Mortal Kombat 1 Review | An Experience Beyond Earthrealm

A new Earthrealm brings the some of the best Kombat the franchise has ever had.

Some of my earliest gaming memories have come from the Mortal Kombat series, jumping in and slamming on buttons when I was likely far too young to be experiencing the type of violence that was being put on the screen before me. My brother and I would take turns on the Super Nintendo, trying to figure out how to finally input a Fatality on our worst enemies, and likely failing every time.

However, as the flow of time continues to go on, so must the franchises we know and love. After a rocky couple of years in the early 2000s, the Mortal Kombat series got itself back on track with the much-beloved Mortal Kombat reboot in 2011 and has been on an upward track from there. Does Mortal Kombat 1 continue the upward trend toward the heavens, or does it find itself on the highway to the Neatherrealm?

An Audio Nerd’s Dream & A Visual Smörgåsbord

Screenshot by Prima Games

If I could go back in time and show my younger self how good the visuals and sounds are in Mortal Kombat 1, there is no way I would believe myself. NetherRealm Studios has always done a fantastic job on facial animation, but there were a few times that I was playing through the story mode that I needed to stop and show my wife, also a Mortal Kombat nerd, how absolutely stunning these models are.

While there are plenty of familiar names, there aren’t many familiar faces this time around. Due to the overarching and ever-complicating story that Boon and the team continue to wind together, every character on the Mortal Kombat 1 roster has gotten a complete makeover and overhaul, and they look fantastic. Subtle wrinkles fold on faces, winces of pain that look unnaturally convincing, and environmental details shine in this fighting title, breaking into the uncanny valley more often than I would like to admit. And that’s just during the cutscenes.

“Actions such as Fatal Blows, which carry over from Mortal Kombat 11, make me worried that Ed Boon has some sort of torture dungeon going on in his studio because these sounds are frighteningly lifelike in the most delicious of ways.”

During gameplay, character models look fluid and fantastic, with excellent animation work that would make most martial arts cinematographers smile. Every impact is felt and with an overhauled fluids system, blood and other… bodily fluids like bile look more frighteningly realistic than ever before. Every character is packed with excellent detail, from the back of Reptile’s belt subtly hinting at his true form, to the intricately tattooed hands of Kenshi, it’s hard to nitpick what the crew could have done better with their current-gen debut.

The sound design, however, is on a completely different level. Playing both over my home speaker system, and enclosed in my own world with a pair of open-backed headphones, every crunch, squelch, rip, and tear is sickeningly composed in the utmost gruesome detail. Actions such as Fatal Blows, which carry over from Mortal Kombat 11, make me worried that Ed Boon has some sort of torture dungeon going on in his studio because these sounds are frighteningly lifelike in the most delicious of ways. Please, NetherRealm Studios, continue doing what you’re doing here, and I’ll always be happy to soak up the sounds of your madness.

A Story Mode That Almost Reaches Elder God Status

Screenshot by Prima Games

It’s hard to judge a fighting game on the merit of its story, but that is another point that Mortal Kombat 1 excels in, for the most part. While there is some eye-rollingly cringy dialogue alongside a few stilted lines in the delivery, I found myself completely hooked and unable to tear myself away from my television set.

As a retelling of the classic Mortal Kombat lore, this is another reboot to the franchise that actually does more to tie it all together than originally anticipated. For fans that have been playing for countless years, there is enough fan service here to give Metal Gear Solid 4 a run for its money, and I hate to admit that I’m a complete sucker for it through and through. During the moments of tension, I was stuck to the end of my seat, even if a quick “Marvel-ism” type of quip can take me out of the action just a bit more than I’d like to admit.

While these characters may share the same names as characters we have known and loved in the past, they’re completely new versions of these iconic players. Without going into too much detail to avoid spoiling some of the biggest surprises that the story mode has to offer, it’s something that you should experience to believe. Sure, there are a few moments that had me tilting my head in disbelief, and the final two acts completely throw any bit of seriousness out of the window to produce some of the wildest Mortal Kombat story lore that has ever been conceived, but it’s easily one of my favorite stories that I’ve played this year, fighting game or not.

