"Can you remember the first second-hand game you ever bought for your Playstation? For me it was Mortal Kombat Three. This was also the second title I ever fired up on the console, so it's not surprising that it made me 'ooh' and 'ah' initially as arcadey blood splashed into my violence-lusting eyes, and I listened to the roars of 'FATALITY!' But the passing of time and the collection of further games first wounded and then dissolved the shock of the MK3 new, so that eventually the game be..."
Can you remember the first second-hand game you ever bought for your Playstation? For me it was Mortal Kombat Three. This was also the second title I ever fired up on the console, so it's not surprising that it made me 'ooh' and 'ah' initially as arcadey blood splashed into my violence-lusting eyes, and I listened to the roars of 'FATALITY!' But the passing of time and the collection of further games first wounded and then dissolved the shock of the MK3 new, so that eventually the game became the least impressive title I had. It was destined to complete the mediocre trinity of the first three games I would trade away (joining shockers Devil's Deception and AFL 99), but not before I gave it one final more serious bout of playing to see if there was really a soul in there.
MK3 is technically competent. It's graphically competent. It mostly looks and feels like its 2D one-on-one fighting arcade counterpart, with the exception of the unsuitability of the Playstation controller for this genre (a standard complaint of mine.) But when 'competent' is the best word you can muster, the game is destined for blahdom. There's just not enough more to it than what you see up front to hold your interest for very long, unless you're a Mortal Kombat maniac who'll gain eternal replayability and save infinite amounts of change by playing this at home with a friend, and disemboweling them over and over again.
Mortal Kombat has always invested heavily in its grisly mythology, so the story of this particular episode deserves to be heard: Shao Kahn, the head honcho of evil in Mortal Kombat, has resurrected his demonic bride Sindel. Now Shao Kahn's horde of bad dudes (including the man himself, and his bride) will punch it out for the umpteenth time with Earth's best warriors in a battle for... supremacy? Her soul? It gets foggy at this point, but that doesn't matter because you know what this means for you: More ultraviolent martial arts combat.
The most obvious appeal of Mortal Kombat for me (and I'm not even an ardent follower) has always been the great variety of characters you can play. Male, female, good, bad, psychotically costumed, every race and creed... With their origins in motion-captured humans and not sprites, they possess a strange edge of nastiness and jerky 'realism' which I don't think any other fighting game ever captured. And this always made it hurt some more when the infamous MK blood started to squirt. All that good stuff is here in MK3.
Shang Tsung the infamous transforming sorcerer is back. You have the floating purple Sindel who is one ultra-vicious lady (she's also my favourite character, and not just because she was played by Musetta Vander in the cinematic pile that was Mortal Kombat Annihilation). Mopey Liu Kang's still hanging around, but fortunately so is the bodysuited bicycle-kicking Sonya. I'm not crazy about the robot characters - Kabal, Cyrax, Sektor et al - and I think they're too similar to each other. How about Nightwolf? Well, I never cared for profoundly boring shaman types. Sheeva the hulking four-armed demon is a great turn-up, and she's also striking major blows for gender-blending! Though I'd never say that to her face because she would just beat the snod out of me.
So what about the moves? The emphasis in MK3 is on multiple-hit combos; two, three, four, five or more hits that you whip off in succession. The timing on the Playstation controller is merciless and it's extremely hard to pull off a big combo, even one you've learnt like a mantra. Control in general is my number one gripe in this game. Blocking with a shoulder button might be alright if you're playing a friend, but I assure you that the CPU AI is very cheap and nasty in single player mode, and will promptly go around any kind of defense you put up.
Mortal Kombat's famous fatalities are all here, and they're gruesome, but they're not 'news'. If you've played the other Mortal Kombats, you won't see too much that's fresh here. (Can we really get too blase about beheadings, people being ground up etc? Being a gorehound, I can!) They're also nigh on impossible to pull off. Even using a cheat to turn off the fatalities timer, you'll be mashing buttons yelling out 'circle ex ex square ex PUNCH!' trying to time it to perfection. If you can remember even more insane combinations of buttons, you can turn your foes into babies (not my favourite) or animals. Or show mercy. But the circumstances under which you can pull off a 'mercy' move are too confusing to keep track of.
You can supposedly adjust difficulty, but the effect is barely evident and unfortunately you'll tend to end up doing the same set of moves over and over again to beat most opponents, rather than being forced to develop different skills. Having played a lot with the floating and kicking Sindel, I was rarely motivated to go learn the many different characters, which was a shame since they looked pretty alluring. Then when you hit the first boss, skill becomes moot anyway, as the centaur monstrosity Motaro is one of the most ridiculous headkickers I've ever had to suffer in a fighting game. Picking me up, smashing me on the floor, charging me endlessly... I've wasted up to half an hour continuing against this creep in one sitting, and done years' worth of damage to my blood pressure in the process. Shao-Kahn who follows Motaro is a relative pushover, a slug of a giant who constantly lays himself open to attack by taunting you. Whether too hard or too easy, boss design is poor.
In the end, the best thing about MK3 is the atmosphere. The dark, dingy and sometimes gothic sets are enhanced by a grim techno soundtrack. Debris blows along a downtown street and giant cogs revolve in a clock tower, anticipating a body to grind. Sounds are excellent - screams, cracks, thuds, the ultradeep voice delivering the verdicts. This to me is what MK is all about, basically the whole dark and gory 'feel' of it, so I really wish I could have enjoyed this through more solid gameplay. The game was just never rewarding enough for me to persevere. There are not enough different modes, not enough extras, too many similar characters - just nothing that's really remarkable. The 'Kombat Kode' cheat settings, activated by having both players hit the correct arcane combination of buttons during the few seconds offered by a loading screen, are an incredibly painful way to have to deal with enabling cheats if you're interested in them. Fighting an MK-loving friend who also doesn't mind grappling with the Playstation controller might be the game's last saving grace.
MK3 is a decent arcade port, but consoles offer players a more long term experience, and this game just can't stand up to that kind of scrutiny. While Mortal Kombat fanatics may find little to complain about, for me this title was the second to come and the first to go.
-- Mortal Kombat 3 -- 6/10 --
Community review by bloomer (March 08, 2004)
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