First Impressions: ?Prediction? Pain...? ? Clubber Lang, Rocky III
Pain is something Mortal Kombat fans have thoroughly enjoyed dishing out ? along with gallons of blood ? since the game's controversial debut way back in 1992. The original MK was a landmark; it both shocked and revolutionized the industry with graphic violence unprecedented in its intensity and outrageousness. Everyone placated by the friendly cartoon images of Donkey Kong and Mario was stunned; gamers loved it, parents and politicians hated it, and the resulting controversy made creators John Tobias, Ed Boon and publisher Midway bloody rich. More importantly, the bar for video game violence had been raised ? no, skyrocketed to new and uncharted levels, influencing games ranging from the original Doom all the way up to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and beyond.
In 1993, MK II was released with improved graphics (i.e. more gore), more characters, improved game play, and the addition of Babalities and Friendships to add some self-parodying levity for those who took the violence way too seriously. MK II is widely considered to be the best of the series, and things were looking up for Midway.
But not all was blood and roses for the MK franchise. The next sequel, MK III, added unnecessarily complex combos and the annoyingly cute "Animalities", which were slammed by players and critics alike. Fans generally agree that MK III marks the point when the series "jumped the shark." With sub-par sequels like Ultimate MK III, MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, and worst of all, MK Special Forces, it appeared as if Midway was trying to live off past glories and milk a dying franchise for all it was worth.
But then in 2002, Midway released MK: Deadly Alliance (originally called MK V) and successfully managed to breath new life into the series. MK: DA sold well over a million copies and renewed gamers' passion for the exciting gory violence MK was known for. The graphics were stunning, the game play and controls were excellent, Fatalities were much easier to perform, and damn if it wasn't fun as hell.
However, MK: DA was lacking in several areas: each character only had one Fatality (though a delightfully graphic one at that) and there were no arena Fatalities like in the originals; some maps had hazards that damaged you, but that was about it. And sadly, there was no online play.
MK: Deception is promising to change all that, and more. Deception is looking to be one of the best games of the franchise, and it will certainly be the deepest ? yes, who would have thought "MK" and "deep" would ever go in the same sentence? (More on this later.) In addition to improved graphics and more characters, this sixth sequel adds some new game modes and more delightfully gruesome ways to kill your opponent. Oh yes, and you can bring the pain over Xbox Live as well.
But first, let's get to the meat of the matter ? literally. Visually, Deception looks incredible. The character detail and animation has been stepped up, the interactive arenas look amazing, and needless to say, the blood and gore looks better than ever, especially on high definition 480p widescreen.
Each of the 25 characters will now have two Fatalities, which Midway proudly claims are bloodier and more graphic than ever before. One particularly cool new feature is the Hara-Kiri move: if you lose and your opponent is trying to add the final humiliation with a Fatality, you can deprive him of the satisfaction by committing an equally gory suicide Fatality on yourself.
As well, each map will now give players the ability to trigger deathtraps to kill your opponent. By maneuvering your opponent into danger zones, it may be possible to end the round without breaking a sweat. So far, these deathtraps are variations of things that can squash, burn or chop you into a bloody pulp, such as a massive hot iron press and a giant meat grinder. Barakaburger, anyone?
Similar to the Dead or Alive series, each arena will also be interactive with things you can smash opponents into or be multi-tiered, allowing you to kick your opponent out of windows or off ledges. Other arenas will change on their own to provide unique challenges: for example, an arena on top of a towering rock spire will crumble along the edges, slowly reducing the size of the fighting area as the battle progresses. The creepy Nethership includes an area below the main deck with hanging bodies that you can bat around to block attacks or even knock your opponent down.
Each arena will also include a special weapon, but only wimps use weapons, right? After all, the most popular punch in the series (which was mysteriously left out of MK: DA) is back: the uppercut. Outstanding! The uppercut, along with a tweaked combo system, will allow players to string together new and painful juggling combos.
One controversial addition to the game is the inclusion of "state" lights underneath the players' health bar that will show if a player is open to a counter attack, or if they are launching a strong attack. While these lights may be beneficial to new players by warning them to adjust their tactics, it is likely that most veteran players will hate it. Fortunately, early indications are you will be able to turn it off if you wish.
Deception is aptly named because if you think this is just a chop socky fighting game, you would be mistaken. The game has added a lot of depth with the addition of three new game modes: Chess, Puzzle Kombat, and Konquest. Chess is pretty self explanatory, but this is not the game Bobby Fischer would remember. When a player attempts to take an opponent's square, the two players are automatically thrown into a standard MK battle, with the winner gaining the square. There are also two special power-up squares on the board; occupy both of them and you gain a huge advantage over your opponent. Each side will also have sorcerers who can attack pieces from across the board and cast spells to kill, damage or imprison opponents, or even revive one of your own dead pieces.
Puzzle Kombat is a Tetris-like puzzle game, but in true MK style, you can launch attacks against your opponent to pile more bricks onto him, or use power-ups to destroy your own bricks. Win two games in a row and you automatically perform a Fatality on your hapless opponent. Best of all, like the standard fighting mode, both Puzzle Kombat and Chess are playable over Xbox Live.
Konquest is looking to be the most innovative addition to the game. Unlike the simplistic Konquest mode in MK: DA ? which was basically a long training level ? Deception's version is more like a RPG. You start as a 13-year old boy named Shujinco, with no fighting abilities whatsoever. You journey through villages and forests talking with people, meeting characters from the game and engaging in combat, all the while learning new skills and abilities. You will also be able to collect and earn koins, the kurrency of MK, which can be redeemed to unlock secrets (I wonder if we'll see a sequel to Scorpion's cooking show?). A clock on the screen will display the time and date as you progress through Konquest; this is important because you will only be able to unlock special secrets like hidden characters and maps at specific times and locations. Fortunately, you can fast forward through time by meditating rather than wait around for a particular moment. Time also works against Shujinco as he ages throughout his journey; when you finish Konquest, he will be a wise and powerful 60-year old man, and will be unlocked to play in the standard fighting mode.
If all that wasn't enough, there's more! Deception will also have four Kollector's Editions featuring unique packaging with either Baraka, Mileena, Raiden or fan favorite Scorpion on the cover (PS2 players get Sub Zero) with an embossed and serialized metal Kollector's card inside. You also get over 40 minutes of bonus DVD material, including a history of Mortal Kombat and video biographies of each character. Best of all, you will also be able to play the complete "arcade-perfect" version of the original MK. As Liu Kang might say, "Whoo-pah!"