Story cutscenes are rendered at 30 frames per second, lending to a more cinematic feel that helps immerse the player in the excellently rendered models, with a quick swap to 60 frames as soon as the action starts. During my playtime with Mortal Kombat 1, I never experienced a frame drop during the action, but there were a few moments of slowdown during some of the cutscenes. However, I would assume that this is due to me playing a pre-release copy of the game that has not received the Day 1 patch as we have become so accustomed to.

The New Kombat System Feels Great In The Hand

Screenshot by Prima Games

Since the reveal trailer, NeatherRealm Studios promised that this was going to be the biggest step forward for the Mortal Kombat franchise. However, even considering the Kameo system, it still feels like Mortal Kombat. For those who don’t like how Mortal Kombat plays, this isn’t going to change your mind, but for those who love the franchise, it’s the best it’s felt in quite some time.

With every game since Mortal Kombat 9 (2011), there have always been new gimmicks introduced to change up the gameplay. Some stay and the majority of them go, and without a doubt, the Kameo System is the gimmick of this game. Gone are the environmental attacks that you could do in Mortal Kombat 11, replaced with a Marvel vs. Capcom-esque partner system that lets you bring out a helping hand to help you start, continue, or end a combo in style. And it feels great overall.

“There is no button mashing here; with a detailed combo list available for every character on the roster, you’re going to want to practice before you face off against other players. “

With different types of Kameo fighters available for all of your gameplay types, you’ll want to select one that will help push your combos to new levels. Using a Kameo in the middle of a sticky situation never gets old, and if you’re itching for that classic Mortal Kombat action, you can just disregard the button that would normally bring them out. Action is fast and snappy, with your skill with each character determining how well you are going to do. There is no button mashing here; with a detailed combo list available for every character on the roster, you’re going to want to practice before you face off against other players.

Ditching the multiple combat styles of previous titles, you’ll have one set character to use and master. While some may view this as a step down from Mortal Kombat 11, the fluidity of combat, the speed in which action takes place, and the general feel of the characters under your control feel better than they ever have, in my eyes. Instant response from the press of a button, and you’ll be ready to start your favorite special move-up once again.

Plenty Of Kontent To Keep You Happy For Years To Come

Screenshot by Prima Games

Beyond Story Mode, Online modes, and your standard battles against the CPU and friends, Mortal Kombat 1 introduces a new mode: Invasions. This game mode is a slick cross between an easily digestible RPG, complete with a leveling system and stats that you can continue to sink points into, and a board game. Mini-games have been a big factor in the Mortal Kombat series since the introduction of Test Your Might in the original arcade game. Granted, while it’s no Motor Kombat like what was on display during MK: Armageddon, it’s a very interesting and unique idea.

In this mode, you’ll be facing off against facsimiles of the normal Kombat Kast, but with unique twists that keep the battles more exciting and unexpected. While the fighter you’re paired up against may look like Liu Kang, you’ll find that there is more often than not, something that doesn’t meet the eye.

Super Armor, Talismans, and so many more little pieces put this puzzle together, keeping fights from feeling stale even though you are doing one after another. There’s enough variety here to keep combat encounters from feeling too frustrating, with each side getting its own special powers that can change the tide of the battle in a matter of moments.

If this doesn’t tickle your fancy, however, you’ll always be able to jump into the familiar Towers setup of Kombat. Facing off against teams of two warriors in an ever-increasing bout of Mortal Kombat is always exciting, especially if you’re willing to crank the difficulty up to higher degrees. There is something so gratifying about taking down the final boss with just a sliver of health remaining, especially when you need to worry about restarting from the bottom if you fail. It’s reminiscent of losing your quarter back in the days when the Arcade ruled supreme.

The Kharacters Have So Much Character

Screenshot by Prima Games

What good is a fighting game if the roster isn’t the best that it could be, though? Thankfully, Mortal Kombat 1 brings the heavy hitters front and center. As one of the first games in many moons to not introduce any new combatants to the neverending conflict that plagues the lands of Earthrealm and the Outworld, it’s great to see the familiar characters we have gotten to know and love over these years receive such love and care. And finally, we have a version of Reptile that absolutely rocks.

Seeing familiar faces like Scorpion and Sub Zero is always expected, but seeing the return of many 3D-era combatants brought a smile to my face when I first entered the character select screen. Brought to life with new personalities and designs, it’s intriguing to see the direction that certain characters have gone this time around. Seeing characters that I would have thought to be long forgotten like Havik and Nitara come back into a new game and be major players in the story is a dream come true.

