The first part of the game is a big one and quite a disappointment to be honest. Starting up the game I go for Story Mode straight away, it seems to me at least that’s where you’d start. Unfortunately Story Mode is just not the best representation of the game. The difficulty quickly moves from doable to ‘oh god, my fingers’ and it just isn’t fun. Now, hardcore fighting game fans (and some of them are probably morons) probably like this, it makes it hard enough for them. But plenty of people aren’t these kind of fans.
The game introduces you to each playable character in turn. You play a number of matches, some fun and some harder, then you’re given a new character to play. While I can appreciate that this was probably intended to show the player each character, an introduction to each one as it were, so the player can choose who they like to play or not. In practice, however it makes the story mode a little frustrating at times. The characters I liked to play I could use pretty easily and their sections were finished with fairly quickly. The characters I don’t like, and chances are the characters I don’t care about getting any better at playing, are the ones that take longer, making sections of story mode drag as you fight as a character you don’t really like against someone with a fighting style you find awkward.
The game has two big main fights in terms of difficulty. The first is a fight against Shang Tsung and Quan Chi. Unfortunately I found this match very frustrating. For one, I think the story mode really should have included some opportunities for you to also have a tag team pair, as you often fight against pairs of people and tag team battles can be very fun in my opinion. But no, you’re never a team in story mode. So what does that mean for a particularly difficult match like this one? It means you have one health bar as a character you can’t choose, (and for me sadly one of those characters I’m just not interested in) and you need to beat down two health bars of two awkward to beat characters. So obviously I found this match frustrating.
The second and last big match of the story mode is your final battle with Shao Kahn. And this one? A level of frustration that’s really quite amazing. The frustration stems from the difficulty curve the game has adopted, where even on the lowest difficulty level, called beginner (which I had assumed is aimed at someone who hasn’t played a fighting game before and isn’t going to get very good very quick). The difficulty of the final match is really incomparable with any previous fight on the same difficulty level.
What makes this even more frustrating is the cut scenes leading to this battle. It can’t just be me, but after seeing Raiden getting powers from the Elder Gods I expected him to have powers beyond those which the character usually has. To make the final battle a big fun epic where both characters have godly powers. Unfortunately I don’t have godly powers, but the other guy does. So the end fight is simply frustrating and the reward for finishing the game (which is unfortunately a cliff hanger cut scene leading the game to a sequel) is underwhelming, making you not want to experience story mode any more than you’ve had to endure.
From a ‘normal person just wanting to try something out’ point of view it really doesn’t sell the game to me. I haven’t had a fighting game in a long time, the last one I owned was on the ps1. So, if there isn’t really much enjoyment in a new fighting game, what reason do I have to buy another one? Or keep this one? The game on release (in some places at least) was again unfortunately 45 pound, and so far it hasn’t delivered good gameplay on that cost.
So, to clarify! The problem I have isn’t that the game gets hard, given the 5 different difficulty levels I would hope the top tier ones are very, very hard – a level of difficulty I’m never going to play at. My problem is that the so called ‘beginner’ difficulty, just isn’t very beginner. Picking complete novice mode should provide the gamer with fun but with little to no challenge, giving them the ability to experience the story and characters without the game telling them they’re rubbish over and over. That will just discourage them to buy more fighting games.
Which is a shame, because I do think fighting games can be fun. The difficulty needs to be right.
Now moving beyond the story mode, the game offers a whole host of other short modes and longer modes and challenges and lots of other stuff. The other main part of the game that will keep you playing it a lot longer than story mode.
First off is ladder mode. Put simply – beat 10 random MK Characters, fighting Shao Kahn at the end. Your rewarded with a small ending cut scene that is specific to what character you picked. The difficulty is less unbalanced than in story mode while still having a little challenge to it , it’s a nice length without over staying it’s welcome, you get to see a range of characters and try fighting them. A straight forward mode. A variant on this mode is Tag Team mode. The same 10 character fight but with two characters. Again the ability to have a few tag team matches should have really been in story mode – but alas, in story mode no tag team for you! Swapping in and out and having two characters you can choose from is fun. It’s also fun to see some silly character combinations.
Then there is a host of ‘Test your…’ modes. Starting with ‘Test your Luck’ – the mode starts with a roulette wheel which randomly selects you a character to fight against, and a selection of stage additions that either make the fight easier or harder. For example, specials disabled. There are also some fun silly ones too – like headless combat. So it’s a fun, quick draw style mode, that changes the usual game a bit.
