During the demo of Mortal Kombat X, a room filled with video game hacks saw something I can confidently report that they weren't expecting.
In the middle of a bloody and brutal battle between Scorpion and Sub Zero, we witnessed the latter punch a hole in the stomach of the former and rip out part of his lower intestine. Sub Zero then used his ice powers to fashion said organ into a sharp tipped spear, which he then proceeded to jam into Scorpion's eye.
Think about that for a second. Someone at a development studio imagined that. Then someone in the art department said, "I can draw that!" A team of programmers and artists then set about animating it. And then someone in charge of the budget signed off on it. If the moral hand-wringing brigade has a problem with the violence in games like GTA V and the Call Of Duty franchise, Mortal Kombat X may make them excrete their spines.
Then again, it may not. From the day it first swaggered into arcades, Mortal Kombat was always the noisy kid in the classroom. Its move sets weren't exactly the stuff of legend and its character animations were as jerky as all hell. It wasn't an especially pretty or deep fighter, but it was the only one that allowed players to finish off an opponent by ripping out their spine.
Gore has always been integral to Mortal Kombat, so it may be that the onlookers simply shrug the same way they did when NetherRealm Studios rebooted it as a blood-soaked slugfest in 2011.
"I watched in something approaching dumb awe as Scorpion burned a hole straight through Sub Zero's chest"
The MK entry before that was the decidedly PG Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe, which dialed back the viscera considerably.
This isn't the case with Mortal Kombat X if the Fatality I bore witness to is anything to go by. I watched in something approaching dumb awe as Scorpion burned a hole straight through Sub Zero's chest and then used a katana to cut his face off.
Once again, credit to the developers for making this look as unpleasant as possible; first Sub Zero's mask slides off, then his face - furnishing the viewer with a grisly shot of his frontal lobes and half-empty eye-sockets - and then he falls to the ground and you get to see a close-up of his half severed tongue waggling in his mouth. Doesn't that sound lovely?
So Mortal Kombat X has the shock factor firmly in place, but what made it the belle of my personal E3 ball is the fact that it's a surprisingly deep fighter.
Before they trundle into each battle, players have to select one of three variations for their character. Each variation is a set of moves layered on top of the core move-set of every single character. In other words, a player controlling Sub Zero, for example, now has three different ways they augment the character - and each of these three variations promotes a different style of playing.
Staying with Sub Zero, the three variations on offer are: Grandmaster, Cryomancer and Unbreakable. Grandmaster allows the player to create a double of Sub Zero that they can use to flummox their opponent by suddenly stepping back and creating a target for them to hammer on. They can also pick up their ice double and use it as a thrown projectile. If they opt for the Cryomancer variation, Sub Zero will be able to create weapons made out of ice that the player can use for brutal, quick-fire attacks up close. Unbreakable is Sub Zero's most defensive variation, allowing for more effective blocks and quick counters.
It was hard to gauge from the E3 demo just exactly how deep each variations runs - how many combos, tricks and moves each one has - as the presentation moved at a clip and we weren't allowed to ask any questions.
However, I can report that each variation comes with its own costume - which, once players start getting to grips with Mortal Kombat X will tip them off about the style of play they're facing - and each variation allows for a pretty spectacular attack or two.
The nasty X-Ray moves are back from X's predecessor, which shows an internal view of bones splintering and organs rupturing, and they look as eye-wateringly painful as ever.
Players are also able to use parts of the arena's environment to their advantage too. In the demo I watched, Scorpion and Sub Zero routinely pulled off branches from the trees in the background of their arena and hurled them at each other.
"Scorpion and Sub Zero routinely pulled off branches from the trees in the background and hurled them at each other"
Classic characters, we're told, are making a comeback. You can't make a Mortal Kombat game without having Sub Zero and Scorpion, after all. However, the presentation gave us a glimpse of Cassie Cage (apparently the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade) and Kotal Khan (some bone-mask-wearing bloke).
The second fight in the presentation was between two more new characters: D'Vorah, a yellowish woman-insect hybrid and Ferra/Torr, the first two-character fighter in Mortal Kombat X's history, an impish knife-wielding woman riding the back of a lumbering troll-like brute.
Once again, these new characters each had three variations to choose from, but because they were brand new it was hard to differentiate between core and variation moves.
What we did spot was that Ferra/Torr has a variation called Lackey, which is essentially just Torr, the ogre, attacking the player's opponent while Ferra sits out on the sideline. The character also has a variation called Pain & Gain, in which Ferra stabs Torr in the back, spurring him on and making his attacks more damaging, but at the cost of taking pieces of health off him. D'Vorah, meanwhile, attacks in a flurry of aerial moves and stabbing insect spines.
It's all pretty eye-popping stuff and arguably the last title I expected to be impressed by at E3. Yes, Mortal Kombat X is gratuitous and yes, you could argue it's horribly over the top even for this franchise. But it's a genuinely compelling arcade fighter and, perhaps even more important, it knows what it wants to be. Now all you need is a release date. And maybe a sick bucket.
Mortal Kombat X is in development for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC. The project is scheduled to release some time in 2015