Konquest mode is definitely the weak point of MK: Deception. It's a surprisingly long and drawn-out third-person-perspective adventure game in which you, as an aspiring martial artist named Shujinko, will get to visit many of Mortal Kombat's multidimensional locales to meet many of its characters. Konquest mode also serves as a tutorial, since it'll initially walk you through the basics of combat and teach you most of the different characters' various moves and combos. This all might sound great in theory, but in practice, konquest mode is ugly and dull. Shujinko's journey is just a series of very repetitive point-A-to-point-B fetch quests and combat training exercises that are punctuated only rarely by an actual good, old-fashioned fight. Shujinko ages during the course of konquest mode, and there are a few other nice touches, like how you can just go ahead and punch anybody for any reason at any time while running around. However, these don't save konquest mode from being disappointing. The whole thing just looks and feels awkward, and the lousy voice acting and poor graphics will probably keep you from getting into the long-winded and utterly predictable storyline. Diehard MK fans will find some pleasant cameo appearances in konquest mode, but it's still a chore.
Konquest mode is lame, but you'll need to play it to unlock most of the game's best-kept secrets.
Yet you need to play konquest mode to access most of the good, unlockable features in the game. You'll run across vast fields while collecting "koins" and opening treasure chests that contain still more koins. Occasionally, you'll discover a key of some sort. Koins and keys are used in Deception's krypt, which, much like the krypt in Deadly Alliance, is basically where you unlock all the game's hidden content by cashing in your earnings. You earn koins while playing the other modes (though, unfortunately, you don't earn koins while playing online), but keys may only be found in konquest mode, and only with keys can you unlock the game's best extras--including the hidden characters--and so on. To make matters worse, many of the keys are well hidden. Once you finish the story in konquest mode, there's still a bunch of extra stuff waiting to be discovered, so you'll need to go back in and comb through all the areas you've already visited for more secrets. It's an unnecessarily painstaking process, and it threatens to drag down the entire experience of MK: Deception. On the plus side, it'll make you relish Deception's unlockable content that much more--and many of the unlockables are worth the hassle.
Fortunately, the puzzle kombat and chess kombat modes are much more successful than konquest mode, though they're a little gimmicky in their own rights. Each lets you play against the computer, another player on the same system, or another player online. The computer ramps up in difficulty quite a bit as you defeat successive opponents in puzzle kombat, but it rarely strikes a good balance, since early opponents are nearly incompetent, while later opponents are extremely tough. The gameplay itself is reminiscent of any number of competitive puzzle games. Consequently, you'll see pairs of colored blocks dropping from the top of the screen, both in your playing field and in your opponent's. The pairs of blocks must be arranged so that similar-colored blocks end up being adjacent to one another. Occasionally, special-colored icons fall instead of blocks, and if you match these up with blocks of like colors, all adjacent, colored blocks will shatter, clearing part of your playing field and causing an equivalent number of blocks to fall into your opponent's playing field. This, of course, serves as a perfect abstract model for deadly combat.
Puzzle Kombat is a spitting image of Capcom's classic puzzle battle game, right on down to the superdeformed characters you'll see duking it out onscreen.
It's possible to pull off combos as blocks shatter and others fall into place, but, really, the main strategy in puzzle kombat is to try to shatter large numbers of blocks at once. This way you can often fill the opponent's field in one move, thus winning the round. Each selectable character in puzzle kombat has his or her own special move that may occasionally be used either to assist you or hinder your opponent. This is nice for variety, but puzzle kombat is still a fairly slow-paced mode that isn't quite as well executed as the games that inspired it. The action speeds up when you've graduated to later stages against the computer, but, unfortunately, when playing against a human opponent, puzzle kombat feels a bit sluggish. It will invariably take a good several minutes before a round gets interesting.
Chess kombat is also rather deliberate, but you might expect this, since it's essentially a turn-based strategy game like chess--except when two pieces meet on the map, you and your opponent must fight it out. You start by choosing characters to represent each of your pieces, and once the game's started, the object is to defeat the opponent's leader. The best way to do this is to occupy a couple of glowing points on the map that cause all of your units to gain a health boost. Typically, both players will occupy one of these points in the first couple of turns, and then you'll both spend the rest of the match fighting over them. You can cast a few single-use spells to aid you or hamper your opponent, but chess kombat will basically boil down to a lot of fights between you and your opponent's "grunts," which are like pawns in chess. So if you're playing chess kombat against someone of substantially greater or lesser skill, then it'll be easy for the more-skilled player to gain the upper hand and then quickly win. However, against a similarly skilled opponent, chess kombat often becomes a drawn-out stalemate.
So while puzzle kombat and chess kombat are refreshingly different types of modes to include in a fighting game, don't expect them to take too much of your attention away from the actual fighting here.
The Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions of MK: Deception are roughly identical in that they offer the same features and content, in addition to presenting similarly good visuals. The PlayStation 2's stock gamepad is generally better suited for fighting games than either the large or small Xbox controllers, but Deception's controls map well to both versions of the game. The Xbox version predictably looks a little cleaner, but both run at the same smooth frame rate, and both look approximately identical. Between-match loading times are noticeable in both versions of the game, so in the end, the Xbox version just barely edges out the PS2 version.
More specifically, MK: Deception retains its predecessor's great looks--occasional warts and all. As mentioned, the konquest mode really looks quite bad, but during battle, you'll be treated to some smoothly animated, colorful, good-looking fighters. Most moves in the game cause their recipients to gush blood, which spurts and splatters in superexaggerated fashion and gives Deception that signature MK touch. In addition, the various fighting arenas in the game mostly look great, and their sadistic death traps are sure to make series' fans smile. The game's perfectly smooth frame rate also does a lot to both help the visuals look good and make the flow of the action feel as fluid as possible. Meanwhile, Deception's audio is punctuated by the sorts of battle cries, screams, thuds, cracks, slams, and bass-heavy ambient music that has always been the hallmark of Mortal Kombat--which has always been one of the best-sounding fighting game series. A sinister-sounding announcer rounds out the excellent audio presentation.
MK fans, rejoice. This game's for you.
All told, MK: Deception is an outstanding, fully featured game. And it's one that's naturally best suited to series' fans--especially those who liked 2002's similar Deadly Alliance. It's these players who'll be most likely to appreciate the game's peculiar emphasis on story and unlockable extras. But make no mistake: The best, most fully developed part of Deception is its fighting system. Like any great fighting game, this one carefully strikes the balance of delivering fast-paced, visceral thrills and rewarding lots of practice and complex tactics. As such, any fighting game fan should be rightfully attracted by the prospect of Deception's online play, which works as advertised and truly does make a big difference, because it provides access to live competition all the time. Not all of Deception's modes and features are flat-out great, but the game's absolutely got it where it counts.