I hear the famous words "Finish Him!" beckoning me to perform one last glorious death move on my hapless opponent. I successfully enter the command and watch as the telepathic Kenshi lifts poor Johnny Cage into the air, twirls his sword in the air like a giant fan, and turns Cage into human confetti by forcing him into the blade. Mortal Kombat X brings out the goriest in what games have to offer, and every bit of it is one heck of a fight.

Playing this Mortal Kombat will require some knowledge of previous MK titles, as I've noticed it's much less forgiving in its control scheme. Combos are intricate and precise, requiring exact button presses and timing, where I felt MK9 allowed some leeway. I could perform the same combo multiple times in the last game without fault, but here those combos don't come as often. Some may find this to be vexing, but I think it's a great way to make me a better fighter.

The strategy element of basic combat is boosted with the addition of Variations, which essentially turns each character into three different versions of the same character. The differences are subtle, with a few added special moves or buffs added here or there, but each Variation makes learning a new character three times as interesting. For example: when playing as Jax, I prefer the grapple-heavy approach of the Wrestler variation, but sometimes I want to control space with the added projectiles of his Heavy Weapons Variation. 

No longer will simply choosing a character suffice, now I have to learn the major differences in Variations and choose my favorite wisely. I also have to live with that choice, as I won't get to choose a different variation until I go back to the character select screen. It's a brilliant way to make these fighters seem fresh and new, especially the long-tenured combatants like Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Mirror matches even gain depth, and that's something I never thought I'd never say about a fighting game ever. The predictability that sometimes comes with knowing the character an opponent choose takes a big hit with this Variation system, and for me that makes learning match-ups and advantages for each character even more interesting. I really enjoyed digging into this new system and seeing how each character could be approached in different ways.

NetherRealm Studios

Of course there are also Fatalities, and while I have an iron stomach for stuff like this, there are still a couple of moves that make me cringe when I see them. I thought Kung Lao using his hat as a buzzsaw was disturbing last time, but dragging his opponent through the blade isn't as unnerving as slowly lowering the poor sap's head into it. There's a bit of dark comedy in these moves, and I definitely had a lot of laugh-out-loud moments during the bloody mess, but these moves are certainly not for the squeamish.  

Fatalities, along with the entire game, are boosted by one of the best examples of sound design in my recent memory. Each attack sounds like it's connecting with another human being, even when blocked. I was feeling the hits in my stomach and chest while they were coming even though I'm just sitting in a desk chair. Normal combat sounds may be subtle, but the gurgle and splashing of blood and snapping of bones during X-Ray and Fatality moves cannot be ignored. I'm convinced that some finishing moves would not be as impactful if not for the sounds of blood and mayhem that accompany them.

NetherRealm Studios

The aforementioned 25-character roster is a fantastic blend of old and new faces, bringing some of the best from MK games past into battle with a handful of fresh names. Some show some hybrid elements, such as Cassie Cage reflecting her mother Sonya Blade and father Johnny Cage, while others are a completely new approach to the MK engine. Despite the large spectrum of fighters, every single one feels like he or she can be matched up with anyone else on the roster evenly, even more so when the Variations come into effect. The balance of this roster has been very impressive in the early going, and I hope that with future patches and tweaks that trend continues.

Mortal Kombat X brings the impressive story mode format from MK9 back for more, once again telling an interesting and engaging narrative through battles and some quick-time events. One major improvement to this story is the pace, as the long-winded and dragging feeling of MK9's story toward the end is replaced with a much faster, blink-and-you'll-miss-it method of storytelling. The use of quick-time elements does a great job of keeping me engaged too, as I never think I have a chance to take my eyes off the screen before having to press another button. The story does a great job of being unpredictable throughout the twelve chapters, even pitting me against some fighters that aren't even among the playable roster. I appreciated seeing Rain here, even if it's the only place I'll get to do so.

NetherRealm Studios

One of the more debatable elements in MKX is its online offering, which is the closest I've seen a console game get to the mobile gaming format yet. The Living Towers sport ever-changing towers of battles, some only lasting one day while others stick around for weeks, sounding like something out of Brave Frontier. Micro-transactions allow you to purchase easy Fatalities and fight-skipping abilities during Story mode. Both of these are elements I'd expect to see on my phone, not on a console game, and I'm not sure how cool I am with the concept. The Living Towers idea is awesome, but the micro-transactions leave a bad taste in my mouth. Why put in complex commands for Fatalities if some dude can pay $4.99 and earn the ability to press two buttons to kill someone 30 times? Why not just make them all easy and be done with it?

Normal matches play like the online experience I've come to expect, even including temporary lag and match drops. Nothing is more frustrating that waiting for an extended period of time for a match, finally getting one, and having it drop the connection mid-battle. I had hoped that MKX wouldn't fall into the same technical mire that other fighters seem to get stuck in, but even these kombatants aren't immune from paralyzing network issues.

I had worried that Mortal Kombat X would be more of an incremental update to the series than the previous game that revived the name, and because of that I wouldn't be as impressed with the game. Those fears were quickly alleviated, as Mortal Kombat continues to launch the game to new heights. It's a bloody, gory bout of glory with intricate controls, a varied and balanced roster, and a ton of ways to play both online against peers or alone on the couch. I had a blast fighting my way through the game, and I suspect I won't be the only one.

This review was completed using a downloadable code of Mortal Kombat X provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.

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