Saturday, May 7, 2011

MORTAL KOMBAT! A moderately successful reboot

I hate reboots. Generally speaking reboots attempt to and fail to revive a series that has been lagging resulting in remakes that they don’t want to call remakes. On occasion, however, you run into one that went well. Castlevania Lords of Shadows certainly exceeds the original title upon which the premise is based containing a deeper story and encouraging you to care about the whip wielding Belmont at your control. In movies Batman Begins was done after a huge amount of time had passed and audiences had all but forgotten the abysmal Batman and Robin, but also went above and beyond the previous versions of the film series, improving greatly upon the formula.

Sometimes there are reboots that work, but really aren’t any better than the original version of the franchise like Star Trek which was entertaining, and even worked within the established rules to reboot the series without giving it a complete overhaul. It was okay, but not the epic improvement a reboot should offer. Most reboots fail utterly.

Mortal Kombat is actually the ninth installment of this ridiculously over the top and gory franchise. It is a reboot, and not a reboot, kind of like Star Trek. The story goes that Shao Khan won at the end of Mortal Kombat Armageddon and achieved immortality and invincibility which he then used to annihilate all of the Kombatants including long time rival Raiden, however before Raiden is killed he sends a message to his past self, a cryptic finally thought “he must win.” Raiden, who had previously been a competent leader and mentor to Lui Kang and co becomes a bungling idiot as he tries desperately to figure out what the message meant. His visions unfortunately lead to the death of practically everyone, but at least this time Shao Khan is defeated before he can become invincible… also Quan Chi and Shinnok may have been trying to alter time for their benefit too… Leading up to an inevitable sequel I’m sure… That will have everyone who dies alive and well again. Honestly I don’t know why the developers keep killing anyone off at all in this game, its like killing off the X-Men… Death has no permanent meaning in Mortal Kombat, but still this is a pretty decent story by MK standards, though it pales in comparison to the riveting “Deception.”

As with any new installment of MK the graphics are far and above anything its predecessors offered, the animation is (for the first time ever) smooth, and combos can be chained together with greater ease than ever before. This installment has modified the controls so that the game is accessible to button crunchers which will make a lot of folks happy I am sure. This game also looks better, perhaps, than any competing fighting title out there, but its design philosophy has changed little since the 1990s and it’s the costumes and over all character designs that warrant some criticism.

Women in this series have never been treated with the respect they deserve, at least not since MKII. The costumes of the women in the game are far too revealing. In an era when video game women, including Laura Croft, are moving toward greater realism MK does a great disservice to the gaming community by adhering stricty to a design philosophy only appreciated by 15 year old boys who have no girlfriend and no prospects of obtaining one. As a married 31 year old I find the unrealistically proportioned women in skimpy outfits at this stage outright misogynistic. As a martial artist myself, albeit a fat one, I know many female martial artists and none of them would enter a fight with so little clothing. You can’t fight dressed like that.

The other primary problem with the characters is that they seem to be a fusion of Greek statues and porn stars, too perfect to reflect any sort of reality, and too chiseled to look attractive. Again, it shows a great disrespect to women and it is really sad that this series hasn’t evolved beyond the 15 year old boys that played these games when we were young. We’re 30 now, we mostly have wives, some of us even have kids (who will not be playing these games) so why hasn’t this series matured along with us?

Of course the gore is more detailed than ever before, but still ridiculously over the top and unrealistic. Despite its cartoonish means of dispatching a vanquished foe the game does actually have a few fatalities that are admittedly unrealistic, but are actually quite disturbing on a level past games have failed to capture. The new X-Ray power moves are simply amazing but are so detailed you almost feel your own bones break in sympathy for your poor digital avatar… of course after having their necks broken and their spines shattered in a feat only Wolverine could be expected to pull off your characters kip up and they are back in the fight. The X-Ray moves should have had greater consequences, as while they are wicked cool the over the top cartoonishness of this game is wearing thin for this grumpy 31 year old “extremist shrill voice on the right.” Resident Evil, and Silent Hill and numerous other games I used to play as a kid have all matured and moved toward trying harder to more accurately represent something believable. Mortal Kombat has better character models than ever before, graphics that are jaw dropping and awe inspiring, yet immature and impish at the same time.

That said if you have been a fan of the game in the past you will still likely enjoy this entry. Its sad the game’s concept stopped growing and developing after Armageddon, the last trilogy introduced several welcome new ideas, all of which were drop kicked for this “back to basics” reboot. I hope that the next one will indeed take the series forward in more ways than just better graphics and more detailed gore.

3 out of 5 stars.

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