A case study in how to revive a flagging franchise, interest in the MK brand was once again piqued with the emergence of last year's Deadly Alliance - many getting their first taste of 'Kombat at 2002's Playstation Experience. The first true sequel in the series to avert numbering for now-fashionable subtitling (we'll mention MK Mythologies but once, and have done with it), the title's significance was it's indication of a long due overhaul; to bring one of the 16bit era's brashest brawlers kicking and screaming into the next generation. In full 3D. With a vengeance.
Fast forward two years, and to the version of Mortal Kombat Deception being demonstrated in a strictly over 18's enclosure at Gamestars Live. Press pass in hand and smug grin in place, we glided past a disgruntled looking security guard and once again into the welcoming arms of Outworld... only to discover very little has changed.
In terms of combat (sorry, kombat) mechanic, Deception plays a lot like its predecessor; characters still have three fighting styles, including one weapon-based, which still fails to flow with the same fluidity of a dedicated dueling title. 3D movement is still convincingly smooth, fighting no less frantic, combos handled in the same style-switching manner, and 16bit style unrealistic projectile and special-ability moves once again integrated in a superior fashion to anywhere else in the genre. So far so familiar.
What alterations have been made seem mostly superficial, but nonetheless welcome in a series always prided as much on its gore as its gameplay. This is most obvious graphically, where characters models appear to have the edge on Deadly Alliance, but not by much. Likewise, arena's themselves now offer slight superficial alteration, some being multi-tiered while others allow for arena Fatality's to take place mid-bout. Striking a fellow kombatant into outlying deathtraps, such as closing spiked walls and rotating spiked cogs (we're sensing a general impaling theme), will end a battle prematurely with a gratuitously bloody, satisfying squelch.
Some arenas also boast encased weapons, accessed by hurling opponents into the casing - necessitating tactical maneuvering and freeing said item for the inevitable ensuing mad scramble. Oh, and, centrally for the series, traditional Fatalities are now twofold per character, as opposed to Deadly Alliance's one singular finisher - though none of these we actually managed to see at the show.
Characters available to play at the show included the returning Mileena, Kabal and Nightwolf, all of Mortal Kombat 3 fame, as well as new additions Darrius, Darriou Kobra and Ashran, all of whom conform to series archetype and offer little over previous characters past a new skin - the latter in particular appearing to be very little more than a female version of Raiden. Making up the final roster of the show's playable protagonists (at twelve, around half the promised final number) were old timers Sub Zero and Scorpion, Deadly Alliance's Bo Rai Cho, Baraka - original deputant in the series second outing, MK2 - and the series' original myth come to life, orange ninja Ermac.
Most interestingly however, were characters not demonstrated. Silhouettes on the character select screen indicated several old favourites could be in attendance; Raiden for one, and the familiar mullet we spotted, even as a blacked-out outline, was more than reminiscent of the series most famous character, the iconic Lui Kang. Narrative convolutions aside, return of the series central good guy would be more than welcomed by fans... and lets face it, coming back from the dead is just a minor obstacle in the MK franchise - it never stopped Scorpion, did it?
Also welcome are the new game modes. Indeed, it is these that set Deception apart from its lineage, and especially - given the other overt similarities - from its previous installment. Self explanatory Kombat Chess, Puzzle Fighter ode Puzzle Kombat and the new, revised Konquest mode, in which players create a fighter and live their full life in battles, all promise a true evolution that interactive intricacies appear to eschew. Sadly, given the crowded nature of Gamestars Live, we were unable to get extended plays on these, yet did see them in action, along with the now obligatory XBOX Live button on the options screen - the Playstation 2 version is set to ship with online play as well, but we didn't see enough of the Playstation 2 build to confirm its presence. Konquest mode especially will offer the chance for unique player created kombatants to duel it out over each consoles respective networks - an option we at Pro-G are relishing.
And you should too. Mortal Kombat Deception appears to improve the series in every way; perhaps not the revolution some would hope, but still offering a series of refinements and additions to further entrench one of gaming's oldest icons back where it belongs - making headlines in the papers and headway in the charts. Be it Mortal Monday or Fatal Friday - whatever marketing ploy is used, Deception deserves to stand out this winter as a unique and peerless take on the genre.