For 12 years, these two words have summed up a controversial franchise that changed the gaming landscape. Fighting games had existed before MK hit arcades, but the concept that Midway delivered with the Mortal Kombat series redefined the entire genre (and indeed gaming) for the better. Simply put, here was an "adult" game that didn't shy away from blood and carnage (it was set in a brutal fighting tournament, after all). What's more, each installment was significantly darker, with fatalities and themes of conquest, revenge and betrayal. Simply put, this was a game whose fate was precariously left in the balance, with a player's choice of character tipping the scale towards good or evil.
The latest and most ambitious installment of the series, Mortal Kombat: Deception, shatters the scale entirely with the sheer scope of gameplay. Similar to Deadly Alliance, Deception's intro is harsh, painful and shocking as another series mainstay falls in battle. Picking up almost immediately after Deadly Alliance, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi's scheme to control the numerous realms with the Dragon King's army is almost complete, leaving Raiden alone to fight off the two sorcerers. Of course, the Thunder God isn't going down without a fight, and he almost succeeds before getting taken out by his opponents, who immediately turn upon each other.
This leaves the two of them oblivious to the larger threat that quickly approaches: the return of the exiled Dragon King himself. Apparently, the massive battle in his temple has helped fulfill the prophecy of the King’s return, which coincidentally is supposed to mark the potential end of the universe. Suddenly realizing their shared opponent, both Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, along with a revived Raiden put aside their animosity and attack their newfound foe. Unfortunately, even their combined might doesn’t put a dent in the overwhelming beast, leaving Raiden with what he feels is a last resort; he sacrifices himself in an explosive blast, hoping to damage the monster. When the smoke and debris clears, the Dragon King is the only thing left standing. (Guess if we check the Earthrealm scoreboard, it’s good guys –2, bad guys in the lead.) The universe seems essentially doomed, with the exception of one final Mortal Kombat Tournament and the possible return of the one being that's defeated the Dragon King before, the enigmatic Shujinko.
With such an explosive opening – no pun intended – Deception’s primary thrust would appear to revolve around the Konquest mode. However, let’s come back to that and take a quick look at some of the other features of Deception. First of all, the developers of the game managed to implement at least four additional game modes that, in theory, could’ve been developed and marketed as separate titles in their own right. The inclusion of 5 separate games in one makes Deception worth every penny. We’ll take a quick look at all of them now.
Many players will be familiar with the Kombat mode, the most recognizable “arcade-like” facet of the title where players face off against their friends or the computer. Similar to many other Mortal Kombat games, there are both weak and strong attacks directed at either high or low areas on your opponent’s body, as well as grabs, special moves and other attacks. Taking a page from Deadly Alliance, characters are no longer restricted to one attack style either. Each one of the 24 selectable fighters have two martial arts forms that they specialize in, as well as a specific weapon that they wield, such as knives, staves or swords. Transitioning between forms is incredibly slick, and there are even painful combos that can be linked together to cause loads of damage. In fact, if you’ve played Deadly Alliance, you’ll have a decent handle on a number of the returning characters right off the bat.
Deception isn’t merely a carbon copy of Deadly Alliance’s system, however. There have been a number of tweaks made to the fighting system to augment each fight that players will encounter. First of all, some players might take issue with Mortal Kombat’s seemingly impossible number of juggle combos that can literally take a player out of a match. Enter the Combo breaker system, which provides “life-saving” maneuvers that automatically cancel punishing juggles or combos, effectively giving you an opportunity to launch a counter attack. You’ll only receive three of these per fight, so you’ll have to ration them wisely, but it provides a new level of strategy to the battles. Players will also be able to grab additional weapons that have been placed in certain stages to possibly act as equalizers or inflict additional pain on challengers. That’s in addition to the environmental traps that players will have to worry about. This includes everything from crushing spike traps to piranhas and plummets onto spikes. Unlike previous Mortal Kombat titles where you’d have to worry about specific button presses to launch someone into these areas (usually as a fatality), fighters can be flung into these dangers at any time if they get too close. Yeah, if you haven’t noticed, there’s much more attention placed on in-game strategy than button mashing this time around…and no more impalements either. It was a cool, albeit cheap destructive move from Deadly Alliance and has no place in Deception.
Obviously, Kombat is where most fighting purists will spend their time, but the other game modes are just as entertaining. For instance, Puzzle Kombat is a nice diversion where you attempt to clear colored blocks from an area. A blatant copy of Super Puzzle Fighter, players select “deformed baby” versions of MK fighters and take on computer or human opponents. Blocks can be advanced as quickly as a player desires, but the only way that you will be able to clear these items is by dropping the appropriately colored Mortal Kombat symbol on the corresponding blocks or using the few bombs that randomly appear. By clearing your space of blocks, you’ll build up your fighter’s “super meter,” which can be used to inflict a specific power strike on your opponent. This can be anything from freezing their blocks, making it harder to clear their area to destroying a large swath of objects on your side of the screen.
