Mortal Kombat: Armageddon Review
There are some franchises that have this mythical aura about them; this legendary mystique that only a select few big names can claim. You've heard of many; Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Gran Turismo, Halo, and Mortal Kombat are just a few. There are many others, but the latter is our point of interest for today, as we dive into the last (supposedly) installment in the revolutionary fighting series that sparked so much praise and controversy back in the early ‘90s. As one of the biggest arcade draws in history, the series has gone on to enjoy all kinds of success on the home consoles, but does Midway's historical fighter go out with a bang or a whimper?
First of all, the visuals aren't exactly the best on the PS2 - or any last-gen platform, for that matter - but then again, Mortal Kombat was never a bastion of graphical excellence. At the same time, however, the visuals remain solid and consistent throughout all modes of play (and there are more than you think!), and there's a nice level of detail in each character. The backgrounds are well-designed and even inspired in some ways, but we would've liked to see more refinement and clarity the whole way ‘round. It also can't stand up to the likes of Virtua Fighter or Tekken, and that's a definite negative that is too easily recognized.
The sound consists of some mediocre voice acting, a little above-average effects, and a better soundtrack than in most recent MK installments. There's actually a story mode in this one, which is where you'll find those forgettable voiceovers, and the effects seem only mildly upgraded from the old 2D days. However, Midway included a pretty cool soundtrack for this one, featuring a combination of hard rock and driving classical themes, all of which properly enhance the intimidating atmosphere. There just doesn't seem to be much in the way of marked improvement where the effects are concerned, and unfortunately, it's a glaring flaw that consistently rears its ugly head. In the end, though, the overall sound presentation does work well.
Remember the good ol' days when the only two options you had in a fighting game were Arcade (or an uber-lame Story or Mission) Mode and Versus? Well, the final Mortal Kombat incarnation sports a whole lot more, and it really benefits from those extra options. But let's start with the control, simply because in a fighting game, control is paramount to a successful experience. In fact, it's one of the few genres (if not the only genre) that relies almost entirely on a solid control scheme to carry the game to that coveted "addictive-as-hell" plateau. For Armageddon, we find a slightly revamped and more disciplined fighting format, which is actually quite refreshing...if somewhat disconcerting.
The old MKs were crazy responsive, but of course, you have to suspend belief when playing these games. They don't exactly represent the pinnacle of reality; not when Scorpion is half undead and Shang Tsung is ripping your soul through the skin in a crazy fatality. However, Midway has slowed down the speed significantly over the years, perhaps to capture a more physically accurate persona for their popular franchise. However, it's difficult to discern if they succeeded with MKs swansong. Sure, there are a ton of fighting styles on display - even enough to rival Virtua Fighter - but how well do they translate in actual combat?
The problem is that, despite the inherent differences afforded by each style, many of them simply come across as too similar thanks to the ever-arcadey style. Hesitating in mid-air to pummel an opponent probably isn't part of the training for Kung Fu, nor is it even a viable maneuver here on planet earth. Essentially, it's like the developers tried very hard to legitimize the combat with a lot of different fighting styles, but because they didn't really overhaul the actual physics to go along with it, those styles seem borderline superfluous. That being said, it's always a good thing to have a little more depth, even if it is only Mortal Kombat. We are in a new age, after all.
You progress through the Arcade mode as you always did, climbing the ladder for a shot at the latest - and last - evil that man must face. We won't give it away (no spoilers here), but let's just say he's big, powerful, and...on fire. There are more fighters than ever before, spanning from the franchise's inception to the most recent additions, so if you can't find your favorite character here, you simply aren't a fan. You may find that your choice has adopted a fighting style you didn't realize he had, but then again, that's part of the final edition's upgrading. We suggest you just get used to it.
But if you don't have a favorite, you can always partake of the nifty Kreate-a-Fighter option. Much like sports games, you can create your own character, from body type to costume, but there is a caveat: you must obtain enough "koins" to purchase different pieces of equipment and even abilities. You obtain these koins by going through the Konquest mode, which blends action/adventure elements with traditional fighting matches. It's quite thin, though, and most of the time you just search for upgrades and koin, beating on mindless enemies as you make your way through a very linear course. You will encounter regular fights, where you switch to the regular one-on-one battle, but those are usually quite easy.
The story includes two brothers who are placed on earth for a reason, but the story is secondary to the action, which isn't necessarily a positive thing for this mode. It's good fun, though, and you'll learn plenty of great moves as you progress. It's just a tad repetitive, which means you might spend a lot of time honing your skills in Arcade mode or perhaps racing in Kombat Racing...yes, you read that correctly. Believe it or not, the nasty and brutal MK fighters hop in little speedsters to race around kart-like tracks in a different kind of "mortal kombat." Each character has a special attack he can use out there on the course (for instance, Scorpion can spear racers in front and toss them away), and there are various power-ups scattered along the racetrack. It's actually entertaining and well done, but you don't really get anything out of it.
There is a great deal in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon to be happy about. There's an appealing introductory sequence, a huge selection of fighters, multiple and diverse gameplay modes, the option to create and train your own character, and several destructible arenas just waiting to get demolished. The soundtrack fits well with those environments, and the Konquest (aka, Story) mode is better than you might think, but still lacking. And who doesn't like the idea of Kreate-a-Fatality? That alone is something to fiddle around with for quite some time. For a final installment - or so they say; we'll believe it when we see it - this game is good, but perhaps not worth buying unless you're a big fan of the genre. For MK fans, it's probably a must-play, but for the average gamer, Armageddon might not cut the mustard.
There is an online mode, which we didn't get to test, but that should probably add a bit more appeal to this title. And besides, with everything this game has to offer, as unrefined as a lot of it is, you might want to pick it up as a fun party title. Like we said at the start, Mortal Kombat is a name everyone knows.
1/12/2007 Ben Dutka