"The originals were filled with dark undertones, monsters, spirits, gods, pits of spikes, and so forth. That's still true in the newest title. But for the first time ever, you don't get all that mature content at the cost of gameplay."
If you play Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, your soul will be irrevocably changed, tainted by the dark shadow of evil. You will attempt to perform fatalities on everyone you meet in the halls at school and some day, when the police find you standing over a dismembered body, holding a bleeding heart and licking your lips, one of the officers will do the world a favor and put you out of your misery.
It's a fact that a lot of parents hear the name Mortal Kombat and immediately go on a rampage protesting violence. The simple fact is that video games are just that: games. Nowhere is that more evident than in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, a title that is arguably the best the franchise has seen because it is arguably the first where gameplay is more the focus than outrageous amounts of blood and gore.
To be sure, there's plenty of that here, as well. Mortal Kombat was made famous by its fatalities and violence in general, and by the dark tones it cast on the remarkably cheerful world of fighting games some would say Capcom pioneered. The originals were filled with dark undertones, monsters, spirits, gods, pits of spikes, and so forth. That's still true in the newest title. But for the first time ever, you don't get all that mature content at the cost of gameplay.
Graphics are a good place to start. The look here is different than in the past. Though the Mortal Kombat franchise has been in three dimensions before, it's never looked anywhere close to this good. Just a look at the arena floor is awe-inspiring. Reflections there are perfect. Not like a mirror--which they shouldn't be--but like a well-polished floor. Brass reflects, marble reflects. As far as graphics for the settings go, the only reason to complain is that the torches on the walls don't seem to affect the walls around them. It's a bit odd to see such a detailed world, yet no glow from the torches on the walls (or at any rate, not enough luminesence). As stated above, though, that's the main reason for complaint. It's easy to forget about the torches, too, as you find yourself in the middle of one of the most remarkably rendered rainstorms yet presented on a console, or as flurries of snow drift down, or wind touches the tips of trees in the courtyard behind where you fight.
Characters fared a little less admirably. While each of the main characters looks very different from the next, it's also true that someone slacked off on textures. Arms and legs look as if they were painted with two colors only, a surprising fact considering the detail so abundant everywhere else. This isn't so distracting as it may sound, though, because you'll only be vaguely aware of such things as you fight. Perhaps the time when you'll notice it most is when you or your opponent is executing a fatality. No longer are the fatalities all that impressive. They're intriguing the first time you see them, but then there's not much point in watching. Mostly, they just rely on the volume of blood.
Speaking of the volume of blood, you can adjust it. That's a good thing. By default, its set to the maximum, which is just ridiculous. Smack a guy around and suddenly he's spouting geysers of blood, but still fighting you. The arena can be nearly covered in blood by the time a match ends, and really it's enough to desensitize a person. About the only time the blood seems to relate to the damage your opponent is taking--assuming you've landed a hit or two--is when you run him through with your sword and the weapon stays there. In this exciting sequence of events, the opponent dances around while his life meter drops because, after all, there is a sword resting in his stomach.
The sword through the gut is only one of the many weapons-based moves you see here. Though weapons have always been something of a part of the series, here they take an intriguing new role that is part of the whole new Mortal Kombat system. When a round starts, you're in your character's default stance. Each character has 3 such stances. You can switch between them at will, as the battle requires. This is cooler than words can really describe. Say you're in a karate stance and you're hacking away at your opponent, but he seems especially capable of blocking your best attacks. No problem. Tap the 'L' button and now you whip out your sword, with which you proceed to make quick work of your opponent. Most of the way through, though, he stages a surprising comeback. You're pushed to the brink of death and so you quickly back away, change stance, and finish him off. It's effortless, it flows like butter, and it's encouraged.
True mastery of your character has obviously become a necessity. The best way to win a fight is by staging combos. This makes the title feel more like an evolution of the Killer Instinct series than anything. While you're not entirely going for 60-hit combos (the maximum you'll generally see is around 12), you are looking for chances to string attacks together. More importantly, you can string together attacks from different fighting styles. Get good at what you're doing and it won't be uncommon to remove about 30% of an opponent's health in one set of quick moves. And there's an indicator that will tell you just what you've done on-screen.
The earlier reference to Killer Instinct is appropriate for more reasons than that alone. The whole setting feels borrowed from Rare's masterpiece. Ed Boon really went out of his way to re-invent this franchise, and in so doing borrowed a little bit of what made every other series good, then sewed it together almost flawlessly. He also managed to direct things so that despite the vast improvements, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance remains somewhat true to its roots. A part of this is the return of most of the favorite characters. I wasn't much of a fan of the original, yet I knew their names. Many of those people are here. Sub-Zero, looking vastly different from how I remember him. Scorpion, looking relatively unchanged. Sonya. Cage. The list goes on, but it doesn't include one very important character.
Why isn't that one character included? It's because he's dead. Moreso than in the past, story also plays an important role in this game. It's mostly at the beginning and end, of course, but the opening cinema is very cool and narrated in chilling tones. Essentially, the only hope for the world is this tournament in which you are participating. A deadly alliance consisting of two dark sorcerors will take over the universe if left to their own devices. Maybe they will anyway.
Story isn't the only area where this game shows new depth. It also has a training mode that will remind some of you of what we saw in Soul Calibur. Choose your character, go through 18 or so missions, and you earn koins. These are used to unlock new features in the game. At first, this sounds brilliant. And to a certain extent, it is. There's a 'krypt' full of specials, such as new costumes, cinemas, artwork and interesting screenshots from other promotions. Ultimately, though, it starts to get a bit redundant long before you've unlocked everything. Still, a great idea.
And that's what it comes down to. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is filled to the brim with great ideas, enough so that even when one or two of them don't work, the rest are filling in the gaps to make one of the most satisfying fighting titles you're likely to ever play. A must-have if you like the genre but have only a GameCube. If your options are more varied, there's still an excellent chance you'll be happy with this gem. It's the best yet in the series, and one fans looking for a Mortal Kombat revival certainly won't want to miss.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 23, 2002)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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