Mortal Kombat has never been regarded as a franchise with a lot of depth or flexible strategy. Right from the onset of MK’s hitherto stampede, it has focused on straightforward brawling with an obscene amount of blood and gore thrown in for good measure. The original Mortal Kombat, which was released to the arcades in 1992, was something of a widespread phenom thanks to the game’s liberal use of blood, photorealistic-style digitized fighters and simple gameplay mechanics that made it easy for newcomers to pick up and play. By the time Mortal Kombat II came out, the franchise accumulated an enormous following. MKII improved on the original in almost every conceivable way, adding friendships and babalities to the already-established staple of fatalities.
Then Mortal Kombat III hit the scene, and while it too improved upon its predecessor, the novelty of excessive blood and guts began to dwindle, and despite the inclusion of a more intricate combo system and faster overall gameplay, it was readily apparent that the franchise had started to grow stale. Some say that the Mortal Kombat franchise died with the third release, their arguments given justification by MK4 and it’s overall lackluster 3D presentation and back-to-the-basics control style. The fact that the arcade market was quickly dwindling around this time didn’t help matters either. And no one can forget the ass-tastic MK spin-offs that starred Sub Zero and Jax in a side-scrolling beat-em-up. While the Street Fighter II series was still very much alive and kicking with consistently popular titles, Mortal Kombat was all but dead, and for a few years was the butt of innumerable jokes. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to report that Deadly Alliance meets and exceeds expectations, and may very well be the revitalization that the franchise is so desperately lacking.
It is safe to assume that Deadly Alliance wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms when it was originally announced last April. Like many jaded gamers, I was hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Sure, the screenshots looked pretty but could Ed Boon and company really achieve the impossible by somehow breathing new life into a franchise that many have already written off under the pretense that it has ran its course? Well, now that I’ve had an opportunity to sit down with the game and sampled all that it has to offer, I can say with confidence that yes, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is a testament that there is, in fact, life after death.
Once again, fighters from all over the world (not to mention the Netherealm) have come together to duke it out in a battle that will determine the fate of the universe, or something. The game’s subtitle, Deadly Alliance, is a reference to its plot, which revolves around the soul-sucking Shang Tsung and the powerful sorcerer Quan Chi who are set upon reviving an ancient invincible army powered by the souls of the tournaments Kombatants. Watching this unfold and realizing the potential threat to mankind, the Elder God Raiden relinquishes his untouchable status and returns to the Earthrealm to garner support for the impending storm. The story is initially set up via a three-minute cinema sequence that sports impressive pre-rendered characters complete with professional voice-overs and interesting narration. Deadly Alliance definitely one-ups its predecessors in regards to storyline but when you get right down to it, the plot is just an excuse to pit unbelievably powerful fighters against one another in countless fights to the “death”, which is fine by me considering the sheer scope and quality of the game’s 24-character roster.
Fans of the previous MK games will be glad to know that Deadly Alliance includes a lot of past character favorites from the series. Returning kombatants include Sub Zero, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, Jax, Johnny Cage, Kano, Cyrax, Kung Lao, Raiden, Kitana, Quan Chi, Reptile, and Shang Tsung. New to the roster is Kenshi, a blindfolded ninja whose vision was destroyed by Shang Tsung, a fat, drunken master by the name of Bo’ Rai Cho, and Drahmin, a decomposing warrior from the Netherealm. Frost is Sub-Zero’s female counterpart. Hsu Hao is a powerful soldier that directly opposes the Special Forces team and has destroyed their ability to travel to the Outworld. Li Mei has entered the tournament to win back the freedom of her people. Mavado is a Red Dragon leader who uses grappling hooks to quickly move around the arena. Nitara is a winged vampire that is searching for an artifact that will separate her world from the Outworld. And then there is Moloch. He isn’t a controllable character but rather an Oni demon that Shang Tsung and Quan Chi have brought into the Outworld.
