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Mortal Kombat 1 review: Good gameplay in a half-baked game

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The Mortal Kombat series has come a long way since its dog days of low-profile sequels that blended together. Ever since 2011’s franchise reboot, the series has regained the prominence that its original trilogy of games first enjoyed. Mortal Kombat 1 serves as another reboot for the series, but as our review shows, it’s not an entirely successful one.

The Mortal Kombat formula isn’t a complicated one. Brutal fighting game mechanics, a snappy fantasy story, and plenty of secrets and collectibles are the basic components one expects to find in an MK game. They’re all here in MK1, but while the gameplay holds up, the rest of the game feels half-finished and drags down the whole of the experience.

The Good:

  • Snappy gameplay may be the best in the series since Mortal Kombat 9.
  • Most fighters and environments look good.

The Bad:

  • From online play to features and collectibles, Mortal Kombat 1 feels incomplete.
  • A story with potential falls flat and descends into nonsense.

Review Details:

  • Platforms available: PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S
  • Reviewed on: PC
  • Official release date: September 19, 2023

MK1 looks good and feels good, at least for a while

The most important element of any fighting game is the actual gameplay, and here, developers at NetherRealm Studios are to be commended. MK1 feels much smoother and crunchier than the previous game in the series, Mortal Kombat 11, a title that was hot at release but cooled off as some players lost interest in its fighting mechanics.

Mortal Kombat 1 introduces an assist mechanic to the series that can be interesting at times, but it can also feel limiting. Optimizing combos will require using the right character assist, so there’s often an illusion of choice when considering which assist to use. Still, in an ideal environment, the game is fun to play.

MK1’s in-game models and environments often look great. NetherRealm continues to lean into a more realistic style after the exaggerated character redesigns of the 2011 MK reboot, and the graphical prowess on display here certainly justifies that approach. Performance isn’t always ideal, but when it’s working correctly, the game does look good.

Was Mortal Kombat 1 left unfinished?

Unfortunately, that’s about where the praise stops, as Mortal Kombat 1 often feels like an unfinished game. Across the board, the experience outside of its base gameplay and visual structure is lacking.

The online play experience is where this is most evident. A new bar has been set for online play expectations by such fighting games as Street Fighter 6 and Guilty Gear Strive. Future games like Tekken 8 plan to carry on that standard. So it’s unacceptable that a big-budget release like Mortal Kombat 1 can so lack for online features. If you’re looking to do anything more than queue for a game and stare at a menu in the meantime, you’re going to be disappointed.

The krypt, an established series feature packed with collectibles and secrets waiting to be unlocked, has been scrapped in MK1 in favor of a basic unlock system in which missions are completed for coin rewards which are then exchanged for collectibles. This is a bare-bones replacement for what had become a series staple, and it somehow takes an inordinate amount of time to unlock each collectible, most of which will just be basic concept art pieces that most player will have little interest in.

The story also disappoints. After setting up what seems like a fun fantasy adventure with clear opportunities for character development, MK1 pulls the rug out from under players by descending into a ridiculous final act that obscures any opportunity for intrigue.

What’s more, the game is riddled with micro-transactions. The new seasonal invasions format is a slog, a board game structure that seems built specifically to push towards these micro-transactions. It’s hard to believe such a feature was built earnestly with a fun experience in mind.

These shortcomings are really a shame, as despite it all, MK1 remains a fun game to play and a pretty game to look at. That’s enough to justify spending a few hours playing with friends on the couch, it hardly justifies the title’s expensive price tag and its clear intention to be paid further into after the initial purchase.

gameland.gg’s bottom line: Mortal Kombat 1 can be fun to play, but the game as a whole feels incomplete.

Score: 6/10

Author image

Written by Jared Wynne

Jared Wynne has been covering gaming and esports for the past two decades. He's a former competitor in Counter-Strike, and still counts it among his favorite games along with RPGs like Baldur's Gate and Mass Effect. He studied journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, has been published at such outlets as The Daily Dot and The Esports Observer, and is the former Editor-in-Chief at WIN.gg. You can find him on Twitter / X at @JaredWynne.

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