After a downward spiral that took the Mortal Kombat
series to places it never wanted to go, Midway's number one franchise finally made a comeback in 2002 with the release of Deadly Alliance
; a completely revamped and re-envisioned interpretation of John Tobias and Ed Boon's arcade fighting vision. Finally moving beyond the presentational aspects that had both endeared and reviled it in the eyes of casual and hardcore fighting fans alike (this time only under Boon's supervision), Deadly Alliance
did something that the earlier Mortal Kombats
had never done before: it put gameplay before glamour. As a result the fans responded overwhelmingly and it didn't take long before Deadly Alliance
was quickly regarded as one of the strongest fighting games of the season.
Three years and plenty of suggestions later, Boon and Midway are back once again with the next chapter in the Outworld saga, Mortal Kombat: Deception, a game that manages to take everything we liked about the last title and expand upon it exponentially. More moves, more fatalities, more characters, more and more mini-games are what Deception is all about, and it makes for an end product that's just shy of excellent.
The Beginning of the End
Mortal Kombat: Deception picks up immediately where the last one left off, and once again, begins as a tale that proves more tragic than not. As it turns out, the "deadly alliance" between franchise fighters Shang Tsung and Quan Chi was a success: the duo defeated the mighty Thunder God Raiden in their quest to resurrect the mummified army of the Dragon King and gain the power needed to control the realms. This victory is short-lived, however, as the would-be conquerors immediately turn on each other after besting their opponents. Following their brief struggle Quan Chi stands victorious, but not before something bad happens.
The original ruler of the Outworld, Onaga the Dragon King, makes his dramatic return and Quan Chi isn't able to stop him. Out of necessity, Raiden and Shang Tsung join forces with their vanquisher in an effort to halt this bigger and deadlier threat right where he stands. Unfortunately for them and all of the Outworld, their combined might still isn't enough to stop the Dragon King -- leaving Raiden with only one choice: release his godly essence and destroy everything that's around him, including himself and Onaga. Instead of demolishing the Dragon King like he originally planned, however, Raiden's effort fails, and Onaga is left unharmed with nothing to stop him. To make a long story short, the universe is in a whole lot of trouble.
Surely not as dramatic or surprising as the 'Liu Kang neck snap' in Deadly Alliance's brutal introduction, the setup in Deception is still pretty good. And though most of the endings for the 24 available fighters aren't exactly what we'd liken to Robinson Crusoe, the moderately-sized storytelling still goes well beyond the typical fighting game standard. As it actually tells you what happens to these people after their journey is over without rehashing the same gig.
Konquest or Bust
Luckily for MK fiends, Mortal Kombat: Deception adds a whole lot more to the storyline than just character bios and two-minute endings. It also boasts a clever and involving way to train users how to play the game via its Konquest Mode. A better realized version of Deadly Alliance's feature of the same name, this all-new interpretation goes far beyond the simple navigation of a map followed by standard training missions, as it actually opens up and plays much like a true adventure would. It comes complete with fetch quests, short-winded pedestrian NPCs, locked and unlocked doors, hidden treasures, and a multitude of various other little nuances too, and that helps make it a whole lot more accessible than before. As an added bonus, Konquest also follows the back-story of the pivotal Deception character Shujinko by allowing players to assume his alter ego. Beginning as a young boy and moving up through the years as his story progresses, users will be able to use his powers of mimicry to learn how he became responsible for the Dragon King's rise to dominance in the first place (and why he's the only combatant in the universe that can stop him). Also welcomed is the fact that Konquest is the only means you'll have of locating several special keys and extra Kombat Koins for expenditure in the Krypt, which can then be used to unlock hidden characters, bonus costumes, and other such goodies that aren't available by more traditional means. Easily the largest area of the game, Konquest can take as many as 20-30 hours to complete; and even then, the chances that you'll successfully complete all your missions are slim and none.
Since Mortal Kombat: Deception is primarily a fighting game, however, there will still be several technical issues with Konquest that are surely going to be a thorn in the side of veteran action/adventure hounds. For starters, the movement through the environments is pretty stiff -- with invisible barriers that can keep you from stepping into a seemingly open and explorable area. It can also prove to be a little frustrating when traveling past trees, boxes, and bushes too, as these invisible locations force you to do a long, complicated wind-around in order to get back to an accessible path regardless of whether or not there's a visual obstacle. Moreover, the Konquest world, from the rather generic environments to the sloppy character animation, makes for a decidedly unbelievable atmosphere. These complaints in mind, we can definitely see how less patient gamers may grow tired of the frequent fetch questing and specialty matches (ie: defeat Sindel while bleeding with a default of only half your health bar), and the fact that there isn't a mission screen to remind you of your objectives can be bothersome too. But then again, given what this mode offers in comparison to other fighting games the positives far outweigh the negatives.
