Review: The end is pretty ****in' nigh!
Many people walked away from the Mortal Kombat series after Midway released Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in the mid-90s. 2D fighting was going by the wayside and Midway's first foray into 3D for the series, Mortal Kombat 4 was met with quiet disdain. In the years since, Midway has slowly built the MK series up into a pretty decent 3D fighter. Deadly Alliance set the groundwork, Deception improved on the formula in nearly every way and now we come to the Armageddon.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon takes almost every character in the series and thrown them into the mix for this final current-gen MK game. And like Deadly Alliance and Deception before them, the game plays beautifully. If you've played either of the two previous MK games before, you'll know exactly what to expect from Armageddon. It's actually remarkably similar to Deception (the two games run on the same engine after all), but everything has been streamlined to create the ultimate Mortal Kombat battle royale.
To simplify things, Armageddon gives each character, over 60 in total, one martial arts stance and one weapon stance. While some characters feel a little hollow without two weaponless fighting styles (Mileena felt like two different characters depending upon which style you liked), Midway has managed to pick the best style for each returning kombatant. Midway has also retooled and rebalanced all of the former boss characters and made them playable right from the start. Motaro may have only two legs and Onaga may not be invincible anymore, but having all of the boss characters as "regular" characters is sweet.
Armageddon forgoes the "three lights" battle system that was featured in Deception. This was probably because no one understood it and it never really seemed to factor into the fighting. As I said, with or without the lights, Armageddon fights just like Deception. But several new tricks were added to the fighting engine. One of them that you will not be using is the new Parry move. I'm sure there's nothing wrong with it, but I've got a ton of fights under my belt and I haven't even been able to Parry accidentally, let alone on purpose. Thankfully, the "Breaker" defensive system returns and it even works with...
The other major new addition to the fighting engine is Aerial Kombat. The idea was obviously to make Aerial Kombat as fluid and simple to use as it is in last year's Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. While it's not there yet, it is quite fun to pop up your opponent and give them the old one, two, three in midair and finish it off by slamming them on the ground.
Speaking of Shaolin Monks, Midway has taken the previously lame Konquest Mode and beefed it up by basing it on the Shaolin Monks engine. The new Konquest Mode introduces the two newest editions to the MK family, Taven and Daegon. Taven and Daegon are twin brothers from Edenia, sons to a god and a sorceress who can see the future. Their mother has a vision of the warriors of Mortal Kombat coming together and unleashing a tidal wave of bad juju that will destroy every realm. This Konquest will place players in Taven's role to stop this vision from coming to pass.
While obviously not as big as Shaolin Monks (which was itself pretty short), the Konquest Mode brings back everything that was fun about last year's MK brawler. The Mode also includes several one-on-one fights with many of Mortal Kombat's major players. Taven's story, and the story behind all of Armageddon, is slowly parceled out in small chunks that forced me to continue pushing forward. I wanted to know how it all came to be, and for the most part, the story of Konquest delivers. In the end, Midway has finally made the Konquest Mode a satisfying way to kill a few hours and it is a welcome change of pace from the tournament.
Deception's "change of pace" minigames were the ridiculously fun Puzzle Kombat and mostly enjoyable Chess Kombat. Sadly, both of those games have been scrapped for Armageddon and replaced by a Mortal Kombat kart racing clone dubbed Motor Kombat. Motor Kombat has its moments, but the controls feel a bit too loose and this makes the mode less fun than it should be. Kart racing will definitely want to see what the Midway crew did with the genre (death traps for example), but I would have preferred to just play Puzzle Kombat again.
Midway has also gone and added something that I never thought I'd see in an MK game: a Kreate A Fighter mode. KAF is very deep and offers tons of customization offers that will allow gamers to create wild looking characters that even Ed Boon wouldn't have thought of. It also includes many of the fighting and weapon styles that are used by the real kombatants. But I'm disappointed with the limits in some of the selectable special moves and weapons. A lot of special moves are missing from KAF, especially more "modern" tricks like Stryker's bombs and Jax's machine gun. Weapon styles are also limited to swords and axes, so you can forget using Mileena's sais or Raiden' staff. But even with these limitations, it's still possible to create some pretty interesting new characters. Of course, everyone knows what kind of outrageous designs I came up with in Armageddon's Kreate A Fighter mode
With all of these extra modes and bonuses I'm sure the thought "What about the main Mortal Kombat tournament?" has crossed your mind. And it should, as the one-on-one tournament has been the meat of the Mortal Kombat series since the beginning. And in this case, the "real game" is a bit of a disappointment. Don't get me wrong, the fighting engine is still top notch and MK fans will love the variety of fighters, but there's a few nagging problems.
First, the tournament is ridiculously short. Previous MKs offered players the chance to "Choose Your Destiny" with multiple tiers of opponents. Some required players to go through as many as 12 other fighters (and an Endurance round or two). But with over sixty possible opponents, Armageddon requires players to only fight seven other characters (with no other tiers) before they take on the big boss that is Blaze. You see, Blaze is like a flame and the kombatants are likes moths. They are drawn to Blaze for no reason they can fathom, but they must fight him. And defeating Blaze will grant the winner the powers of a god, but that's where the story derails.
With this being billed as "The End" of the current era of Mortal Kombat, almost all of the character endings don't resolve anything. In one case, in the ending that I believe will become the "official" one, NOTHING happens. Blaze is dead, but everything else is exactly the same. And on top of all that, what happened to the "One Being" story from Deception? And how did some of these kombatants come back to life? So many unanswered questions. The mythos is what sets the Mortal Kombat universe apart from other fighting games, and Midway horribly dropped the ball with Armageddon's story.
But the (lack of a) story isn't half as bad as the neutered Fatality system. Gone are the specialty fatalities like Scorpion's hellfire, Raiden's electroshock explosions and Reptile's tongue wagging and in their place is something called Kreate A Fatality (yes, another KAF). Once a match is over, KAF allows players to string together pieces of previous fatalities (a heart rip here, an arm pull there, a decapitation to finish) into unique fatality combos. Its neat at first, but after a few matches I really started to miss the character-specific fatalities. By a few matches after that I'd stopped attempting Kreate A Fatalities altogether because they're boring.
It should also be noted that MKA doesn't include "every" fighter from past Mortal Kombats. Khameleon (a shape-shifting she-ninja from the N64 version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy) is notably absent from the proceedings. But Chameleon (the male-ninja shape-shifter that was in the PSX version of MKT) is alive and well. But he's also pretty lame, so I can't say I miss Khameleon too much.
But aside from these problems. Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is a fantastic followup to Deception and a great way to close out the PS2/Xbox/GameCube era of Mortal Kombat games. Everything looks great, with many of the fighters getting total makeovers. All of the best arenas from Deception have made a comeback and seeing Meat, Stryker and Sheeva fleshed out as full 3D characters is fantastic.