2023 sees the launch of another great fighting game with Mortal Kombat 1. Out of the 12 games in the series, it is the fourth from NetherRealm Studios and is a sequel to Mortal Kombat 11, but also a reboot at the same time. The American studio has proven that it knows what fans of the series want and again manages to satisfy at least most of those desires, although problems that existed in the past still exist here. For the most part, Mortal Kombat 1 manages to impress with its gameplay and storyline, which, although it picks up where Mortal Kombat 11 left off, takes place a myriad of years later. It is undoubtedly the second best fighting game of 2023, after Street Fighter 6.
In the finale of the Aftermath expansion from Mortal Kombat 11, Liu Kang, now a Fire God, defeats Shang Tsung and wins the crown that gives him control of the Hourglass. He then becomes a Titan and begins the creation of his own universe, a new timeline that brings back to life all his lost friends, who return quite different. In this new era, peace reigns between Outworld and Earthrealm, and to celebrate the fact, a fighting tournament is held once a year. With the successes of both being nearly equal, Liu Kang definitely wants the win in the next one, as he notices that Outworld's General Shao (the new Shao Kahn) is becoming more and more dangerous, raising fears of a possible invasion of Earthrealm. Beginning with the recruitment of Kung Lao and Raiden, who in the new era are simple farmers, Liu Kang prepares the Earthrealm resistance, as it becomes clear that the peace will not last long.
The 15-chapter story mode tells the new story in the familiar way we've come to know from 2011's Mortal Kombat and beyond. In each chapter we play with a specific character against a rich and interesting roster, unlocking several large cutscenes that advance the narrative. The script presents a completely different perspective on Mortal Kombat lore, with characters we've known for years discovering the world of the franchise from scratch. Its duration reaches 5 hours and manages the new beginning with frequent changes, between clever jokes and dramatic scenes. Building the characters' personalities from the ground up is the most interesting part of the story mode, which reinforces the establishment of the series' new timeline. In addition to battles between cutscenes, it also contains minigames that require mashing a certain key, something that fails to leave the impact it would like. In their absence, the pace set by the tension and escalation of the chapters and the battles with their subsequent imprint on the continuity of the story, is smoother and more entertaining than the story mode we saw in Mortal Kombat 11. The graphics of Mortal Kombat Kombat 1 adds to the mix, with the character models being far better than the previous title. Although the occasional grimace is still present, the facial expressions are more realistic than ever.
Mortal Kombat 1's combat comes with the expected changes, like all NetherRealm titles. For starters, special attacks and combos and attack cancels depend on the same bar, while krushing blows, which were a big part of Mortal Kombat 11, have been removed. On the contrary, the brand new cameos give us the possibility to have a second character as an ally. For the kameo position there is a separate list of characters that are not fully playable (even though they were in previous titles), who have three unique attacks that are carried out depending on when we give them the command. Using them at the right time can cancel an opponent's combo and change the balance of the fight, while we see them working with our character in the animations of fatal blows and fatalities. In addition to attacks, they can contribute with various tricks that will give us control of the battle, such as teleporting to the opposite side of the track. The cameos play a huge role, especially for players who want to take advantage of every little feature that each title in the series has to offer, as they will significantly enhance their playstyle. Their use is simple – it is done with one button – so it depends on the strategy we will follow.
Aerial combos are an equally integral part of the gameplay, but they require a lot of training to execute correctly. Fortunately Mortal Kombat 1's tutorials are on par with the previous title, bringing enough depth to all categories of the combat system and videos that help further understanding of the more complex key combinations. With the necessary searching, the title offers a lot of possibilities for experimentation and impressive battles. The variety of combos is seemingly endless and pushes the player to perfect their playstyle with each character. The rhythms are fast, the animations of the attacks at the established high levels that we are used to and the fatalities are the bloody icing on the cake of the most violent fighting game we will play this year. As much as we wonder where the imaginations of the people of NetherRealm will go, they leave us speechless with the uncontrolled gore and the absolutely ridiculous and downright creepy scenes that show it off. As a whole, the gameplay of Mortal Kombat 1 is nothing short of its predecessors. The changes the studio tried succeeded, yielding (almost) the best fighting in a Mortal Kombat title.
There are two more single-player modes. The Towers are back, pitting us against a series of enemies that get harder and harder. It's a good opportunity for extra offline training, but also a way to learn more about the new versions of the title characters by unlocking their endings. This particular mode is now a Mortal Kombat tradition, and the Endless, Survivor that comes with it dramatically raises the difficulty for those willing to invest time in improving their technique. The first calls us to face as many opponents as possible, without losing, and the second to defeat as many as possible, without refills in our character's energy. The final single-player mode, the new Invasions, replaces the Krypt of Mortal Kombat 11. The character we control takes steps on a digital tabletop, which represents areas we also saw in the story mode. With each step on the board we discover additional details about the characters, although in a lighter style compared to the story mode, or the Towers endings. Meanwhile, we'll be playing minigames and matches with medium difficulty and AI opponents, in a non-stop grind for money and accessories. In fact, its size is too large in relation to how boring it can get. It's a shame that yet another Mortal Kombat contains a grappler mode.
NetherRealm has improved the Mortal Kombat netcode, although it seems there is still room for development. The Mortal Kombat 1 online experience is satisfying, with no annoying issues. The ability to withdraw from a fight with an opponent that we consider far superior to us with suicide – quitality, gives a more humorous air to the atmosphere. Even though it's the most enjoyable Mortal Kombat in years, it avoids coming off as immature, instead coming across as more down-to-earth. Aside from that and the addition of Kameos, it doesn't attempt much more than offering an interesting story in the exact same format followed in recent titles, or modes we've seen before, albeit in different forms - with Invasions replacing the Krypt, being similarly indifferent and with an emphasis on grind. Perhaps adding something truly new (like the World Tour in Street Fighter 6) would have given Mortal Kombat the extra depth it's been looking for with its more recent releases. Even so, Mortal Kombat 1 is the most beautiful of the series, without being plagued by technical problems. The title is kept constant at 60fps, while the cutscenes play at 30fps. The sound design is, as always, excellent.
Mortal Kombat 1 could be the best of the series if it didn't stick to the traditions of its predecessors. Its script is very strong, but the narrative follows closely the style of the previous titles. Towers mode returns almost unchanged, and Invasions is a bad idea to replace Krypt, which manages to have a worse grind than it. However, its gameplay is one of the best we've seen in a Mortal Kombat title, changing the rules again, with the addition of additional tools for special maneuvers in battles (especially in the air). The cameos will definitely remain one of the key features of this title, deepening the trom even more.with whom we play. Now we have to see how the series will develop with the new possibilities opened by the reboot of its story.