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Demo Impressions: Mortal Kombat
by Tom Acres

After a few decent but pretty unspectacular entries in the long running Mortal Kombat series, series creator Ed Boon is taking it back to its roots this April, with a new game simply entitled Mortal Kombat. As the first entry in the core series to appear on the current generation of consoles, hopes and expectations are high, particularly amongst hardcore fans. I have no real affinity towards the series (or fighting games in general), but in a bid to see what the fuss is all about, I downloaded the demo on my PlayStation 3, and was quickly having my arse handed to me on a plate.

I was somewhat disappointed that the demo was single-player only, but you do get to compete against the AI on five difficulty levels as you move up the first four stages of a ladder; fighting Scorpion, Johnny Cage, Mileena, and Sub-Zero along the way. The demo ends at the fifth stage, but being able to check out four characters across a few different environments is relatively impressive for a demo that only weighed in at just over 500MB. The difficulty began as tame on the lower few settings, with opponents barely trying to register any sort of attack on me as I jumped around and crouched like an idiot, desperately trying to get a grip on the controls. Once I had, I was able to string a few combos together by accident, and after checking the moves list I was having a decent time beating the crap out of an AI opponent who wasn't really doing anything in response.

Moving up a few difficulty levels, the intricacies of the fighting system became clear, and soon I was failing epically. It's fairly fast-paced, but not anywhere near the speed of something like Street Fighter IV or Marvel vs Capcom 3. Combos and moves can sometimes take a while to perform, thanks to some pretty excessive animations from a few of the characters, but overall the fights have a nice flow to them. Playing with a D-pad is obviously preferable to using an analogue stick, and for that reason alone anyone with the choice of PS3 or 360 at launch should surely choose the former - the PlayStation 3's easy-to-use D-pad lends itself better than its rival to the gameplay of Mortal Kombat. It's also worth noting that PlayStation owners will enjoy Kratos as an exclusive playable character, although he wasn't available in the demo, and there's no word on whether or not 360 fans will have anything similar to look forward to.

The main menu also reveals the other modes you can expect to be playing; though many single player modes are all present and correct, some interesting challenge rooms make an appearance, and (of course) online multiplayer will also be a feature. After spending some time with Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe online, I think we can expect this new game to provide an excellent online multiplayer experience.

What's abundantly clear from the demo is that this is one damn good looking game. Running on the Unreal Engine, character models and animations are absolutely fantastic, with a great level of detail. The fatal blows you can perform at the end of a fight look incredible and are also absolutely brutal, from freezing a dude's legs and then ripping off his torso, to tearing a guy's head off and swinging it lasso-style by the spinal cord; these moves are not for the faint-hearted. If you're rich enough, you can also enjoy all these brutal delights in glorious 3D. The game looks even more brilliant in 3D, which surprised me, since the fighting happens on a 2D plain. The 3D adds some really excellent depth to the landscapes, and the already-excellent looking environments look even better. It definitely falls into the category of '3D just-for-looks' (rather than '3D for gameplay enhancements'), but it looks terrific and is actually a lot more focussed and much less headache-inducing thanks to its 2D plain.

Sound effects are also top notch; the sounds of bones breaking and limbs ripping sound incredibly shocking and satisfying on a surround sound system.

Bearing in mind that I'm not a massive fan of fighting games, I came away feeling very impressed with Mortal Kombat. I think that fans of the series will instantly feel at home with the fighting system, whilst those who have never touched Mortal Kombat will be able to marvel at its stunning presentation and ridiculous violence. Whether you're a hardcore fan of the series, or a fighting game novice looking for a baptism by aesthetically-wonderful fire, Mortal Kombat could well be worth checking out.

Mortal Kombat releases for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on April 21st in Europe and April 19th in North America.

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- Tom Acres

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