes available.

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