As the numbered entries in any series start hitting double digits, it can be difficult to still feel inspired by a new release – for both developers and fans. That’s not been the case for Mortal Kombat and the team at NetherRealm (Injustice 2), however, as 2015’s MKX was the biggest success for the fatal fighting franchise yet. Having to follow that means the pressure is on - so, does MK11 deliver?
Krushing Blows are a new feature which differ between characters, barring some more widespread triggers. These devastating variations on existing moves might be prompted by, for example, hitting the same maneuver twice consecutively or from a certain distance - everyone has access to multiple, which can individually be used just once per match in order to prevent spamming.
The final major change to MK11’s core gameplay is a split meter, now comprised of two chunks for defence and two for offence, all of which recharge automatically over time. The former can be used for things like breaking out of juggle combos, rolling out of range when floored, or utilising the environmental interactions available in most of the 20+ stages. The latter can be turned to modifying special moves and performing getup attacks (which also draw on defence), the idea being to enforce a more balanced play style by disallowing the use of meter in any exclusive fashion. It works.
All of the many, many interacting systems and their governing data are broken down and then layered on in a clear and digestible fashion.
Of course, the series' iconic Brutalities and Fatalities return untouched, allowing fights to reach excitingly over-the-top climaxes. They’re a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh alongside some gnarly audio that’ll squeeze equal amounts of wincing and disbelieving laughter from players.
Despite being a defining feature, these murderous moves can’t be busted out during the campaign for the sake of continuity. It’s easily forgiven, however, since story modes in NetherRealm fighters traditionally stand several severed heads and shoulders above the competition. The pulpy narrative follows directly on from MKX and revolves around the introduction of Kronica, a character with command (kommand?) over time and a distaste for the present, which conveniently slot together to form a time-bending celebration of Mortal Kombat’s past and present.
It’s unadulterated fanservice from a franchise that’s earned the distinction during more years in existence than the person writing this, but, having clambered abound at too early an age, things still got plenty nostalgic. Even if you don’t have any direct connection to old-school MK, everyone should at least recognise the classic costumes and character models which have long since been absorbed into the zeitgeist.
Throughout the story you’ll switch between multiple character perspectives, making it a great place to learn who you do and don’t click with. Outside of kombat, lavish cutscenes tell a fittingly outrageous eight-or-so hour tale which any lover of goofy, big-budget action flicks would jump at the opportunity to see on the silver screen. It’s easy to care about what’s happening, in spite of the unbelievable events and characters, plus a distractingly hammy performance from WWE and UFC star Ronda Rousey as Sonya Blade.
As with Fatalities and Brutalities, your custom character builds can’t be carried over to the campaign. MKX let players pick between preset character variations, massively diversifying its roster simply by fiddling with what was already there, and MK11 takes that ingenuity to the next logical step. Fighters still have a couple of presets each, but you can now build your own by equipping special moves across three slots (some of the more powerful abilities taking up two of them), whilst also switching out a slew of detailed cosmetics and, once you’ve won enough bouts with those cosmetics equipped to level them up, imbuing them with elemental augmentations. This essentially means that two players’ renditions of Scorpion, for example, can look and play very differently.
That being said, amassing the gear to fully deck out a specific character can be tough. Ignoring premium Time Krystals, along with the three premium consumables you can then buy with them, there are three in-game currencies which are paid out sparingly. Hearts are particularly bad, with most fights rewarding only one or two depending on whether you finished with a Fatality or a Brutality respectively. Most related purchases require 250...
What’s more, those purchases take the form of random loot chests, so it’s entirely possible that the ‘reward’ at the end of a long grind will be something useless to you. Delving the expanded and more involving Krypt to locate those chests at least proves engaging, since the gamified storefront is a mini metroidvania with puzzles and item gates all of its own.
Mortal Kombat 11 is a celebration of humanity’s morbid love for the macabre, exquisitely illustrating the snap of bones and cutting of flesh.
There’s no doubting the fact that an unreasonable time and/or money investment would be required of anyone looking to unlock everything, but we actually quite like the fact that we could dip in and out of MK11 in the years leading up to its inevitable sequel and have something new to show for each and every visit.
The ever-changing Towers of Time seek to ensure that you do keep coming back, presenting consecutive fights with devious gameplay modifiers to stack the odds against you. You can retry as many times as you like whilst incurring small incremental penalties to your score, plus equip ‘konsumables’ found in the Krypt to counter the disadvantages at hand, before eventually reaping the greatest rewards for time invested if you can overcome the challenge. Some seemingly insurmountable combinations are nothing short of infuriating though, ushering you towards buying premium Skip Fight Tokens since the alternative is to quit and lose your progress. Like the wider economy, this is being looked at.