The rest of the ‘Test your…’ modes are small mini games. Rewarding you with a little bit of Currency and not taking too long to do. All of these mini games are unlocked by playing the Challenge Tower. So you can play ‘Test your Might’ – a little button mashing mini game. Or ‘Test your Sight’ – where you have to pay attention and follow the path of an eyeball hidden inside one of three decapitated heads (only you….MK….only you…..). And finally ‘Test your Strike’ – which is a variant on the button mashing test your might, in this mode you have to button mash a correct amount.
Challenge tower is another larger mode. There are hundreds of challenges that are all specific. You have to be a certain character, doing a certain thing against a certain enemy. Which I am assuming is testing specific aspects of your ability with each character, but honestly, I got a bit stuck early on and found myself repeating challenges to try and complete them. Like I mentioned with story mode, this is again the problem with being given the character to play, and some characters I just don’t enjoy playing as much as others.
The development team have stated that online play was a very important feature to them, and of course MK has it’s online modes. I’m not the biggest fan of online play, I’d much prefer playing with friends at home, but I can see why an online mode is important. Especially I’m guessing if you just don’t know anyone who’s willing to play Mortal Kombat with you. So, you can play King of the Hill mode, where 8 real players can watch your fight, and can kompete against the winner. It has 4 player tag team online – a fun sounding feature so long as players ko-operate. It has been noted however, that the multiplayer doesn’t fun fantastically, and can often be slow – ruining any fast paced fun of a online mode.
The game also has a long list of unlockable extras; alternative costumes, various pieces of music and a whole load of concept art such as fatality, character, and stage artwork. The mode itself that you use to unlock extras is also neat. You explore a modest sized map filled with people you need to select and watch them die in different nasty ways. It would have been nice if there was a quicker way to do it after a while however, as the novelty does wear thin a bit when you’ve done 100 or so of these and there’s some left that are awkward to find.
So how does the game perform on a purely functional level? There are some annoyances, I’ll be honest. In story mode alone, the game trying to blend seamlessly from cut scene to game play is a little jarring due to the differing quality in visuals. The other big annoyance in story mode is that cut scenes are both unpauseable and unskippable – a big development no no. Add to that the problem of no restart stage option when a restart option is available in other modes and it gets a little frustrating. If I haven’t liked how a match has gone I have to wait and watch my character die before we can start again. And if I quit to the main menu as a restart option? Or if I quit to change difficulty as the story mode’s difficulty isn’t great? Then I have to watch that unskippable cutscene again. Frustrating stuff.
There are also a lot of small loading times, and while they aren’t terrible, they annoy me at least. Some of the worst examples are probably while browsing the characters as you have to load each costume a character has separately rather than a smoother ability to view them all.
Another point to bear in mind if you do buy this game is that your thumb will hurt.
Even disregarding the disproportionately silly difficulty of story mode, the game still has the right level of fun, for me at least, during other modes! When I start to remember and figure out characters moves more and more, and execute an awesome looking combo – you still get that awesome ‘ah ha!’ moment, the feeling of ‘yes, yes I am kicking your butt!’ And that’s the fun you want from a fighting game, even if your playing it in beginner and couldn’t beat a real live person at all. Paying 40 pound for a game means I would hope you’re allowed to play it whichever way you want – and if we could have less of the ‘up your own butt, wah wah wah but games should be difficult, because look at me in my awesome-ness’ argument, that would be great! Because if you’ve actually listened thus far you should really understand that my problem isn’t that I think games should all be easy. That’s a silly thing to think. I think games should be designed with meaningful difficulty settings in mind for the simple fact that this game could be someones first ever fighting game, or first ever game ever.
So, in short; story mode really isn’t worth playing unless you really, really, really want to see the MK story, but honestly you’re not missing much by skipping it. The real game is in all the other modes which makes the game enjoyable enough for the money. But in the end it all still really seems like a shame. A better adjusted range of difficulties and a some better options (pausing and skipping and restarting) really shouldn’t have eluded the development team that much. We’ve moved beyond difficulty being the main feature of a game, it doesn’t matter if that’s how it has been or used to be. We’re not in an arcade, with the game taking more and more money away from us with each attempt at playing it. I’ve already paid at least 30 to 40 pound for it.