MK characters have never been known for their personalities; it's been their unique finishing moves that really helped set them apart. But now, every fighter gets to string together the same types of fatalities, involving limb ripping, heart pulling, head crushing, and so forth. It's definitely amusing at first, as well as a lot easier to figure out than fatalities were in previous installments. But it gets old, and it can take too long. Some moves let you keep spinning the opponent around and around, dragging the fatality process on for much longer than the shocking-but-brief moves that made the series famous. This fatality system could have been a good alternative to having signature moves for each character, but as a replacement for unique, character-specific fatalities, it's a letdown. At least there are brief, character-specific spoken endings to make it worth bothering to play through as any of the fighters you like.
The fighting engine itself is showing some serious signs of aging, as well. It doesn't nearly offer the same fast-paced, fluid feel that's common to other fighting games these days, and it instead focuses on "dialing in" canned combos to deal damage to an opponent who leaves himself open. There's a new parrying system and air combo system, but they don't help the gameplay's awkward look or its counterintuitive feel. This MK is still recycling a lot of the same graphics and animations from 2002's Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, so even when you're running the game on a wide-screen progressive-scan display, the action doesn't always looks flattering. There are a good number of amusing or painful-looking animations, as well as awkward-looking moves that cause the same old blood to start spraying. The game looks virtually the same and runs just as smoothly on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, though the Xbox version is a little cleaner. As in the last MK, some of the stages add some complexity to the action since they include deathtraps that can instantly end a round, but most of the novelty of this is gone, too. At least the game's audio has held up better than the visuals. There's not much voice work, but the full-contact hits and the gloomy music still sound good.
As for the kreate-a-fighter mode, you get a lot more control over how your character looks than over how he or she plays. You can assign different punches, kicks, and special moves, but ultimately you're still stuck picking and choosing from a list of prefab fighting techniques. Maybe that's to be expected, but without a particularly impressive fighting system to look forward to, the prospect of creating your own fighter isn't all that compelling...especially when there are already so many fighters to choose from.
It's hard to get too excited about the audiovisual presentation of this latest MK since it's so similar to the previous games.
If you want to take your business online, you can play both the standard one-on-one kombat mode as well as eight-player motor kombat. For the fighting mode, you can choose whether or not to allow custom fighters online, though pitting your created fighter against those of other players will likely help keep things interesting for longer. Besides, the balance among the 60-or-so stock characters in the game is already pretty suspect--konquest mode stars Shujinko and Taven stand out as having fast moves for every situation, for example. During our online testing, we experienced responsive and lag-free gameplay on the Xbox, while performance on the PS2 was a little spottier and the player-matching process isn't as streamlined, but your mileage may vary. Speaking of which, don't expect much lasting value from motor kombat. Aside from the concept's inherent appeal, this is a simplistic kart racing game that isn't as fun or interesting as the average game of the sort, and online performance seemed laggier than the fighting portion.
Despite the smorgasbord of different features, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon falls short of being a highly satisfying new entry in a long-running series that's decidedly had its ups and downs. Some older Mortal Kombat games, like MK Trilogy, have attempted a quantity-over-quality approach that might have seemed exciting to MK fans at first but winded up leaving many of them cold. On the other hand, sequels like MK II, MK3, and MK: Deadly Alliance substantially revised the characters and gameplay and were a lot more satisfying as a result. MK: Armageddon presumably will be the last time we get a Mortal Kombat game on the PS2 and Xbox, but if nothing else, you can tell there are still a lot of good ideas brewing in here. So with any luck, the series is far from finished.