Mortal Kombat: Armageddon marks the last installment of the series for current gen (and Wii) hardware. As a result, MK fans and Midway alike hoped this would be the end-all-be-all for the franchise. While it doesn't quite reach that standard, it does come close. It also fumbles in ways that feel like a copout given that expectation. New to the series is Motor Kombat - the latest MK-styled homage to a classic game ( in this case, Super Mario Kart) and a kreate a fighter mode makes its debut here as well, while the konquest mode replaces the usual story modes of past games with an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat and some light puzzle solving.
I came into Motor Kombat with low expectations since it's essentially a sub-game, but to my surprise, it's a competent kart racing game in its own right. It looks and plays better than some full-priced entries in the genre, and only really suffers from slightly slippery controls and a lack of tracks. You've got five to choose from, but to Midway's credit, they all look and feel different. The icy track features walls that will kill you on contact, while the jungle track is filled with deadly falls. Their scenery is also quite developed, and the tracks themselves show off an impressive level of detail when you get close to them. Vehicles are also full of detail, and their designs all fit the roster of about a dozen drivers. Sub-Zero drives a spiked snowmobile, while the drunken Bo'Rai Cho drives a barrel of beer with wheels. Motor Kombat also lets you quickly rack up coins for use in either the krypt or kreate a fighter mode; although konquest mode will allow you get more coins quickly, I find this mode to be a more enjoyable means of gathering them.
Konquest mode fares even better. While Taven's story unfolds, you'll fight hundreds of enemies in a Final Fight-style game, with some God of War-style spike traps throughout the stages, and regular MK-style boss battles. Ironically, konquest mode's worst aspect is its boss battles, since the on-field combat is so smooth, and the regular MK fighting is so awkward. When fighting multiple enemies and punching through packs of foes, you rarely run into a problem since the controls are responsive, and even special attacks like fireballs can be executed with great ease. Then you get to the boss battles, and you're “treated” to unresponsive controls that manage to drag the experience down. Fortunately, the positives outweigh the negatives, and the konquest mode ends up being a fantastic means to end for those wishing to unlock parts and coins for both the kreate a fighter mode and krypt area that holds many of the game's unlockable treasures.
When I first read that there would be a character creation tool in this game, my interest skyrocketed. As someone who has been addicted on character creation in wrestling games, I knew I'd get a lot of use out of this mode, and it exceeded many of my expectations. Within a few minutes, I was able to easily make a decent rendition of Canadian musician Matthew Good, Hulk Hogan, Rey Mysterio, Sub-Zero and Scorpion circa MK 1, Sonny Crockett circa ‘84 , Joe Friday from Dragnet, Spider-Man, Superman, Kim Possible and her rivals Shego and Dr. Drakkn, and legendary anime characters Goku and Lupin the Third, joined by his partner Jigen and erstwhile rival, Inspector Zenigata. After spending time in Motor Kombat, I quickly unlocked parts that allowed for more accurate renditions of the characters, but I'm impressed by just how much is offered up from the very beginning with that mode. Right from the start, you have dozens of choices for most parts of the body, and you can still write up their bio and select their attacks.
Unfortunately, the kombatant creation tool isn't entirely perfect. Human faces are few in number, and can't really be edited much, leaving you with a fairly generic basic face. You're also limited to just one kreation at a time, meaning that you can't use that gigantic list of characters you see above you at one time. It also means you can't have created rivals do battle off of a single profile. If you had a second player and profile, it could be done. Despite those flaws, this ends up being a worthwhile addition to the series. Allowing for a complete character history (complete with ending text) is its major innovation, and something that should be used in any game that allows characters to be created. You also have to purchase many attacks, leaving you with a fairly barren skill set early on.
As I alluded to earlier, the regular Mortal Kombat gameplay is still quite flawed, even though it's still an enjoyable experience. Mid-air combat is back after a long hiatus, and helps remedy the problem other 3D MKs had of feeling very hollow during play. Now you can either attack or be attacked at nearly any time, and it makes battle much more exciting. Weapons and fighting styles have been simplified to just allow one of each per fighter. While some may balk at this change, I applaud it since it keeps things from getting confusing, and keeps the action focused on fighting, where it should be, instead of shuffling between one too many weapons and fighting styles during a battle, leading to needless damage.
Granted, swapping between a single weapon and fighting style can be a problem, but the risk has been greatly reduced. It also only takes a few frames of animation to switch between the two, so you aren't vulnerable for very long. The rest of the fighting controls vary from good to poor. Special moves are fairly painless to execute since they normally have simple entry sequences, but combos are an entirely different story. Combos are hard to pull off consistently due to unresponsive controls, giving you about a 50/50 chance of actually connecting with your intended attack. This problem is only worsened by shoddy collision detection, which will sometimes not count an attack even if you're right next to an opponent, and then go ahead and count a roundhouse kick that was clearly outside the range of attack, but still managed to send an opponent flying across the room.
These problems are only amplified during online play, since lag can give you a good 1-2 second delay between the time you press the button and actually it happening on-screen. As odd as it may sound, if the controls were perfect, it just wouldn't feel like an MK game. They've always been slippery, with realism and logic kept to a bare minimum, and part of the series' charm comes from how completely goofy both the premise and the kombat are. The new dial-a-fatality system, requiring rapid button combos to tear your foe limb-from-limb works surprisingly well given the control issues. It's a fun way to test your proficiency at the game, but it does so at the expense of the series-defining fatalities, so I think it would have benefited from being an optional feature, and not the only way to definitively kill your foe.
The visual look of Armageddon reflects the series' sense of insanity as well. Everyone still bleeds buckets, and blood now pours from clothing as if it's a recently-severed artery, so it's somehow even more insane than ever before. That's also true for the character designs, which now feature a gigantic fighting pile of lava, along with nearly every other character the series has seen. Everyone from the relatively normal Stryker to the four-armed Goro looks sharp, and the animation is surprisingly lush for many hand-to-hand kombat moves.
Mortal Kombat has always been home to really bizarre music that manages to fit the game and addict the listener. It's always great music, but it does catch your ear with how rich it is. I'm glad many of the krypt unlockables revolve around the music, because they're enjoyable to listen to on their own, and make me want to play the game even more than the classic “MORTAL KOMBAT!!!” from the MK 1 console ads. Sound effects haven't usually been great for the series, but they are here. Sword fights are helped a great deal when you hear the blades clash and hear a different sound effect for when both light and heavy sword attacks are blocked. It's so good that I wish I could just have fights of nothing but back-and-forth sword attacks. Beyond that, the voice work in konquest mode is shockingly good, and ends up being better than the voice acting in many stand-alone games since it made me care about the characters, and gave them all dimension.
All in all, Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is a flawed fighting, racing, and adventure game that never ceases to provide enjoyment in spite of its flaws. After the previous two 3D MKs left bad tastes in my mouth, I didn't expect to have much fun with this one, but I'm glad I did. Just about everything (especially kreate a fighter) exceeded my expectations, and while I doubt this game will sway those who hate the series, it will provide a lot of fun times for those with an open mind about it.