Armageddon has probably the best intro we've seen in anything, anywhere, ever. Oh, other games might be more subtle or cinematic or clever, but they haven't got 60 seconds of the Nether-realm's finest punching, stabbing, spearing, disembowelling and firing skeletons at each other, topped off by zombie Liu Kang punching it out with Shang Tsung on top of another big pyramid. (Note to other developers: if your series is getting a bit stale, make the main character a zombie. It works.)
Anyway, the intro's the best possible introduction to the central conceit of Armageddon: every playable character, from every Kombat, taking each other on in the mother of all, um... Kombats. Previously 2D characters are there - so are super-obscure secret characters like Rain and Meat. Even the six bosses - Goro, Kintaro, Motaro, Shao Kahn, Dragon King and Blaze are there, with slightly weightier character models than the rest. They're tougher to knock down but not as good at jumping. Hmm. Seems like a sensible trade-off.
KHARACTERS UP, KHOMBOS DOWN
With this sheer volume of kombatants, though, something has to give, and here it's the subtleties of the fighting. For starters, instead of having three styles as previously, each character is now down to two - hand-to-hand and weapons - which makes things less confusing, but also limits your combo possibilities. Air kombat's new, but not too impressive - it's just a variation on the traditional juggle move that sees you follow characters into the air, not the full-on aerial fight shown in that intro. Probably the best addition is the Breaker - a well-timed tap of block will knock your opponent out of a combo and leaves them dazed, which is perfect for countering aggressive fighters. Still, Armageddon doesn't seem particularly balanced - Sektor's brilliant, for instance, while Li Mei's a bit duff. Instead of trying to take on the mighty Tekken or Virtua Fighter, MortalKombat snuggles down quite happily next to Def Jam by simply being fun, rather than worry too much about whether they've created a perfectly-balanced game.
Create-a-Fatality mode's the perfect alternative to fiddly, difficult-to-remember, character-specific moves - simply double-tapping the pad in any direction and pressing a button kicks the fatality process off, with added levels of brutality available if you've got the timing down. Kombat even offers a decent character-creation facility, although you'll tend to find that it's brilliant for making certain characters that Midway can't legally include - like Lara Croft, Ghost Rider, Mr Han from Enter The Dragon and Guile from Street Fighter 2 - but not so good at anything else.
QUOTH THE TAVEN
Elsewhere, a ton of effort's gone into Konquest mode this year, but it's still somewhat hit and miss. You play Taven, who's been sent on a quest to retrieve a mysterious artefact that's the key to ruling Outword - which, in practically terms, means beating up several million ninjas and forward-rolling past a lot of spinny blades and squashing pistons. There's plenty of variety - one second you're uppercutting ninjas into a spiked ceiling, the next you're squashing them with a giant hammer - but the fighting system is a hugely simplified version of the one in Mortal Kombat:Shaolin Monks, and never really feels that challenging. Taven's about as loveable a central character as Fran Cosgrove, and the fights with each Kombat character are totally crowbarred in - you don't even get to perform a Fatality move at the ends.