Back in the early 1990s, controversy and concern swirled around increasingly graphic and realistic violence in the video game industry. And of all the games that stirred people up, Mortal Kombat was the title on everybody’s lips. Originally dreamed up as a fighting game concept to showcase actor Jean-Claude Van Damme, the game morphed into something much closer to a horror-fantasy .
MK splashed on the scene, in a digitally bloody way. Certain fighting game lovers, uh, loved all its hyper gore and over-the-top messiness. Parents? Not so much. In fact, the excruciating nastiness of this fighting franchise soon generated, all on its own, demands for some kind of control of the industry. And the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) was born.
So now, all these years and myriad violent games later, what does a Mortal Kombat title look like? Let’s see.
Mortal Kombat 11 is without question a much more crisply animated, sweeping game than those of the past. It’s very movie-like and visually impressive. For those who know nothing about the series’ twisting and turning history, though, much of this game’s story will be meaningless, or at least a little tough to jump into without a primer beforehand. Then again, this latest entry takes all of that into account by creating a single-player mode that gathers the good guys and baddies of the present and mixes them in with classic characters from throughout the franchise’s bloody history.
The gaming tale centers around a lightning bolt-equipped battler named Raiden who was once a seriously good and stalwart defender of EarthRealm, the world of mankind. These days, though, this good guy has let his increased power, anger and darkness go to his head—which isn’t such a good thing if you’re an adversary who doesn’t want his noggin ripped from his neck and plopped down on a bloody plate.
So a formidable and mysterious godlike woman named Kronika steps forward to fix all the negative ripples she perceives that Raiden has caused in the sands of time. That, you see, is her realm of influence. This seemingly unbeatable immortal tears into her plan and rips the universal timeline apart, blending the past with the future. Now those who used to be good, but turned evil, are duplicated in heroic form once more. And some characters long dead are back for another go.
But is this Kronika a good entity herself? It would seem so … except for all the gruesomely bloody and incredibly deadly means she uses to reach her ends.
Of course, even though the story mode is a very creative, entertaining, and relatively lengthy training exercise, it really doesn’t matter if you’re digging the cinematic tale. The game wants you to get fighting.
MK 11’s roster of new and old characters features fighters with their own skill sets, moves and favorite weapons. They include viciously rending swords; hammers and spears; ridding gunfire; flesh-singeing magical blasts; time and matter-bending attacks; and just enough rippling muscle to snatch a heart clean out of an opponent’s ribcage.
Then it’s on to mastering the many combo attacks, counter attacks and “punish” moves. And when your health meter dips below a certain point there is a ridiculously powerful “fatal blow” available that just might pull your bacon out of the fire at a dire moment. With practice and button punching memorization you can string together scores of moves and attacks that flow like an onrushing river of blood.
And boy there’s plenty of that.
If you’ve been wondering if this is a kinder, gentler Mortal Kombat, let me brush that thought aside with a goopy sponge. The battle system may be more refined, but the match-ending kill moves are anything but. MK 11 knows where its bread is buttered and it doles out messy kills with firehose intensity.
You’ll see faces snatched clean off the bone. Slow-motion, X-ray views of bones shattering. Limbs get hacked off, blown off or ripped off like a fly’s wings. Bodies burst like water balloons or are crushed and popped with large weapons or rocks. Heads are mushed, or merely mutilated in a variety of ways or impaled through the eye on spikes or cut off with an electrified garrote.
Some attacks leave an enemy’s entrails dangling, rend him to his skeletal basics or rip him apart so gruesomely as to leave nothing but splashed gore and a head attached to a writhing backbone. It’s an ongoing parade of grisly, ghastly death in high-def detail and graphic clarity.
All that brutally intense, blood-smeared mess means you might almost miss the game’s other M-rated issues, from characters’ skin-baring outfits to their profane f- and s-word packed dialogue. But that’s all a part of the gaming mix, too.
Yeah, the years have passed, and Mortal Kombat may no longer be on the top of every parent’s hit list. But the ESRB that the game helped make necessary, sure isn’t going any easier on it.
And for very good reason.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.