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Mortal Kombat X: A Chicago Video Game Company's Most Violent Baby

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WARNING: Mortal Kombat X is a VERY violent game. This review is more than a bit crass. If "violent" and "crass" aren't up your alley, you might not want to continue...


Which is to say, this isn't the game your dad plays every winter where he shovels the whole block in a crusade of man VS nature -- who will win, the snow or his heart ...

But! Mortal Kombat X isn't completely dissimilar to its 1992 predecessor. For one, it's been a huge success. Though sales numbers haven't been released, Chicago video game developer NetherRealm Studios has stated that Mortal Kombat X's launch was the biggest in the history of the franchise.

Having returned to a 2D plane -- albeit with 3D models and background -- in 2011's Mortal Kombat remake, Mortal Kombat X builds on both the old and the new of the series.

Remember the early '90s? A time sandwiched between the dying mullet (which I had) and JNCO jeans (which I would one day wear). A time when a game called Mortal Kombat allowed us to breath in the refreshing smell of decapitation in the arcade air… Well, decapitation and B.O.

This was the challenge that MK's creators had with the series' latest installments: to transfer the violence-induced giddiness mostly capitalized on in arcades to a future that barely cares about arcades anymore. They mostly succeeded.

I had a lot of fun playing MKX with my friends in my living room. MKX caused many agape smiles, and even caused a 20-something to say "Oh. My. Gosh." Twice! I even made my mother play. She called my brother bad words. Words that came a couple decades too late. Also, she had fun.

If Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II are the fart jokes of our youth, in which our pre-teen selves risked pooping ourselves in the hopes of squeezing out a hysterical passing of some gas, MKX is adult farts. Sure, fart in a restaurant or elevator, and you'll be embarrassed. Fart in your own home in front of a friend, or maybe before bed with your partner, and you're liable to contract a giggle fit, laughing uncontrollably as they yell at you. There's a certain amount of self-awareness that comes with MKX, both for the creators (it seems) and the players. You know it's kind of dumb, but everyone's in on that, making it enjoyable.

Mortal Kombat's original developer was Midway, a Chicago company. Once a video game giant, they went bankrupt and were taken over by Warner Bros. The company now exists as the WB-owned NetherRealm Studios with Ed Boon, one of the creators of the original gaudy and violent Mortal Kombat, serving as creative director.

Here's the thing about the gaudy spectacle I won't shut up about: the overblown violence isn't enjoyable if the game looks dumb or plays like crap, something made obvious by Mortal Kombat's past forays into 3D.

With this in mind, MKX plays well. Improving in small ways on Mortal Kombat (2011), it pulls off what feels like a slightly more fluid system, juggling rad moves and competitive technicality well.

The story, though plagued by plenty of expected problems, also comes off well. Mortal Kombat (2011) showed a new care for narrative, rebooting and retelling the original games in a story mode with intermittent cut scenes. MKX continued this method, though its focus wandered off more than a kid stuck in the automotive section of Target with mom. The writers definitely get an A for effort thanks to the attempts at creating subtle (for a big studio game) moments between characters, and a C- for execution thanks to the mountain of tropes and clichés, which averages to what… a solid B? Most impressive is the game's ability to make you like the new characters -- like Cassie Cage and Jacqui Briggs -- something they haven't always been able to do in the past.

The online multiplayer works… but not perfectly. One-on-one and King of the Hill modes are fun, but the game is just a little too laggy (on the PS4, at least) to take its ranking system completely serious. For casual players, the lag isn't consistent enough to really affect enjoyment. For those of you who actually care about your win/loss ratio, this can be irksome.

For real-life competitive play, MKX and its mechanics show promise. It will be interesting to see how the Combo Breaker Mortal Kombat X tournament happening in Rosemont this weekend goes, which NetherRealm Studios donated $10,000 bucks toward to sweeten the pot.

MKX also has factions, in which you choose one of five teams. You accrue points for your team, with points being totaled each week. If your faction wins, you get… well, who cares. In theory, this seems like one component that could extend the game's life, especially for more casual gamers. In execution, it feels like one more component that takes away from the things I like in the game.

And that's the crux of Mortal Kombat X. It's a great game surrounded by things that are liable to infuriate you.

One awful experience is the krypt. Instead of receiving instantaneous notifications that you've unlocked something cool after a notable accomplishment, you roam around a graveyard with mysteries so boring even Nancy Drew would take a pass, spending koins to break headstones to unlock crap.

But don't worry! You can avoid the boring process of unlocking Sub-Zero's cooler costumes by shoveling money into WB's pockets.

Yes, it's as gross as it sounds.

Imagine Bugs Bunny isn't your dad's favorite childhood cartoon character, but a Jabba the Hutt gangster who insists you drop grapes into his mouth until he decides to unlock the concept art to a video game you really like. It's either that, or you run around the deserts of Albuquerque, unlocking it all the hard way. What would you do?

You'd probably choke Bugs Bunny to death, that's what you'd do.

And while I lost track of that metaphor, I haven't forgotten the point I wanted to make: multiple aspects of MKX seem monetarily malicious in the slimiest ways.

Yes, the game's a lot of fun and offers a lot of appealing content to a wide range of players. But the meta game within Mortal Kombat X – avoiding WB's attempts to bludgeon their way into your wallet – is less fun.

Ultimately, this is not enough to ruin the whole package, and the game is definitely worth purchasing.

Mason Johnson is a Web Content Producer for CBS Chicago. You can find him on Twitter.

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