Following the apocalyptic events of Mortal Kombat 11 and its story-based expansion, Mortal Kombat 1 represents a new era for the franchise’s characters. While it purports to do the same for the video game series, the more I played Mortal Kombat 1, the more familiar the latest entry felt, but that’s far from a bad thing.
Mortal Kombat 1 brings the tight gameplay of its predecessors to the next level. Every punch, kick, throw, and special move feels impactful in the dances of death in which its characters participate. Once you get a few fights under your belt with your character of choice, the gameplay really starts to sing as you learn how to chain together combos, specials, and this entry’s new addition, Kameo Fighters.
After selecting your fighter, you choose a secondary character to back you up. These Kameo Fighters have distinct moves that attack your opponent, shield you from incoming attacks, or disrupt the flow of battle. I love using an aggressive strategy with Sub-Zero, getting in their face with a diverse attack plan, only to use Scorpion as a Kameo Fighter to pull me out of danger with his spear. I took great delight in experimenting with different strategies and Kameo combinations to maximize this new mechanic.
The main roster consists of various franchise favorites, many of whom bring unique styles and tactics. Bruisers like General Shao and Geras can spell trouble for players with difficulty managing distance, but I prefer more agile characters like Kitana and Li Mei. Add in series icons like Liu Kang, Mileena, and Johnny Cage, all with excellent iterations on their character designs and move sets, and this is one of the strongest starting rosters of the series. It’s just a shame that one of the main characters in the story, Shang Tsung, is locked behind being preorder DLC.
Mortal Kombat 1’s story plays out like a movie. NetherRealm has gotten much better at weaving the fights into the narrative rather than inserting jarring moments that only exist to set up fights. The story’s production values are among the elite in the games industry, with state-of-the-art facial animations and some of the best cutscene fight choreography ever seen in the medium. I had a blast following the narrative of Liu Kang’s attempts to keep his new timeline in order, even if the – albeit extremely fun – conclusion gets rather messy.
Once you finish the hours-long story, single-player content aplenty awaits. Invasions mode allows you to embark on a quest across the realms, completing various challenges for a ton of in-game rewards. These creative tests range from straightforward fights and difficult multi-phase boss battles to obstacle-dodging survival trials and Test-Your-Might encounters. While I love this mode and its promise of delivering nine hours of single-player content every six weeks, the formula wore on me a little as I progressed. Still, I loved ending my nights by playing through a dozen or so nodes to see what challenges awaited me and what cosmetic customization items I could earn to equip my fighters.
On the more traditional front, Mortal Kombat 1 brings back single-player arcade-style Towers and a small suite of online modes. While King of the Hill provides too much downtime as you watch strangers duke it out, I loved putting my skills to the test in the ranked best-of-five matches in the online Kombat League. Story and Invasions will always be my destination modes, but getting to know another player over a three-to-five fight series builds unmatched tension and delivers some of my most memorable moments with Mortal Kombat 1.
When the first Mortal Kombat debuted more than 30 years ago, the series quickly became known for its trademark blood, gore, and violence. While that is still at the forefront thanks to Mortal Kombat 1’s Fatal Blows, Brutalities, and, of course, Fatalities, the longer the series has gone on, the longer it has rightfully become just as known for its genre-leading approach to single-player content and incredibly tight fighting mechanics. In making strides in both areas, Mortal Kombat 1 moves the series forward to continue what has already been a terrific year for the genre.