Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mortal Kombat: Deception Review

The latest in Midway's influential and long-running fighting game series, Mortal Kombat: Deception, picks up where 2002's Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance left off by featuring lots of new and returning fighters and a variety of surprising new modes of play. The new GameCube version of the game, released some months after Deception's debut on the PS2 and Xbox, lacks the earlier versions' most compelling feature--the ability to play online--but partly makes up for that (and lost time) with a couple of classic characters exclusively added to this roster. The strangest part about Deception is how it includes several completely off-the-wall modes, the likes of which you'd never expect from a fighting game. These are the single-player konquest mode, which is a story-driven adventure; puzzle kombat, a competitive Tetris-style puzzle game that's an unabashed homage to Capcom's Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo; and chess kombat, which is inspired by the classic computer game Archon. The konquest mode is disappointingly bland, while these other two modes are at least amusing. However, the core one-on-one fighting action is easily the best part of the game. It's gory, intense, and quite complex, meaning it captures much of what has made MK an institution among fighting games.

Those familiar with the other versions of Deception will find that the GameCube version is identical for the most part, though it does have a few key differences. Yeah, it's too bad there's no online play, but you do get two new characters, both playable right from the get-go. Shao Kahn is the stronger and tougher-looking of the two, although each one is a respectable facsimile of his classic MK counterpart. Each also has his signature moves (Shao Kahn has his sledgehammer and his taunts, for example), plus a bunch of new ones. Goro looks a bit anemic, but all in all, these two fit in well with the rest of the cast, and they're a nice bonus. The other thing about the GameCube version of Deception is that many more characters are unlocked right up front (including Hotaru, Kira, and everyone's favorite, Noob-Smoke), so you immediately get a total of 20 fighters to choose from, whereas the PS2 and Xbox versions have only 12 initially playable. This means there's less reason to play through konquest mode, the key to unlocking most of the game's hidden content. Konquest mode is a drag, so this is a good thing.

The fighting system in Deception hasn't changed much from that of Deadly Alliance. Once again, the main twist that distinguishes this game from other 3D fighting games is that each character may freely switch between three different martial arts styles during battle--one of which is always a weapon-based style of some sort. Each character possesses a handful of unique special moves, as well as a bunch of different chain combos, some of which involve switching between different martial arts styles in midcombo. The sheer variety of different martial arts featured in MK: Deception is quite impressive, and the overall look and feel of the action is clearly inspired by kung fu movies--to good effect. Whereas many fighting games take their cues from anime and aim for action that looks more stylish than downright painful, MK: Deception goes for the hard-hitting staccato rhythms of Hong Kong action cinema and doesn't skimp on graphic violence. The results don't always look perfectly fluid or natural--especially since many of the characters look rather stiff--but the fighting in MK: Deception nevertheless features a ton of painful-looking moves that cause the opponent on the receiving end to reel backward, oftentimes gushing blood. The fighting action is ridiculously over the top, and, as a result, it's often quite funny.

There's a good, responsive feel to the action. The game plays OK using the stock GameCube controller, despite the small D pad and asymmetrical button layout. There's decent variety within the roster of selectable characters as well. In MK tradition, the fighters here aren't drastically different from one another. Though their special moves and combos are unique, it's not difficult to learn how to play as the different characters once you've grasped the basic game mechanics. The typical match unfolds as your average best-two-out-of-three-rounds fighting game battle, but MK: Deception does have a few twists. For one thing, it's now possible to execute combo breakers (in a nod to the fighting game Killer Instinct) that let you instantly disrupt the opponent when you're on the receiving end of a string of attacks. Combo breakers are really easy to perform, but the catch is that you can use these only a few times during a match, and they cause no damage to the opponent. So they introduce a welcome bit of strategy to a match. Should you use your breakers right away or try to save them to turn the tables at the end of a match? MK: Deception makes a few other tweaks to Deadly Alliance's gameplay, such as eliminating the powerful impaling moves from that game and adding (back) a whole bunch of uppercut attacks--MK standbys that seemed noticeably absent from Deadly Alliance.

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