With a base roster of 23 characters, there is someone for everyone. Each character is unique in their own right, and there aren’t any characters that feel like one another, making every battle unpredictable and exciting in every possible way. While the pre-fight banter may have only been reduced to two lines, they’re still just as impactful as the fists that fly afterward. Sure, some of the voice acting (okay, mainly just Nitara’s) falls flat, but each character isn’t afraid to let their personality fly before a battle to the death begins.

Video by Prima Games

And what is a Mortal Kombat game without the Fatalities? They’re here, and more disgusting than ever. I remember back when I was a kid, the thought of Sub Zero doing the iconic Spineripper was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen. Now, we’ve got General Shao doing windmills so fast that it rips the flesh and sinew off of a still living combatant while they scream in agony. It’s sick, twisted, and just plain amazing. I’m not sure how they continue coming up with Fatalities that continue to outshine the previous entries, but these stand as some of the best finishing moves in gaming.

The only thing I can complain about when it comes to the characters is the inability to control Kameo characters in addition to your main choice. While I love the mainstays that have made their way onto the roster, the lack of Sonya and Jax, alongside all of the other characters in the Kameo system may be an immediate interest destroyer. Sure, you can summon them into battle and even perform iconic fatalities from previous games, but it would have been excellent to control them in a full tag-team dynamic.

Online Play Delivers A Flawless Victory

Mortal Kombat 1 All Kameo Fighters - Listed
Screenshot by Prima Games

What good is a competitive fighting game without proper online support, though? When I played through the initial stress test, I was worried. The game looked great, even back then, but the online performance was less than stellar. However, after spending just under 9 hours online with this title, I am happy to say that it’s a smooth operator now.

Facing off in Kombat against other talented players has always been one of the strongest selling points of the Mortal Kombat series, and Mortal Kombat 1 keeps the tradition of Kombat alive and well. While playing connected with an ethernet connection, I faced little to no issues with delay, lag, or disconnects. The online portion of this title feels smooth and fully functional, and it seems the team at NetherRealm is closely monitoring it, taking it down for maintenance if anything seems to be going wrong.

Featuring Rollback Netcode, it’s one of the smoothest online experiences I’ve had in quite some time, especially with a fighting game. It immediately flooded my mind with memories of playing Mortal Kombat (2011) with a group of friends, watching as we each took turns trying to take down the reigning champion in tournament mode. Mortal Kombat 1 delivers not only from a single-player standpoint but excels as a Multiplayer extravaganza.

The Verdict

Mortal Kombat 1 is an absolute love letter to fans in every facet of its design. From the exquisitely designed stages that morph and meld as the combat reaches the highest points of the action to the revamped characters that you’ll find within this new version of the world, Mortal Kombat 1 may be my new personal favorite Mortal Kombat experience. You can feel the love that NetherRealms Studios put into this entry, and it shows in every way.

While the sometimes stilted and cringy dialogue in the main story may be a knock off of an otherwise excellent game, there is very little here to complain about. Mortal Kombat 1 has instantly gone to the top of my favorite fighting games of all time, challenging the likes of classic Mortal Kombat games and even the most recent in other franchises. Get ready for Kombat, Mortal, and strap in for a wild ride.

9.5

Mortal Kombat 1

Mortal Kombat 1 is an absolute love letter to fans in every facet of its design. From the exquisitely designed stages that morph and meld as the combat reaches the highest points of the action to the revamped characters that you'll find within this new version of the world, Mortal Kombat 1 may be my new personal favorite Mortal Kombat experience.

Pros

  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Sound work is out of this realm
  • Kombatants feel excellent to control
  • Filled to the brim with content

Cons

  • Voice work is somewhat cringy during Story Mode
  • Kameo characters pull down the main roster slightly

A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review. Reviewed on PlayStation 5.

About the Author

Shaun Cichacki

As a fan of RPGs, Action & Retro titles, Shaun has been gaming since he was a young boy. With an overwhelming obsession involving Metal Gear Solid and Pizza Tower, you know you're in for a wild ride when it comes to things he's writing about.