There are plenty more ways to occupy yourself within MK11 in the meantime, like exhibition bouts in local co-op or against AI, which can be set to five difficulty levels. There are also Klassic Towers, minus any shenanigans, culminating in a boss encounter with Kronica followed by a trademark ending animatic tailored to your chosen character.
Online modes round out the offering, the most bizarre of which are asynchronous CPU-controlled battles, where you’ll choose three attacking combatants to face those assigned to defence by another user. You can enjoy the spectacle or fast forward, but we really have to wonder why it’s here at all, besides maybe offering a way to passively alleviate some of MK11’s grind. Characters can’t get injured or anything, so there’s no need to manage your roster, and, as far as tactics go, you could look to create custom variants to counter the most common character picks, at least on paper, but acquiring and levelling the gear to do so wouldn’t be worth the effort
Competitive modes encompass ranked first-to-three contests (no custom variations allowed) through ‘kasual’ single and King of the Hill matchups. Early netcode has been great, which is absolutely vital to any fighting game worth its salt, while the community is variable as ever, though there are tools in place to find players of a similar mindset and/or skill level. When you manage to do so, the deeper mechanics really start to shine and matches unfold like thoughtful games of chess, despite looking like mindless violence to onlookers.
There’s a hell of a lot to Mortal Kombat 11 then, as you can see, most of which is absolutely fantastic if you can overlook the current gouging. If you can’t, then maybe wait it out and see how things settle, but you shouldn’t allow peripheries such as currencies, cosmetics and just one of many modes stop you experiencing the immensely fun story and gratifyingly balanced kombat systems at the core of the game.
As my GCSE German teacher would tell you, I’ve never been particularly blessed with languages. How is it then, that Heaven’s Vault has stuck with me from the first play - back at Rezzed in 2018 - right through until now? More importantly, has that initial promise spawned the Oscar Wilde of video games, or, much worse (but definitely funnier), Danny Dyer?
Like many games before it, Heaven’s Vault utilises an excellent conversation system that not only affects how people interact with you, but what you learn about the settings, story and lore. We’re sure many would site the Mass Effect series here, but since the Brighton branch of PTC (that’s me) has never played any of them, it feels rather more like the ghost of Shenmue. How will you behave around a particularly aggressive slave master, for example? Will you try and sympathise, or downright scold them for their line of work, thus potentially closing off a line of questioning and information? These choices even change the course of your relationship with robot sidekick Six, who bloody loves a good natter.
Discovery and decoding of an ancient language is one of the main parts of the game that we found so compelling back at Rezzed 2018, so it’s wonderful to see it fully realised in the final product. This is where a thirst for adventure really helps, too: interact with everything you can, as often Aliya will remark about inscriptions or glyphs on certain items, and it’s here where the fun begins. If an inscription is split into four parts, let’s say, you’ll be given a potential selection of words to fill in each of the blanks, based on what you’ve previously tried or discovered. This charming element of trial and error further strengthened our desire to explore.
What was all that lark about sky sailing, then? Imagine a blend of Panzer Dragoon and The Wind Waker and you’ll have a decent idea of what to expect, as you pilot the good ship Nightingale along vast rivers in the clouds, to destinations new and old, all the while having one eye out for ruins and wreckages to plunder. The tranquil mood, pastel hues and sublime strings and pianos stave off any potential frustration at the amount of time it can take to get between places in the game, but those of you without patience will be happy to hear that a fast travel option is currently being patched in.
Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do.
We’re not sure why you’d want to skip over absorbing more of such a resplendent and alluring game, though. From the dark outlines and subtle colours of the exquisite hand-drawn 2D characters, to the fully 3D, lush environments of the Nebula, Heaven’s Vault never fails to leave you in awe, in a way only a few games really do (here’s looking at you, Breath of the Wild). It’s largely these lavish, luxuriant locales that spur you on to visit as much of the world as possible.
There’s just so much to love about the game, honestly. Sure, it isn’t completely flawless (the lack of music in many of the cutscenes seems odd, especially considering how good the soundtrack is), but the blend of adventuring, sky sailing, story and language are pretty close to perfect. The wealth of choices mean it’s ripe for multiple replays, too, so you’re really getting your money’s worth.
