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Mortal Kombat: Back to its brutal best?

It's brought a very special guest star along...

The title says it all: Mortal Kombat. Not Mortal Kombat 9 (as it's the ninth proper beat-'em-up in the series) or Mortal Kombat: The Explodering, or anything so outlandish. Just Mortal Kombat.

It speaks volumes about the need to get back to basics, to deliver a purer fighting experience than we've seen in ages. But with lots and lots of gore, naturally.

Because after years of babalities, animalities and drifting away from the core ultra-violence of a spine-ripping 2D beat-'em-up, Mortal Kombat is getting back to its roots - roots that happily include Raiden using his razor-edged hat to buzzsaw an enemy in two from the groin up, and then hefting the two bloody sides of his fallen opponent skywards in damp, dripping victory.

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And those roots have been missing from the series for a while.

Last year's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe might have been a massive gimmick, but it was a fine fighting game, and a step in the right direction, if perhaps a necessarily toned down one.

Mortal Kombat has always been about outrageously gory finishing moves, so mixing it up with Superman and the Flash necessitated a little judicious restraint. But not so here: this new Mortal Kombat is as bloody - and bloodily entertaining - as any game in the series ever was.

RETURN TO SOURCE
Mortal Kombat is being made by NetherRealm Studios - formerly Midway Games - the development outfit headed up by MK co-creator Ed Boon. As such, it's guided by the man who knows it best, and part and parcel of the back-to-basics ideology behind the game is the return to a pure 2D experience.

Sure, the graphics are all fancy-schmancy 3D (and they look terrific - the characters are brilliantly animated, and the backdrops have real depth) but the actual fighting takes place on a 2D plane, a feature that was apparently one of the two most requested by fans for a new MK game (the other being gorier fatalities).

Like the rejuvenated Super Street Fighter IV, then, Mortal Kombat is catering to the hardcore. The people that grew up with the game and played it to a frightening degree. The kind of people that had the skillset to open up the secret character Reptile on the arcade original - an absurd process that required waiting for a silhouette of the moon to appear while fighting on The Pit level, getting a double flawless victory without blocking, achieving a fatality and beating the now-appeared Reptile in a fight.

(Games were different back in 1992. Is there any title these days that asks you to go to such absurd lengths to find a hidden extra?)

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Of course, Mortal Kombat is calculated to appeal to newcomers too, and the 2D focus makes for an easy entry point, as well as offering a deeper experience for the veterans - there's none of that faffing around with sidesteps and having to think in three dimensions, after all.

But there are changes to the tried-and-tested Mortal Kombat fighting system, which has traditionally had four attack buttons mapped to various different punches and kicks, and relied more heavily on special abilities such as Sub Zero's icy projectiles or Scorpion's enemy reeling harpoon for character and strategy.

X-RAY VISION
This time around, we're getting a more Tekken-like system, in which the attack buttons are bound to each fighter's limb, indicative of a more fluid and deeper fighting system than before.

There's also further strategy involved in the addition of a three-tier super meter. Charge this beauty up by getting certain combos or absorbing particular hits and you get to use it in three different ways: you'll be able to interrupt an enemy's combo (a potentially life-saving manoeuvre); add extra power to your own special attacks; or, most entertainingly of all, perform an X-Ray move.

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