The goriest fighting game series around returns for another bout in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, which is the first game in the series to let you create your own character as well as your own finishing moves. However, these good-in-theory ideas aren't executed particularly well, and the game's huge assortment of playable characters--including fighters from every previous MK installment--isn't as exciting as it should be. Like the last couple of MK installments, this one throws together a bunch of different, loosely related features. But the sheer volume of different content in this game still can't cover up that the underlying one-on-one combat system hasn't aged all that gracefully.
Mortal Kombat's back, with mixed results. But would you just look at all those characters?
It's been two years since the last major MK title, which added online play and several goofy gameplay modes to the mix. The new game tosses out MK: Deception's gimmicky "puzzle kombat" and "chess kombat" modes, instead replacing them with an equally gimmicky and initially charming minigame, a kart racer called (what else?) "motor kombat." The previous game's "konquest" mode returns only in name and concept, as this single-player action adventure mode is much, much better than the disappointing version in Deception. The konquest mode in Armageddon features gameplay similar to Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, so it lets you take on groups of bad guys and run past some deadly traps from a third-person perspective, in addition to some standard MK battles, all wrapped up in a convoluted storyline. You'll be unlocking things like alternate outfits for characters and new battle arenas throughout this mode, and you'll also earn a ton of money that can be used to unlock most everything else in the "krypt." Of course, you can still just fight, by competing in a standard, progressively tougher series of one-on-one matches against the computer or playing against someone else locally or online.
Strangely enough, the konquest mode, which was such a low point of MK: Deception, is one of the relative strengths of MK: Armageddon. The story focuses on a character named Taven and winds up being an unfocused mishmash, but it packs in a lot of action and throws so many unlockables at you around every corner that it winds up being fun. It spans a good six hours or so and doesn't bog you down in tutorials like Deception's konquest mode did. Even still, it's hardly a sufficient reason on its own to take the plunge on this latest MK.
With all of these other features available, you might wonder if the actual fighting in MK: Armageddon is an afterthought. Then you take one look at the character-select screen, which is practically bursting at the seams with about five dozen different fighters, and you'll think twice. It's like a huge Mortal Kombat reunion. You've got all the classics like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Johnny Cage on the list; second-gen favorites like Jax, Kung Lao, and Baraka; some very obscure characters like just about everyone from MK4; the series' bosses like Goro, Shao Kahn, and Motaro; and more.
Unfortunately, a lot of raw excitement at this huge selection of characters goes away as you realize many of these characters have little to distinguish them from the rest. In the last MK game, each fighter had three different fighting styles you could freely switch between in battle, but now most everyone's down to just two--a hand-to-hand style and a weapon-based style. This change isn't necessarily for the worse, as the prospect of having to memorize moves and combos for so many different characters would be daunting for any fighting-game fan. However, the basic moves and tactics don't differ much from one fighter to the next, and special moves include your basic assortment of projectiles and powered-up punches and kicks. But all this has always been true of Mortal Kombat's gameplay. So what is it about the fighters that makes them all seem the same? It's the game's new "kreate-a-fatality" system.
The new konquest mode is a fun diversion that's by far the most improved aspect of the game.