Like Mortal Kombat 4, Deadly Alliance includes the use of weapons, but the developers have taken this concept to an entirely new level. Each character has their own specialized weapon with their own unique set of attacks. The new fighting system brings with it three styles of martial arts for each character, and the more devastating combos have style changes built right into them. Two of the fighting stances for each character are based on real world martial arts, and the third style focuses solely on weapon-based combat. The combo system isn’t the most intricate of fighting games, but it does add a satisfying amount of strategy into the mix. Basically, you just need to hit a sequence of buttons in order to pull them off, so becoming efficient at Deadly Alliance will largely be a matter of memorization and timing.
New to the series is a Kurrency system wherein you’ll earn Koins for each successful bout. The Koins come in many types ranging from gold, to ruby and platinum. The majority of Deadly Alliance’s unlockables can only be opened with Koins when you spend them in the Krypt, which is a 26 by 26 grid of Koffins, each containing something different. The Koffins are definitely a nice touch and help to extend the lasting appeal of both the single and multiplayer experience, and while there are tons of Koffins (676 in all), the majority of the unlockables come in the form of conceptual sketches and miscellaneous illustrations that you open up one picture are a time. Sometimes you’ll come across new character costumes and video clips, but more often than not a Koffin won’t contain anything that is particularly useful or interesting.
Aside from the obligatory Arcade mode that pits you against a string of progressively more difficult opponents, there is a Konquest mode that offers up hundreds of various challenges and tests. Most of these challenges entail simply pulling off a certain move or combo that is displayed onscreen. While Konquest mode isn't as entertaining as the World mode found in Soul Calibur, from which Deadly Alliance has obviously taken the idea, it does set up each mission via a text dialogue box that explains the character's intents and reasoning behind each mission, though these text boxes tend to be extremely long-winded and just altogether not very interesting. But Konquest is a fairly fleshed out mode of play and steps you through the basics to intermediate fundamentals of the gameplay system; plus you'll earn Koins as you progress through Konquest mode, which is a nice incentive.
Deadly Alliance features some crazy fatalities, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the first and second titles in the series. The developers must have some kind of think-tank who comes up with so many different ways to make one’s head violently explode. Every character comes stock with at least one fatality and they all range drastically in method and payload. Unfortunately, the exact method for pulling these cool looking finishing moves will take some time to learn as they are not published in the included instruction manual or listed in the players moves directory. But learning new fatalities through trial and error or word of mouth has always been an appealing facet of the series, so I won’t complain.
From a visual standpoint, Deadly Alliance brings an unprecedented amount of attention to detail and overall quality. There is visible damage to each fighter’s face as they slug it out and it is especially noticeable when the camera zooms up on the character after winning the match. It’s a nice touch that gives you a certain amount of satisfaction to be able to see the result of a bloody fight by way of scrapes, gnashes and bruises, but the obvious lack of any amount of damage to any other body part does seem slightly out of place. The fighters heads will tilt in correspondence to the elevation level of the opposing fighter, giving you the impression that the fighter is more than just a puppet whose strings you control. The Xbox version looks absolutely amazing in terms of texture quality. Animation is another element of the game that is sure to impress. The use of real world martial arts enhances the experience considerably.
The audio presentation is more than adequate, though not drastically different from the past games. There is certainly a lot more voice-overs and narration in Deadly Alliance, particularly in the opening cinema and the fighters ending sequences. Sound effects seem more organic and dynamic than the past games, though; every slap, smack, kick, and punch is perfectly represented, and the various grunts and groans are in sync with the onscreen action.
If you’re looking for a fighting experience somewhere in between the touch-based strategic action of Virtua Fighter 4 and the straightforward visceral feel of Tekken 4, then Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance may be just what you’re looking for. The control system is simple enough so you can pick up and be almost immediately proficient, while leaving enough headroom to keep you learning something new every time you play. The tons of extras, Kurrency system, and wide range of fighting styles helps to keep the game consistently compelling, making this game hard to put down. If you’re a fan of the Mortal Kombat franchise then you gotta check out Deadly Alliance, and even if you have written the series off based on the past MK tragedies, chances are that you’ll have a new found respect for the franchise after taking Deadly Alliance for a spin.