Chess Kombat is one of the other featured “mini-modes” in Deception. Reminiscent of Archon, players arrange and maneuver their pieces around the chess board, attempting to attack and defeat the “leader” or king on the chess board. Yep, I said attack. Each piece that lands on a square occupied by an opposing token launches a one round fight mechanic, where you battle for the control of the square. Success in a fight results in taking (or keeping) a square. This can be a dangerous thing, because any incurred damage carries over from round to round. This extends from everyone from the lowest grunt to the higher pieces, such as shifters (who change their shape to match the person their fighting). Sorcerers can also fire off spells that can act as equalizers, including automatically killing pieces off or healing pieces on your side.
All of the aforementioned modes, save Konquest, have an additional bonus – they can be taken online and used to challenge anyone online. This is easily one of the most stable environments ever seen for a video game, much less that for a fighting title, and playing against someone literally feels like you’re in the same room. Ever take on someone cross country with little to no lag? Deception allows you to do this effortlessly, which wouldn’t be expected with a game that requires split second timing. What’s more, since you’re not restricted to always fighting, you can literally leap online for a quick chess or puzzle match, using any of the characters offline in your online play. What’s more, any tokens that you acquire either online or offline can be used to acquire Kontent from the Krypt. While slightly reduced from Deadly Alliance, there’s still over 600 coffins that can be unlocked, providing additional characters, character art and other secrets pertaining to the MK universe.
Speaking of the universe, it’s now time to attend to the Konquest mode, which covers a number of the Mortal Kombat realms, including Earth, Outworld and Edenia, amongst others. Konquest mode focuses on the mysterious Shujinko, from his early days on earth to his later warrior days across the planes and his elder moments as a revered fighter. Creatively, the moves that you uncover during Konquest will be the moves that Shujinko will be able to use once he’s fully unlocked for other modes, so it’s extremely important that players explore and take on extra quests to expand their move set. This will sometimes result in taking on unfair odds, such as attacking someone while you’re poisoned or trying to counter someone who constantly regenerates their health, but the Konquest mode is both a tutorial and practical feature of character development. It’s here that you’ll also take on just about every single warrior in the MK canon (or their ancestors in some cases), but you’ll learn skills that can be used to dominate players in regular games. You’ll also discover chests for the krypt that can only be found and thereby unlocked within the Konquest mode, so for players that want to fully unlock everything, you’ll have to fully explore the numerous worlds Shujinko travels through.
Visually, Deception looks very similar to Deadly Alliance, which is both a good and a bad thing. First of all, characters retain the large scale models they did from the previous title, along with detailed environments and particles for powers or destructible items. In fact, many of these animations have been augmented for some of the newer gameplay features, such as the deathtraps scattered around levels or the glass that characters can be flung through animates looks particularly nice. The additional fatalities found within the game, as well as the Hara-Kiris that can be used if you’ve been beaten are particularly brutal, but fits the over the top nature of the game universe. On the down side, the bugs from the previous version still plagues this title. That means that some of the stiff, jerky animations from Deadly Alliance are all over Deception, including tricky collision detection and wooden jumping. This extends to the sound, which feels somewhat recycled from Deadly Alliance. This actually surpasses the graphics, because the sound effects and soundtrack for that title were extremely impressive, making the aural atmosphere of the game very immersive.
Deception is truly an impressive game that’s only hampered by a number of hiccups. First of all, players of Deadly Alliance will be dismayed at the seeming lack of extras found within the Krypt mode. Shortened by at least a hundred or so “extra” features, there’s something dismaying to know that a large number of the ones included can only be unlocked if you’ve thoroughly tracked down each and every chest in Konquest mode. That brings me to the second, and perhaps most damning part, which is that Konquest mode isn’t as impressive as its chalked up to be. It’s entirely possible to miss out on chests, missions or other important features if you haven’t fully explored every square inch of the map, meditated for specific timed meetings and tracked down each important person in every realm.
Considering that some areas are locked down or even shut off to you accidentally if you’re not careful, you can restrict yourself from valuable items. What’s more, the mission structure is screwed up, primarily because there’s no way to track active missions that you’ve taken on or places you need to go. Unless you’re writing down your own notes (and some of the suggestions aren’t actually alluded to within the dialogue) you won’t remember every little quest you’re sent on. Truly, this is a series of delivery quests that feels out of place in the MK universe, and really drags the title down. Aside from this, the Kombat mode feels somewhat limited. Considering that there’s up to 24 unlockable characters in the game, you’d expect there to be more stages to fight through before you get to the Dragon King Face off, you’d hope that you’d take on more fighters.
Aside from these issues, Deception is an impressive addition to the Mortal Kombat Universe, one that handily picks up where Deadly Alliance left off. The included game modes expands the replayability for Deception significantly, and the stability of online play will guarantee that this title will stay in consoles for a long, long time.