We jump in the ring with the hard-hitting, gore-soaked Mortal Kombat 11 to see if it’s a flawless victor or in need of a fatality.

Mortal Kombat is famous – or infamous if you’re of the ‘think of the children’ ilk – for many features. Brutal fisticuffs, an alphabet that starts with ‘A-B-K-D-E-F-G’ (except for Scorpion; go figure), and an age-long battle of subtitles vs Arabic numbers vs Roman numerals for its sequel naming conventions.

Despite a franchise that stretches 22 titles made up of core goretastic games, spin-kicking spin-offs and ‘Kombat Kompilations’, we’re now somehow only at half that number with Mortal Kombat 11. Taken at face-smashing value, this latest contender in the long-battling head-to-head fighting series feels more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Picking up the controller, there’s an immediate familiarity, in particular for anyone who’s played Mortal Kombat X. Slice your way past that familiar exterior, though, and Mortal Kombat 11 is packing some punchy new innards that have big implications for this sequel.

And despite battling on the same console generation, Mortal Kombat 11 is noticeably prettier than its predecessor. Normally eye candy doesn’t require further mention, but it’s particularly important in this bloody series because of the gratuitous gore factor.

“If the crimson stuff is a big reason you’re tempted to fight another day, Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t disappoint”

If the crimson stuff is a big reason you’re tempted to fight another day, Mortal Kombat 11 doesn’t disappoint. Basic punches and kicks feel weightier thanks to the brutal on-screen damage feedback. Wrap your muscle memory around combos – which is easy enough given the returning back/forward or circle logic to start them – and the bloodlust satisfaction increases.

Soon enough you’re desensitised to the comparative tame violence of a crunching knee to the face at the end of a three-strike starter and craving the bloodier stuff. Fans of Romeo Must Die and/or Sniper Elite will be glad to hear that the brutal X-ray cam returns for the bigger, literally bone-crunching blows to complement the skin-level carnage.

It’s not overused, which keeps the visceral view fresh, but even these skeletal stomps are tame compared to the fatalities. One of Sub-Zero’s finishers can only be described as ice cold. He spawns a frozen doppelganger that’s holding a spear. Tosses the hapless loser into the spear upside down. Rips out their head and spine, Predator style. Then smashes the head onto the spear.

Then there’s one of Raiden’s fatalities that combines Emperor Palpatine’s display of “un-limited pow-er!” with a Fallout-style Super Mutant meat bag. Or a Baraka finisher where he creates a gruesome homage to Face/Off, clear pop-culture lover that he is, before dining on his victim’s brain. Sand-loving, linear-time-hating newcomer Geras has a similar approach to his take on back-alley facial reconstruction.

“One of Sonya Blade’s fatalities involves a mulching chopper rotor blade”

Developer NetherRealm Studios isn’t afraid to put the ‘pun’ in its ‘punishment’, either, most notable in how one of Sonya Blade’s fatalities involves a mulching chopper rotor blade. The hits, combos and finishers are all so big that you could never hope to walk it off, let alone make it to round two, but the over-the-top presentation makes it more entertainment than torture porn.

In this respect, it’s less Hostel and more Kill Bill’s The Bride vs the Crazy 88s, and this notion of keeping the player front of mind is at the bleeding heart of Mortal Kombat 11. For instance, one of the newer features is called Fatal Blow. It’s a very optional catch-up incentive for a fighter whose health is bludgeoned below 30 percent.

Once your health dips that low, pull both of the triggers to land a special attack that’s a mini, mid-round fatality of sorts. It gives you a breather, deals a world of hurt to the aggressor and it stops your foe’s momentum. It’s the kind of feature that promotes a fight-until-the-bitter-bloody-end mentality and facilitates exciting comebacks. It’s not a gimme gift either, as you still have to land it.

Mortal Kombat 11

For the more aggressively-minded brawler, newfangled Krushing Blows reward the box-ticking player who meets certain requirements with a giant can of whupass. On the defensive side of new inclusions, Flawless Block gifts a comeback window for the perfectly timed block. Combo these three new features together, and you get minor tweaks to the gory gameplay loop that pack hard-hitting implications.

Some of that map versatility is the return of the Injustice-inspired interactable stage items that let you dish out damage whether thrusting forwards or tactically backpedalling. The Injustice inspirations don’t end there, either. This balancing of risk/reward carries over into a player customisation system that’s ripped from Injustice 2.

Unlike Injustice-style gear rewards, though, Mortal Kombat 11’s wearable drops are purely cosmetic. Tweaking the look of your character is certainly encouraged, so much so that there’s a hero-shot photo mode for creating cosmetic envy. It helps that the different gear items are unique, compelling, and offer players a sense of ownership over otherwise familiar fighters. But there’s gameplay-impacting stuff, too.

You can set character variables that offer different fighting moves for each character. Each of these variables has three slots that can be mixed and matched with particular moves. On top of this, there are also gameplay-impacting augments that can be assigned to characters to do things like mix-up moves or impact recovery times. Be studious with augments, though: there’s a Koin penalty (Mortal Kombat 11’s grind currency earned through gameplay and challenges) to reassign an augment slot.

How these gameplay-impacting augments will be balanced is yet to be seen, but it’s going to be a challenge in ensuring Mortal Kombat 11’s competitive scene is kept fair. It’s refreshing to hear that NetherRealm Studios’ Ed Boon, co-creator of Mortal Kombat, has already confirmed to GameSpot that Mortal Kombat 11’s inevitable microtransactions won’t involve gameplay advantages or dreaded loot boxes.

In fairness, that’s more relevant for those players who punch deep into online multiplayer. For the rest of us looking to brawl buddies on the couch or tackle some solo play against AI, Mortal Kombat 11 is looking like a bloody worthy contender.

Mortal Kombat 11 releases April 23 on PS4 and Xbox One, with a Switch version coming at a later date.

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