Thursday 28 April 2011

Gaming Reviews

Mortal Kombat
Warner Bros. Interactive/Netherrealms
Available Now - £44.99 (Xbox 360, PS3 – Version Tested)
Review by Rob Wade
Editor’s Note: Due to the outage on the Playstation Network during the week ending 22/04/2011, it was not possible to test the online component of the game.

Mortal Kombat returns - the newest chapter of the iconic fight franchise marks a triumphant return to the series’ mature presentation and a reinvention of its classic 2D fighting mechanic. Driven by an all new graphics engine, the fan favourite Fatality is back and presented in more gory detail than ever before. In addition, Mortal Kombat introduces a number of new gameplay features including tag team and the deepest story mode of any fighting game. Players can choose from an extensive line up of the game’s iconic warriors and challenge their friends in traditional 1 vs. 1, or take on several new game modes.

This game first came onto the radar as a short trailer, mainly showing fatalities without the final blow (in the same way that the TV ads are hilariously having to do so). However, interest was piqued by the fact that Fatalities are back in the game, a welcome change for the fan so disheartened by Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, which suffered from the game’s 12+ age rating. The game trailer also showed off an X-Ray mode in the vein of Romeo Must Die, with bones being broken and crushed in a zoomed-in X-Ray view. It’s safe to say that fans of classic fighting games wet themselves in anticipation, and with good reason; this was something that no other game was offering.

In some ways, this has translated to the full game. The game offers some features that games of similar ilk have not been doing recently, as well as bringing back and modifying some things done well in other competitors’ fighting games. One of those things on the PS3 version is the addition of Kratos of God of War fame, which hearkens to the Soul Calibur philosophy of chucking in someone from another game, particularly when it’s console-specific and can mean the difference between buying it for one console or the other (or even both, if you have that much spare cash to blow). Personally, though I totally get the appeal for the developers and fanboys, I think that sort of thing is frustrating unless the character is someone who can be purchased separately at a later date (of course meaning that Kratos would not be possible to buy, as he’s Sony only). However, the Xbox 360 does sometimes come with a rental of the original Mortal Kombat live-action movie (depending on where you bought it), which isn’t too bad.

Let’s get to the important thing: should you buy this game if you’re a fan of the series? The answer is a nad-kicking YES. The game has been completely updated for the modern-day console generation, adding online play as well as a fuckton of other content. Most pleasingly of these new features, I feel, is a Training arena which allows you to go through the basics of combat as well as practise those all-important fatalities. What’s cool about it as well is that the training arena puts a green bounding box on the floor to show you how far you need to be from the enemy in order to pull off the move. It’s a nice little touch, but it’s stuff like that which makes the difference between a good game and a great game.

It’s the content available that makes this game such good value for money. There are a similar number of fighters available as in previous MK games since UMK3, as well as a couple of new additions like Quan Chi and Kratos. Each character has a varied move set and style of combat, which lends itself well to strategy. Bearing in mind that the Trophy room (in game, rather than accomplishment trophies) includes a list of conditions for each character to unlock additional skills, all of which dictate that you play with each character for 24 hours’ worth of fighting, you won’t be short of incentives to go back to the game. Add-ons also have been included in the form of unlockable bonuses using coins obtained from winning fights and performing combos. With plenty of these to find, which include alternate costumes all the way to alternate Fatalities, you won’t be short of shiny trinkets to chase.

As well as the traditional Tournament bracket mode, where you work your way through ten combatants in order to make your way to Shao Kahn to give him a good kicking, there’s also the Story mode. Now, immediately, this should give a sinking queasy feeling. Fighting games and storylines haven’t traditionally married too well, but MK is breaking the curve in this regard. The story is divided up into chapters which see you switching between characters, and always for contextual reasons which make sense. It’s a good mix of combatants as well, with different styles and moves to learn.

The story itself is undoubtedly one of the best I’ve encountered in a fighting game, all rendered using in-game graphics and switching effortlessly between fight action and storyline cut scene. The game engine looks great, incidentally, and the cut scenes look really good as a result. Models are well-rounded, with a good colourful approach to characters which distinguish them out well from the backdrops. Those, also, look amazing, with a large number of varied backdrops. The Netherrealms, in storyline the stomping grounds of everyone’s favourite fire-breather, Scorpion, look amazing when you’re fighting on them.

The animations are really good-looking, with moves looking suitably brutal. For the perv in you, the female characters’ jugs are also realistic in their movement, even if efforts have clearly been made to sex them up in terms of size (Sonia Blade, for example, has gone up a significant number of cup sizes, which seems to have brought out her inner slut when it comes to outfits – you’ll see what I mean). The Fatalities and X-Ray moves look distinctly bone-crushing, even if some suspension of disbelief as to how someone can get up after having their neck broken three times in the same round. The game also employs a Special Bar which accumulates as you do combos, as well as to a smaller extent as you take damage. When the first bar of three fills, you boost a Signature move. Two bars of three give you a one-off combo break, which can be valuable when timed right. When it builds up to full it allows you to perform the special X-Ray moves. It’s a nice system, especially as even the least experienced player can build up to a move which can swing the momentum slightly, although a certain amount of strategy is necessary in order not to leave you completely exposed.

There are some small complaints, though these are minor things. The difficulty spike is still there in single-player gaming, and matches can go from easy as fuck to absolutely nails in the space of a single match. One particular match, where I faced off against Scorpion and Quan Chi, had me tearing out what little hair remains. The game can also descend into button-bashing at times, especially during the opening few matches where you find yourself pausing the game a fair bit to bring up the moves list. Make no mistake, though, the game is ultimately an absolutely fantastic purchase, and presents some serious value in terms of feature set.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Looks great, backdrops and characters are really well done.
Sound/Music: More like the older coin-op games, with some really satisfying sounds for bone crunching and so on.
Gameplay: Classic Mortal Kombat gameplay. The learning curve is initially high, but once you get used to it, it’s easy enough to remember the moves.
Lasting Appeal: An absolute ton of content, from story mode to classic Tournament to the 300-room Challenge Tower.
Summary: A welcome return to form for one of the all-time classic fighting games. 9/10


1588: as the Spanish Armada prepares to sail, rumours abound of a doomsday device that, were it to fall into enemy hands, could destroy England and her bastard queen once and for all.

Enter Will Swyfte. He is one of Walsingham’s new breed of spy and his swashbuckling exploits have made him famous. However Swyfte’s public image is a fa├žade, created to give the people of England a hero in their hour of need – and to deflect attention from his real role: fighting a secret war against a foe infinitely more devilish than Spain...

For millennia this unseen enemy has preyed upon humankind, treating honest folk as playthings to be hunted, taken and tormented. But now England is fighting back. Armed with little more than courage, their wits and an array of cunning gadgets created by sorcerer Dr Dee, Will and his colleagues must secure this mysterious device before it is too late. Theirs is a shadowy world of plot and counterplot, deception and betrayal, where no one – and nothing – is quite what they seem. At stake is the very survival of queen and country...

Thanks to our friends at Transworld, we've got two copies of The Sword of Albion AND its sequel The Scar-Crow Men to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name to before midday on Thursday 5th May, making sure to put "The Sword of Albion" as the subject. The first two entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy!

Don't forget to put "The Sword of Albion" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

The Sword of Albion is available from 27th May, priced £12.99. The Scar-Crow Men is available now, priced £12.99.

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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