Mortal Kombat is a series that's always interested me, but one that I've always found a bit too intimidating to dive into. I've been playing NetherRealm's other major fighting series, the Injustice games, for over a decade now, but never its big triple-A marquee. Perhaps I found the swathes of lore, unfamiliar characters, and near-endless stream of releases too much to invest in.
Fortunately, Mortal Kombat 1 seems to have answered my prayers in this regard. While not a complete reboot of the series like 2011's self-titled entry, it's perfectly welcoming for those like me who may not have seen an easy in for the franchise. It's also absolutely gorgeous and packed with riveting game modes and some of the very best character models I've ever seen.
After spending some time playing through the Story Mode and delving into the new and more bountiful game modes on offer, it's definitely converted me to the fighting genre, and the Mortal Kombat franchise as a whole. Fight!
What will strike you first when playing Mortal Kombat 1 is just how much is packed into it. Outside of the evergreen online modes that provide no end to the battles you can fight, there are various more focused, narrative-driven modes to explore.
I've spent most of my time so far in the dedicated Story Mode, which is a loose retelling of the original game's world building, and an expansion from there on. It's far more in-depth than the only other NetherRealm story I've played in Injustice: Gods Among Us, with dense writing and tonnes of characters to meet throughout its chapters. There's a very heavy lean towards cinematics - around a 70:30 split between cutscenes and gameplay, I'd wager - which may put off those solely looking to engage in battles. I don't mind it personally, as found myself engaged with the story and the clever deviations from established lore, but it's worth bearing in mind.
If you're after pure action-packed, ahem, Kombat, then the new Invasion mode is a perfect choice. Operating with the visuals of a very tongue-in-cheek board game, you progress through increasingly difficult fights with witty voiceovers and plenty of nods to the franchise's history. It's more of a straight gauntlet of fights without as much storytelling, and while I still preferred pounding through the main campaign, it's great fun if you want to blitz through a few battles without too much interruption.
On top of that you've got the usual gamut of online and offline multiplayer modes, which are as in-depth as ever. The roster may appear a bit thinner than we've seen in previous titles, but there's enough here to find your ideal fighter and train up to tackle online foes - even if the prospect of getting comboed into a Fatality terrifies me.
Gameplay and graphics
As I mentioned earlier, Mortal Kombat 1 looks simply astonishing. Some of the character models in those Story Mode cutscenes are staggeringly lifelike, and that translates to the detailed arenas and brutal Finisher moves, too. The game runs splendidly on PS5, and with next to no loading screens, it's all just a breeze to progress through.
One thing that took a while to grasp is all the new mechanics and moves. Chief of all is the Kameo feature, where you can summon an AI companion for a brief reprieve in battle, with just the click of a button. It's handy if you're getting swamped and need to break up enemy attacks, and combined with the right inputs you can even use it while performing a combo.
Skill reigns supreme in Mortal Kombat 1, and the sheer breadth of available moves for each of the 20+ fighters is super impressive. I've yet to even scratch the surface of what's on offer, but there's a raw satisfaction to choosing a move from the list and pulling it off during a match to land a gnarly combo. That rewarding gameplay loop is what will motivate me to continue learning more, until I've got a main fighter and can pull off combos with my eyes closed. I just wish you could pin moves to your HUD as you could in previous Mortal Kombat games, and the Injustice series - this feels like a poor oversight.
But that's not enough to detract from the sheer unfettered fun I had with Mortal Kombat 1. It's as polished and refined as the series has ever been, and works on both levels as a love letter to fans and a brilliant starting point for newbies.
I'm still terrified that I'll be the benevolent donor of various Flawless Victories for my opponents, but that's all part of Mortal Kombat 1's nifty refinement of the fighting formula.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. A code was provided by the publisher.