Game Preview: Mortal Kombat 1 refines an otherwise solid formula

Mortal Kombat 1 might be rebooting the narrative, even if the long-running fighting franchise relies on a successful, established formula to pave its way forward. We got our hands on the recent closed beta over the weekend, and we can safely say that Mortal Kombat 1 is a downright enjoyable fighter thanks to some splendid visuals, smooth mechanics, a new Kameo Character system and some ridiculous amounts of blood and guts.

Round 1… FIGHT!

The beta itself only gave us access to traditional arcade towers and online matchmaking, but we got to test out a handful of fighters, including Liu Kang, Sub-Zero, Kenshi, Kitana, Johnny Cage, and Li Mei. Alongside them sat a secondary cast of fighters, including Kano, Sonya, Jax and Frost, who provide you with supporting attacks and combos as Kameo Characters. I’m a traditional Mortal Kombat fan and usually stick with either Liu Kang or Sub-Zero, and being Australian myself, I had to bring Kano along as my Kameo addition.

The first thing you’ll notice about Mortal Kombat 1 is just how smooth its mechanics are. Attacks feel weighted and responsive, while the general flow of fights is simply sublime, possibly the best the series has felt to date. It certainly builds on the foundation of Mortal Kombat 11, which helps it feel incredibly accessible to returning fans. There’s no doubt that the franchise itself has hit its stride multiple times over the years, but Mortal Kombat 1 marries fluidity and polish, culminating in one of the most impressive iterations for fans and newcomers alike.

Character models and environments pop with vibrant colours, while textures and lighting feel incredibly detailed. It’s not to say the franchise has ever looked bad at any point, but the focus on next-gen hardware really feels relevant here, providing a level of fidelity I don’t think we’ve yet seen. Even though we only got a chance to check out the traditional Arcade Tower mode, gameplay ran at a solid 60fps. The experience will supposedly drop down to 30fps during fatalities and brutalities, but I can’t see this making too much of a difference considering those are non-interactive segments and won’t necessarily affect the overall feel of gameplay.

It’s worth noting here that Mortal Kombat 1’s presentation consistently shines in almost all areas. From the way the characters immediately interact with each other as soon as you select them from the character select screen, to the way they interact with their environments prior to each fight, adds yet another layer of graphical fidelity that only feels possible on this next-gen hardware. And then there’s the gore. For as good as Mortal Kombat 1 looks, it’s not entering the uncanny valley just yet. But boy are we getting close. The franchise has always been a little controversial as far as its Fatalities are concerned, but get ready for another level of detail.

Kall on Me

Familiar gameplay aside, the Kameo Character system stands as one of the newest additions to Mortal Kombat 1. At any time during a fight, players can take advantage of their Kameo Character by tapping R1 or the right bumper, to jump into the chaos and unleash an attack. While their attacks do rely on a meter of sorts that cools down when used and slowly recharges as you deal and take damage, the amount of flexibility this creates is admittedly surprising. Their moves feel incredibly natural and any characters seem to pair seamlessly with a wide range of fighters. They also dish out a range of moves depending on your fighter’s position and stance, meaning you’ll rarely be bringing them in to spam that same attack or strategy.

We might have only a single weekend to come to grips with this addition, but it already feels right at home both visually and mechanically. While there’s certainly a steeper learning curve required to master these Kameo attacks, I look forward to seeing the amount of dynamic duos that will lead to newer attack patterns and combinations, which gives the Kameo system a larger responsibility during fights.

Final Thoughts

Mortal Kombat 1’s reliance on an existing formula is made fresh once again by its stunning visual polish, smooth gameplay and performance, and the addition of the Kameo Character system. There’s certainly plenty to unpack when the game launches with additional story modes and online modes, but Mortal Kombat 1 has already made a huge mark in our books as not only something to look forward to but quite possibly one of the best entries in this long-running series.

Mortal Kombat 1 will launch on the 19th of September on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC and Nintendo Switch. Stay tuned for our review closer to release.

Matthew Arcari

Matthew Arcari is the games and technology editor at The AU Review. You can find him on Twitter at @sirchunkee, or at the Dagobah System, chilling with Luke and Yoda.