Having had my allowance eaten up every week by the original Mortal Kombat in 92 - which was ironically paid to me by my mother in the form of 20 quarters - the series has become a guilty pleasure of mine, right up there with Diet Coke, Twinkies, and cheesy sci-fi novels. That being said, you can imagine how badly I wanted to call in sick to work when Armageddon arrived on my doorstep (the need to pay next month's rent eventually kicked me back to my senses). With its huge roster of combatants, a much more accessible Konquest mode, and Kreate-a-fighter, Armageddon might sound like it's worth losing a day's pay over, but does it end up being a worthy follow up to the excellent Deception, or just another MK 4?
As the name evidently implies, Armageddon marks the end of the series, at least on current-gen consoles that is. Alliances are broken, old rivalries are rekindled and just about every fighter the series has seen square off in an epic battle to determine the fate of the world. Armageddon is nigh, and there isn't a whole lot the elder gods can do about it.
Well that's not necessarily true; having spent a number of centuries encased in stone, two demi-gods, Taven and Daegon, reawaken to compete for their parent's powerful weapons and prevent the foretold Armageddon. The first to defeat the guardian Blaze becomes defender of Edenia, and so Konquest mode begins. As Taven, players embark on a quest not unlike the sleeper hit Shaolin Monks. In fact, the two share quite a bit in common this time around, with plenty of traps littered throughout the various realms, some of which you can use to torch, mutilate, and impale any poor sap that happens to pass in front of your fists.
Along the way you'll discover hidden items, which when collected unlock new characters, chests that unlock arenas, alternate costumes, and koins to be spent on additional videos and bonuses in the krypt. As you can probably already tell, Armageddon has no shortage of goodies to unearth, despite the krypt having been stripped down to only a hundred or so koffins to open compared the 600 + seen in the previous two releases.
The surprisingly challenging Konquest mode will last the average player close to ten hours, and while it's as enjoyable as the previous two outings and there are enough items to collect to keep any fan from putting the controller down, Konquest mode ultimately feels a tad on the unpolished side. While the sub-par visuals and animations aren't necessarily eye catching, and the repetitive nature is nothing to lose sleep over, the cumbersome controls are the weakest link here. Performing combos on enemies that surround you can be hit or miss, literally. With the lack of a targeting feature, Taven will more-often-than-not miss his targets, leaving him wide open for a pummelling. Further to that, Taven might have a few special moves at his disposal, and a variety of kicks and punches to unleash, but in the end, the four-punch combo is enough to emerge victorious on all fronts.
But if playing as Taven isn't enough to float your boat, then you might want to give the other 60+ warriors a shot. Armageddon boasts the biggest roster set yet, with almost every MK combatant to-date, including all of the boss characters as well as the more forgettable fighters like Kobra, Bo Rai Chau and the entire roster of MK 4. The game even sports the illustrious palette swapping Khameleon, made famous as a secret character in MK Trilogy. But having that many characters in one game does have its costs. Instead of having two separate fighting styles and one weapon style like in Deception, most characters are now limited to two in total, with most of the boss characters only having one style to rely on. Granted, it would have been a nightmare for Midway to animate and code that many fighting styles, but it is nevertheless a disappointment. And in case you were wondering, yes, every boss character from Shao Kahn to Motaro has seen a serious downgrade in terms of sheer power, so choosing one of the less intimidating characters over a behemoth like Kintaro will have little-to-no bearing on the amount of damage caused during the fight.
Regardless of the lack of fighting styles, Armageddon does improve on its overall combat system. For one, aerial combat has made a welcomed return, appearing last in the exceptional MK 2. It's possible to juggle your opponents in the air with a series of punches and kicks, or toss them straight to the ground to continue on with the combo. Secondly, it's now possible to parry attacks by pushing the block button and back at the moment your opponent strikes. If timed correctly your opponent will be stunned, giving you a few precious seconds to move in for the quick combo.
Lastly, and perhaps the most notable change the series has ever seen, is the new Kreate-a-fatality feature, which has left some fans elated while leaving others fuming in angst. Where as in every MK game-to-date fatalities were performed based on pre-set button combinations, Armageddon instead lets players input multiple button sequences to string together a series of devastating attacks, most of which leave your opponent limbless or missing some sort of bodily organ. There is a catch though. While the sequences are simple enough to input, often requiring players to press little more than a direction and a single button, you only have a set amount of time to enter the sequence, and as more successful combinations are performed, the time in which you can continue on with the next attack greatly decreases. In other words, everyone will be able to pull off a fatality, but only the most skilled fighters will be able to string together all 10 attacks.
This may sound like the addition Kombat fans have been waiting for, but bear in mind that there are no character-specific fatalities, which have essentially been the soul of the series and one of the reasons why the original Mortal Kombat did as well as it did. Why the developers chose to eliminate one of the series' staples is beyond me, and I only hope that we see the classic feature make its return when MK makes the jump to next-gen.
Much like the Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat modes featured in Deception, Armageddon has its own quirky diversion from the main game: Motor Kombat. The kart racing (yes, it sounds a bit silly at first doesn't it?) mini-game has players choosing between 10 fighters, each with their own unique special moves, spanning across five separate tracks. Each track is fitted with environmental hazards, along with speed boosts and power ups that can be used to turn the tables in your favour. Though not nearly as time consuming as the previous two mini-games, Motor Kombat is decent enough, for about 10 minutes or so, until you get bored and head back to game's many other features.
Speaking of other features, as Vanessa Williams would say, I've saved the best for last (I hope for your sake that you don't get that reference): Kreate-a-fighter. Ever wanted to see Lara Croft in the ring? Or maybe see how well the Terminator would fair against Kahn? Kreate-a-fighter lets you create just about any fighter you can imagine, tweak their aesthetic features, give them their own set of moves, and even write a short bio to complete the full package. Better yet, the sheer amount of outfit options, provided you have the koins to purchase them, is enough to wet any fan's creative appetite. It is worth noting, though, that your creative juices are limited to one fighter per-profile, so unless you want to create multiple profiles and load them up each time, one fighter is all you're going to get.
Armageddon aims to be the best in the series, and though it doesn't quite reach that milestone, there's no denying the game's appeal. And having spent the better portion of my week with the title, I am yet to unlock every secret the game has to offer, and the sheer number of selectable characters is impressive, if not overwhelming at times. I have to wonder though: why are we getting the PlayStation 2 version and not the Xbox version? Seems a little odd don't you think? Nevertheless, what's here is undeniably good, even if it could have been better.