Kontent and Mini-Games
One of Deception's more appealing aspects is the fact that it offers several other bonus modes other than just Konquest. Chess Kombat, for instance, is an interesting variation on the classic thinking man's game with a number of significant twists -- the most obvious of which is the ability to fight head-to-head and save your piece from capture. So if your Queen were to capture an opponent's pawn for example (or if your Champion were to capture your Grunt as it's known in this game), then your pieces will square off in the traditional Mortal Kombat way. The twist is that your more powerful pieces will have more health available to them, putting them at a distinct physical advantage. But if you want a strategy that sees you consistently sacrificing pawns and wearing out an opponent's King and Queen through chipping tactics, you can do that too; all lost health carries over into the next confrontation. You can even set ambushes and fake traps for other tactical advantages or resurrect fallen pieces to aid your cause. Archon it isn't, but it's addictive (and strategic) fun nonetheless.
But twitchier gameplay fans may want to turn their attention toward Puzzle Kombat instead. A direct rip-off of Capcom's hit Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, this Tetris-inspired head-to-head is a pretty straightforward block dropping game. Truthfully, it's not quite as polished as the Chess game is, as it's often difficult to tell why your opponent gets some of the combo bonuses (or penalties) that befall him. Even so, it can still be great fun when playing with determined Tetris fans, and is a nice diversion from the bigger and beefier game modes.
Regardless of which mode you partake in, however, Deception offers an insane amount of extras. Called 'Kontent' in the game menu, there are such huge numbers of goodies here that it almost sounds made up. With nearly 700 secrets in all, it's easily the biggest MK ever in terms of single-player unlockables. Character profiles, additional outfits, production art, team photos, and other special bonuses like movies, endings, and a full-length soundtrack have also been included.. Hand-to-Hand
Veterans of Deadly Alliance should recognize the combat engine of Mortal Kombat: Deception immediately. Almost identical to the last game in terms of its mechanics, it has retained a similar setup to what it had before, although there have been a few new trivial and much-needed refinements. The analog stick, for example, can now be used as an alternative to the digital pad (a bizarre omission from Deadly Alliance), but to be honest, this type of alternative doesn't really add a lot to the experience. And given the fact that MK is primarily a tap-tap scrap anyway, you'll likely use the D-pad regardless. Even so, it's nice to have the option.
The four face buttons still command four different attack types (usually weak and strong punches and kicks), and happily, no two characters play exactly the same. Though there are still some basic similarities, the majority of each fighter's individual move list is as varied as you could hope for -- with a pretty balanced lineup of fighters with few exceptions. Fans of the returning characters that were looking for a ton of new moves may be disappointed, however, as the majority of the recurring combatants from Deadly Alliance play a lot like they did before. But look at it this way: at least you'll have a few guys mastered right off the bat.
Of course, being able to switch between three different fighting stances is just as important now as it was before, and to its credit, the game is a lot more balanced in this regard. In the previous title, it wasn't uncommon to find one dominant style that helped propel players to an advantage early -- particularly against CPU opponents -- for a cheap and easy win in a matter of seconds. Mortal Kombat: Deception, on the other hand, puts a strong emphasis on being able to switch back and forth between fighting styles to best react to your adversary's onslaught. Knowing how to chain combos between these styles is essential to doing well. This doesn't mean that there still aren't dominant fighting disciplines (because there are), it just means they're less dominant.
One of the best decisions that Midway had made regarding the whole Kombat setup, though, is the removal of the special move button. Originally used for throwing, counter attacks, and impaling (depending on which fighting stance you had), Deception employs only the defense key. Impalements have been completely removed too (a tactic that gave players a quick and easy advantage last time), and you can counter an attack simply by pressing forward and defense at the same time -- regardless of which discipline you're using (called "Breakers"). Being able to perform this breaker brings a nice reactionary tool to Mortal Kombat's admittedly mechanical combo system. As we're sure that most of you remember, the previous game was absolutely brutal when it came to pulling off its dial-a-combos -- only stopping if the aggressor missed or if the animation was finished. This time you can stop any combo dead in its tracks before it can ever pick up, which bolsters the idea of being defensive quite a bit. But there is a strategy here: you're only allowed three breakers per match, so using them wisely will be one of your foremost concerns.
