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Game Review

They say violence never solves anything. Want proof? Check out the Mortal Kombat games.

Reset your clock, for a moment, to 1993—when gasoline was a whopping $1.13 a gallon and there was only one former president George Bush. Mortal Kombat arrived on store shelves positing a world threatened by nefarious villains from Outworld. The solution? Our best fighters had to tangle with the Outworldians to save Earthrealm.

Eighteen years, nearly two fistfuls of Mortal Kombat games and approximately 3 quintillion fatalities later, the denizens of Earthrealm and Outworld (and now the Netherrealm, too) are still squabbling over our little speck of a planet. In fact, the 2011 version of Mortal Kombat takes us back in time to the very plot of the first three installments, forcing its characters to win the cataclysmic battles all over again.

It's like Groundhog Day, only with eviscerations.

Hey, Your Face Hit My Foot!
Mortal Kombat has always been a simple game: A player is matched with an opponent (be it computer controlled, a friend sitting on the couch or, with the 2011 incarnation, a stranger halfway around the world), and tries to punch, kick, slice and stomp his way to a bloody victory.

The makers of this newest Mortal Kombat aimed to perk up the plot a bit, so the story mode features plenty of long-winded cutscenes. And there are morals, of a sort, to be gleaned: We see good guys trying to do good things (like saving the world), and we see bad guys trying to do bad things (like destroying the world). You play both sides, but it's still crystal clear whom we should emulate.

But few fans are likely to buy Mortal Kombat hoping for award-winning drama or soul-stirring inspiration. They're in it for the action. The fighting. And the gore.

Argh! You Took My Spine!
"This game really is a response to what players have been demanding," said Ed Boon, creator of the franchise, in a recent press release, "mature presentation, reinvented 2D fighting mechanic and the best, most gruesome fatalities ever!"

In the opening cutscene for the story mode, gamers are shown utter devastation, where most of the characters are dead and gutted on a field of battle. One has been sliced down the middle. Another bisected at the midsection, buzzards picking at her entrails. It's a vision of the future—what will happen if you don't beat the bad 'uns.

And that ending is just the beginning. The battles are relentless and extraordinarily bloody. In some modes you can pull out the still-beating hearts of victims as the word "FATALITY" runs across the screen in blood-red letters. One character is made to rip the skull and spine out of another. You unleash special attacks on your opponents that are shown in virtual X-ray vision—meaning you see bones broken, skulls crushed or eye sockets reamed.

Even if you win, you don't come away unscathed. One of the victorious characters I played had a flap of skin hanging off his chin and most of his eye exposed after the flesh around it had been ripped away. The background scenery is equally gruesome: Folks are flayed alive on what look to be sacrificial altars. Struggling men are dunked in green acid, reducing them to a mass of muscle and bone. Very often, frenetic fighters rumble in what appears to be a grotesque imagining of hell.

So macabre is Mortal Kombat that the game was essentially banned in Australia when it was refused classification by the Australian Classification Board.

Ow, You Bludgeoned My Brain!
It managed an M rating in the U.S. not just for gore and violence, but also for language (the f-word, among others) and partial nudity. Every female fighter is dressed in clothing that'd make Lady Gaga blush, from thongs to skimpy leather vests that don't quite cover beach ball-size breasts. Many of these women augment their skin-revealing getups with sensual come-hither motions.

Then there's the hinky spirituality that comes along with a prominent Netherrealm. Many fighters look suspiciously like demons. And to fend off this diabolical influence, we're offered a curious mishmash of Eastern mysticism, including fighting monks, thunder deities and directives from the "elder gods."

All that to say: Mortal Kombat is much the same as it was back in 1992—only bloodier and more brutal. (Something game critics wouldn't have dreamed humanly possible back then.) It's as if these combatants are stuck in a limitless loop with no hope of escape. No matter how well you fight, no matter how many matches you win, no matter how many opponents you kill, the kombat will go on.

Until, of course, gamers stop buying the thing.

Who says pacifism doesn't work?

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