E3 2006 Hands-On Impressions of MK: Armageddon & MK: Unchained

Published By: Dave Rosteck
Date Posted: May 14, 2006 

For the first time in site history, I had the opportunity to play Midway‘s latest installment Mortal Kombat: Armageddon before release at the annual E3 Expo as well as Mortal Kombat: Unchained for the PSP. I also finally got the chance to meet fellow fansites Mortal Kombat Online, Total Mortal Kombat and TRMK for the first time. It was an exhilarating experience to say the least.

First let me start off with the game everyone is anxiously waiting for, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon for the PlayStation 2 and X-Box. Similar to MK: Deception, the main menu rotates between characters with a full body render next to the game modes and a full sized head shot of a different character. A render of Sub-Zero with a head shot of Scorpion and a render of Kitana with a head shot of Mileena are a few examples. The menu backgrounds consist of the game’s background arenas such as The Pit (not playable in the demo) and the Wasteland. These examples can be seen in our archived videos.

As I’m sure most people do when firing up a new MK for the first time, I kicked off my first time with MK:A with the classic Arcade mode. The first thing you’ll think of if you’ve played the last few games of the series is that MK:A’s character select screen very much resembles the tower like structure of MK: Deadly Alliance’s but with two key differences. One being a “?” square representing random select in the bottom left hand corner and the “Rotate” square (in the bottom right hand corner) which flips the entire tower to its back revealing the rest of the selectable characters. In this preview build however, only the following 15 characters were available to play as: Scorpion, Rain, Jarek, Sub-Zero, Kintaro, Reiko, Fujin, Shao Kahn, Sheeva, Shinnok, Stryker, Kai, Goro, Sektor and Sareena (excluding the Kreate-A-Fighter square by the default set name “Kombatant”). The remaining 45 squares (minus the ? and Rotate squares) were darkened out due to the development team wanting to focus more on characters we haven’t seen in a while and popular characters such as Rain, Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Once you select the character of your choice, the first thing you’ll see is an oversized yet powerful looking figure of Blaze (last seen in MK: Deadly Alliance) on top of a pyramid who looks to be in the position of the game’s final boss. The camera then takes you to the classic “battle plan” (with basic mug shots) starting from the top and revealing the characters you’ll be fighting. The game then quickly takes you to an animated non-render versus loading screen (surprising enough the actual Versus mode doesn’t even make use of loading screens)! Each versus screen not only shows the characters preparing for battle but the background arena for which the match will take place in (this also goes for Konquest mode as it features its own unique animated loading screens).

MK: Armageddon has an updated fighting engine mainly powered by the new and exciting additions of the aerial kombat system and parrys. At times, characters can be battling it out in the air while performing combos, throws, breakers (returning from MK:D) and parrys seconds at a time. As strong as air kombat can carry a lot of the game’s action, it’s great to see at least one hand-to-hand fighting style as well as one weapon style equipped with each character. This may come off as an inconvenience to some (style branch combos no longer available) but rather the best solution to giving all 60 or so characters their own unique styles. This modification to the styles system also allows players to access their weapons with greater ease than before. Of course MK wouldn’t be MK without special moves and from what I discovered in this demo, all 15 characters had three to four moves except Kintaro who only had two. Due to the new Fatality system (reviewed below), some of the characters moves are based on their old Fatalities. For example, Shinnok uses a giant summoned hand to grab a hold of his opponent, Stryker uses his taser and Sektor has his flamethrower as their special moves. One move in particular by the name of “Charging Pain” from Reiko is appealing due to his brief appearance of sporting Shao Kahn’s helmet.

Quite possibly the most controversial change in the series and new addition to MK:A is the “Create-A-Fatality” system. To put it simple, it’s not only satisfying knowing you are in direct control of the way your opponent dies but it’s much easier to pull them off than once thought. The system still makes use of the Fatality style and every step you take is counted to determine how deadly your Fatality was. For example a single spine rip would count as a basic “Fatality”, two steps count as “Deadly Fatality” and anything at 10 or above is considered an “Extreme Fatality”. I personally found this system to be very appealing and a smart move by Midway to avoid creating the almost impossible task of creating built in Fatalities for each character (not to mention the increased interactivity level of the game as well).

The much anticipated and long awaited “Kreate-A-Fighter” mode is no doubt going to up the reply value of this game dramatically. As seen in our 10 minute demo video and Fact Sheet, you’ll be able to create and customize a slew of options such as gender, race, basic/special moves and weapon. You can even name their moves/weapon and even type in a biography! If you have experience with wrestling game CAWs, you’ll certainly appreciate Midway’s extensive yet easy to cycle through approach to this mode. From the close resemblances of Wolverine to M. Bison that I witnessed from the show floor, there’s no telling what the fans will create and bring online this fall.

Last but not least, Konquest made its way to the E3 build of MK:A and in a big way. The main character Taven originally from Edenia, is awakened and then sent off on a journey beginning in Earthrealm. Throughout the way Taven meets up with the likes of Kira, Kobra, Kabal and Sektor who tries to capture and hold him prisoner. Although the free roaming environment is no more unlike MK:D, the “one way path” method allows the action to go at a faster paced speed to help keep the story going. With the absence of the Krypt in MK:A, I’m assuming this ties into the fact that there are no longer colored koins scattered throughout the realms. Judging by the less than half hour playtime of this demo, there had to be less than 5-10 minutes of actual training missions which is good considering you’re not being trained by the characters like MK:D. Konquest is much more interactive this time around and allows players to kick and destroy tree trunks to reveal hidden items, make use of weapons in multiple enemy attacks and the ability to kick, punch and throw enemies in your path. The enemy NPCs (non playable characters) you come into contact with have their own energy bars and when drained of health, you can perform Fatalities on them! Using any of the main buttons will result in an executed Fatality.

I also played a few rounds of Mortal Kombat: Unchained for the PSP. The first thing you’ll notice is how crisp the graphics are and you’ll swear they’re better than the PS2 and X-Box! Scorpion, Goro, Baraka, Sub-Zero, Jax, Bo’ Rai Cho, Noob-Smoke and Shao Kahn were the only characters available in this build. MK:U plays very closely if not better than the console versions and should be well worth the cash when the exclusive characters are added to the mix.