There are other new subtle changes to the fighting system as well, but not all of them are good. As an example, there's a brand new defensive meter below the health bar that's supposed to indicate when an opponent is open for a counter attack, but it really doesn't serve much of a purpose (it's both unintuitive and sloppy). The more interactive, multi-level fighting arenas on the other hand, are a great addition both in terms of the presentation and the gameplay and they really bring each and every stage alive and offer an additional strategic element to the contest. Unfortunately, this addition isn't perfect. As some of these interactive stages are so overflowing with environmental fatalities, that it only takes a few hits before you're falling into a pit of doom or being eaten by a giant set of choppers. We do have to note, though, that the same problem we've had with every recent Mortal Kombat game is the problem we have with Deception as well -- and that's the enemy AI. Cheap, cheesy, and inconsistent, it follows the same pattern of starting off completely weak only to become a brutal, uncontrollable, A-hole by the time you reach the Goro of this effort, The Dragon King. Honestly, we don't think we've ever sworn so much in our lives as we did when playing against Onaga on the hard setting (that flying, baby-eating True Ogre wannabe bastard!).
The GameCube Difference
Unfortunately, the GameCube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception has arrived both five months after its PlayStation 2 and Xbox counterparts and without an online version. That's definitely disappointing when you consider that the technology is in place to sustain an online for Nintendo's console. Sega did it years ago with Phantasy Star Online.
The good news, however, is that GameCube owners do at least get a very competent port with a couple of unique exclusives. Not only are all the main modes and Kontent extras perfectly intact, but the GCN build also boasts two new extras sure to please Mortal Kombat fans. Franchise characters Goro and Shao Kahn are unlocked and fully playable from the start. The fighters come to GameCube complete with unique fatalities and Hara Kiris, and they look better than ever thanks to realistic 3D modeling and animation.
Graphically Deception isn't much of an improvement over the last Mortal Kombat offering, but it does maintain the franchise's style rather well. To its credit, it's managed to look a little less plastic this time around, but the blood and puking effects are still completely ridiculous and far from believable. Instead of going the brutal Manhunt route and making things as gruesome as possible, the over the top representation of guts and gore is at times downright laughable.
Speaking of ripping heads off, the fatalities in Deception have been given a much stronger attention in comparison to Deadly Alliance. Jade's entertaining spear finisher, Kobra's heart rip, Nightwolf's axe throw, and Sub-Zero's body-smashing ice decapitation are just a few of the 50 different fatalities that can be uncovered and abused. And as a neat little idea for losing players, you can even perform suicide fatalities on yourself. Called Hara Kiris, they're pulled off just like a normal finisher is, except that it happens after you've been defeated -- not after you've won. It's a nice way to steal your opponent's thunder and another excuse to drop a few more buckets of blood before you turn the power off. We do think that the level of creativity this year isn't as strong as it's been in year's past, though. The stages and environments of Mortal Kombat: Deception are top-notch. With barely any noticeable difference between the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube, they look terrific and are packed with particle effects, multiple kinds of textures, and destructible objects. Players can even walk up to certain items and press the "grab object" button to create makeshift weapons for themselves. Additionally, the ability to drop down into multiple levels of a single stage is a feature that we've always appreciated in fighters, and we're glad that Midway decided to expand upon it.
Animation freaks, glitch fiends, and audiophiles, however, may not be as supportive of Deception as we are for a couple of minor reasons. Number one: the movements of the fighters are still somewhat stiff and robotic when compared to something like Dead or Alive or Virtua Fighter 4. There are also a couple of strange collision issues when it comes to getting hit too close to "deadly environment" zones -- it's way too easy to get knocked into them. Even so, they're nowhere near as strange as the collision issues faced when fighting our hated, scumbag enemy, The Dragon King; who seems to penetrate your blocks with his tippy-tapped shots with a strange and unexplainable inconsistency. Meanwhile, some of the texture choices in the game are disappointingly bland. Although strong, Mortal Kombat's soundtrack is marred by somewhat basic sound effects and cheesy kung-fu theater voice acting (though it's obvious that it's intentional). Thankfully, the game does run in progressive scan mode on Nintendo's console, which is a nice plus for HDTV owners.
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