This Mortal Kombat 2011 review is of the PS3 version of the game. It can be found in the new issue of PSM3, which also contains a mountain of Mass Effect 3 information and is in stores soon.
Crunch. The very first thing you'll sit up and take notice of in the new Mortal Kombat is the way every hit feels like an event. Even though characters retain that slightly rubbish, robotic stiffness, each of their blows packs deliciously weighty impact. Coupled with brutal sound design, MK's aesthetics are a treat.
Thanks to the agonising look and feel, the fighting is as blunt and crunchy as it comes. While lacking the nuance and layering of competitors like Street Fighter IV and Marvel Vs Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat still feels like a substantial beat 'em up.
The basic combo system - which you must get to grips with if you've any hope of success later on - is a rather automated affair. Some preset attack button sequences will string together, where others simply won't.
The hit-cancelling, frame-counting fighting game purists may well worry over preset combo commands in the move list, but experimentation reveals a rosier picture than the dial-a-combo hell you might be expecting.
Mortal Kombat never feels as open-ended or accommodating of personal expression as its rivals, but once you accept its values you find a lot to explore. It's less about the ultra-dextrous chaining of command inputs as it is exploiting juggles and hit-stun timings - to often monstrous effect.
Its special-move set is built around fast, rangey attacks that allow you to launch, catch, hit and toy with your woozy opponents with such a relentless assault it almost feels like bullying when you really get going.
Things start out simply enough - open a quick auto-combo with Scorpion, for example, and you can chain into an close-range immolation which glues your opponent to the spot, before teleport-punching around the other side to launch them sky-high with an uppercut.
But with some high-level knowledge of your character, it's possible to keep those poor fools bouncing around from hit-to-hit for incredible periods of time. As you might imagine, the flip side is incredible frustration when you find yourself on the receiving end.
Certain special moves provide mix-up and cross-up opportunities so fast and easy to loop they feel a bit on the tacky side. Worse, the system is stacked in favour of the player who gets a combo rolling first, though there are some surprisingly subtle ways to stop a combo. Again, it takes some considerable time learning a character's move-set to find them.
Mercifully, MK saves itself with a very successful piece of idea-appropriation. It's sprouted a version of Street Fighter IV's power bar, so taking damage fills a gauge which progressively unlocks super-moves, rescuing you from a helpless beating. It adds a new dimension of back-and-forth play that was much needed.
About that gauge. A stage one charge lets you power up any special move, buffing its strength and/or range/size. Stage two unlocks a combo breaker, performed by pushing forward and hitting block between the strikes of a chained beating.
Fill the final stage and you get Mortal Kombat's showboating, agonising X-ray attacks - brutal multi-hitters which splinter bones, burst organs and drain health bars by around a third. Think Street Fighter's Ultra Combos by way of 2001 manga adaptation Ichi The Killer and you're basically there.