I’m far from a fighting game fan. I never played them when I was younger, I’m terrible at Smash Bros, and I’ve never managed to get to grips with the intricate reading of movements needed to be good at them.
I was shocked then, when I came away from Gamescom 2023 with Mortal Kombat 1 as my favourite game of the show.
That’s not because I was good at it - because I wasn’t - but rather down to how impressive Mortal Kombat 1 is, both as a package and as a fighting game showcase.
Invasion mode impressions
First of all, I spent 20 minutes with Mortal Kombat 1’s new Invasion mode, which acts as both a new single-player mode and a thorough tutorial. It slowly introduces you to the basic mechanics and the more advanced ones, structured as a board game RPG.
You move between points on a board-like map, fighting characters along the way, levelling up your own, and unlocking things like in-game currency and cosmetics. At some points on the board, you can choose your path to different fights, or even head through doors to particularly challenging encounters that certainly weren’t for me.
As a new player, Invasion is an excellent way to learn the mechanics of Mortal Kombat while still seeing some progression. It’s much, much better than just practicing in basic modes with the hope I get better.
The map itself is gorgeously designed and it certainly scratches that itch of ticking things off, even if the stage repetition is a bit much. “Just one more move” will inevitably be a thought for anyone who jumps into it. NetherRealm has also committed to supporting the mode past the game’s release, adding new content for players to unlock and expanding the maps available to play through.
There are also “modifiers” that change up each point on the board, which can be things like moves slowing down for the fight, certain status effects being more impactful, or projectiles randomly being fired into the arena for you to try and avoid between attacks.
That being said, Invasion is more of an extra bonus than a true highlight. Unless you’re trying to learn the MK1 mechanics, the new story mode is a far, far better option.
Mightily impressive story mode
That’s less a slight on Invasion mode than it is a compliment of Mortal Kombat 1’s story mode. It’s the best thing I played at Gamescom this year.
I won’t pretend to know the lore behind the new story, as a relative newbie to the Mortal Kombat series, but it seems to be changing up the whole formula. The reveal of the mode reads: “The game occurs in a fresh timeline created by the newly crowned Fire God, Liu Kang. Characters’ roles have switched, and designs changed, such as Kuai Liang - the second Sub Zero - being the Scorpion of this world.”
What I loved so much about the section of the story mode that I played is how much of a cinematic masterclass it is.
It is gorgeous for one, with visuals that rival any other AAA adventure game, and it expertly weaves the fighting into the narrative. Characters improve as the rivalry between Raiden and Kung Lao develops too, so it doesn’t just feel like you’re playing a sequence of cutscenes.
I left the demo pretty blown away by the sheer technical mastery Mortal Kombat 1’s story mode showcased. I wonder, though, if story mode and Invasion are two ends of a spectrum that should share more similarities.
There’s quite a contrast between Invasion’s lack of story-telling, even if it evolves over time, and the very regimented structure of story mode, lacking the personal aspects.
That being said, you can’t help but be impressed by Mortal Kombat 1’s single player options. More content is unlikely to be a bad thing, especially when it promises a lot of variety that’ll be perfect for both fighting game newcomers and experts.