Whether it’s the small touches such as story recaps every time you start a play session, or the big ones listed above, Heaven’s Vault manages to tap into that truly wondrous, almost childlike sense of discovery brought on by experiencing something for the first time. If it sounds like your speed, make sure you don’t miss out on this glorious, glorious experience.
Based on the 2013 film of the same name, which was loosely based on Max Brooks’ original novel, World War Z the game doesn’t share a great deal in common with either. This survivalist shooter will be much more familiar to fans of Left 4 Dead, the zombie-slaying series which spawned and has defined a sub-genre for over a decade now.
There’s very little in the way of narrative motivation, rather the cathartic pleasure of mindlessly deanimating the reanimate is what’ll spur you on.
Zombies become a sort of hive mind once alerted to your presence, unflinchingly running towards their demise with no regard for anything other than killing their quarry. This is largely familiar stuff, but it takes on new life during regular scripted moments where they frantically clamber into fleshy pyramid structures to reach higher ground (launching explosives at the base to topple these is delectable) or fling themselves from above as makeshift projectiles.
You’re given enough firepower that these imposing setpieces are never outright frightening, which could be good or bad depending on your perspective. Fixed defence units including barbed wire, electrified floor panels and turrets can be placed in designated positions, while devastating heavy weaponry can be carried on your person to eradicate entire swarms single handed.
Special infected types are where you’ll need to employ a greater degree of finesse, although L4D players will already be acquainted with the sparse selection. Lurkers are Hunters that do a great job of waiting around corners before taking you by surprise with the ol’ pounce-and-pin manoeuvre. Gasbags are a marriage of Boomer and Spitter. Bulls are Chargers. Most telling of all, the Screamer is equivalent to... the Screamer.
You can mark these nasties on your teammates’ HUD, though in-game dialogue will most often vocalise their presence anyway, which is one of the few ways allied AI proves to be dependable. They can’t interact with mission objectives, don’t level up alongside you to meet the difficulty curve, and can’t be switched from the default Gunslinger class in order to compose a balanced team. You don’t even gain the ability to pause when playing offline, but hey, they’ll never incur friendly fire (which is always enabled) if you really must go solo.
Should sticking with the normal difficulty setting be your speed – meaning you don’t anticipate toughing it out being a problem – just be aware that an initial playthrough should only take around five or six hours. Longevity thereafter is gleaned by upping the stakes to earn better weapons and perks, which you’ll then use to repeat the cycle, only one notch higher on the five-step difficulty rung. Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things a little more fresh along the way.
Even with randomisation it can become repetitive if you don’t dip in and out, which makes the unique PvPvE multiplayer a smart addition. Featuring separate classes and progression to that of the campaign, the mode has five classic game types in which two teams of four fight against one another and, at the same time, CPU-controlled zombies.
Its largely no-frills approach harkens back to a period during the last console generation where almost every game had competitive multiplayer, though in an oddly nostalgic way. That feeling is certainly helped by the fact it’s competent and fun enough on a base level not to feel just tacked-on.
Levels subtly change between runs, mainly in terms of enemy and item spawn frequencies and locations, helping to keep things fresh.
There’s an established early playerbase sticking around for the interesting dynamic of undead swarms which can cut off parts of a map entirely, but how long they’ll put up with the current balance issues is up for question. You can’t switch class mid-match, so if you made a choice that doesn’t synergise well with your team or effectively counter the opposition, you’re left no choice but to ride it out or quit. Certain weapons and strategies are overpowered, namely sprinting around with a double-barrelled shotgun and unloading both slugs or popping around a corner with the (thankfully quite limited) rocket launcher, yet the funk doesn’t end when you die. Spawns are incredibly inconsistent, as sometimes you’ll pop up right in front of an enemy with no temporary invulnerability to save your bacon, or, more to your advantage, right next to an unguarded objective.
Whether online or off, in our experience, the PS4 Pro and WWZ servers at least do a good job of handling all the hectic on-screen action. Visually the game is just decent, with some jumpy animations being the biggest sore thumb, but that’s always a worthy trade-off in favour of securing a solid technical performance.
At a budget price point, World War Z offers completionists a lot of game for the money, but anybody with a more one-and-done approach might end up feeling shortchanged by the brief campaign. For either camp, in spite of the strong sense of déjà vu overpowering a few original ideas, WWZ is a good candidate to kick back and relieve a hard day's stress with whenever the time is right.