I love Mortal Kombat in all shapes, sizes, and forms, even as a mid-90s action blockbuster film. As such, a total package compilation of the latest in the ultra-violent fighting video game series, known dopely as Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate, was bound to blow me away, let alone a version of this for the shiny next-gen PlayStation 5 (especially since my previous experience was playing the original title on Nintendo Switch; a great console, just not for this kinda game). Yet even with these positive biases and sky-high expectations, MK11 Ultimate for the PS5 somersaulted, high kicked, and pulled off its complicated fatality just about flawlessly. It’s a powerhouse of a fighting game, boasts an aggressively deep trove of content, places you on a surprisingly fluid and smooth thrill ride, and is the perfect way to kick off your new next-gen console.
If you’ve already played MK11 for any of the previous consoles, and already bolstered them with every piece of DLC and expansion as they came out separately, you effectively already have MK11 Ultimate. As a package on its own, it’s more for folks who missed the initial release and are eager to dive into this world with as much pre-completed — sorry, pre-kompleted — as possible. This version comes with the original MK11 game, its devilishly intertwined story-driven expansion pack Aftermath, a Kombat Pack of bonus characters, and, new to everyone, a second Kombat Pack with brand-new characters (more on them later). Everything one could love about these previously released pieces of content (kontent!) is easier to love in this new, beefed-up version — and if you already own the original but want to experience how beefy it is without needlessly buying another version of it, you can freely download the PS5 or Xbox Series X/S upgrade to that original game without any additional cost.
You obviously can’t beat that upgrade price, and I can’t demonstrate enough how worth it it is to play with this added horsepower. Loading times fly past you with ease; 4K native resolution makes all the viscera pop in more grotesquely hilarious detail; every component of the gameplay dovetails cleanly with its newly enhanced visuals to provide a peerlessly seamless gaming experience. The storylines of MK11 and Aftermath may remain perilously complicated and whimsically folded in on themselves (a sincere kompliment), but it’s all presented and yielded with a focus on high fidelity, clarity, and instant accessibility in the quality of gameplay.
So what of these new characters, released to MK11 owners as “Kombat Pack 2,” but available from the jump embedded within MK11 Ultimate? We’ve got two new additions that make sense within the pre-existing mythology: Mileena, a pink-wearing, dagger-wielding ninja who was first made playable in Mortal Kombat II; and Rain, a purple-sporting, water-power using ninja who was first made playable in Mortal Kombat Trilogy (originally introduced as a joke in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, but immediately became one of my mains as soon as I could grab him). And, um, we’ve also got John Rambo from, y’know, the Rambo film franchise, played both in likeness (his OG visage looking more than a little like Liu Kang, especially with that hair and headband) and in voice performance by Sylvester Stallone. Rambo joins other playable ‘80s film icons like The Terminator and RoboCop, and my God, I just love a franchise that can justify such nonsensical mythological cross-pollinations without the blink of an eye, so much so that it doubles the hell down on each new piece of DLC content.
How do they play? I began with my old favorite Rain, and was surprised to see just how smooth and fluid he handled (though maybe I shouldn’t have, given his literal fluidity in powers). His special moves reminded me more of Raiden than his more popular ninja brethren like Scorpion or Sub-Zero, especially his dope move where you submerge yourself in a giant water bottle and fling toward your enemy. In a video game that feels like thrash-metal, Rain plays like quiet jazz. Not so with Mileena. Her stance says it all — lurching forward on her toes, shoulders hunched up, ready to attack with her goddamn terrifying monster-teeth at a moment’s notice. Beyond some of her long-range sai-throwing attacks, Mileena is a surprisingly physical, visceral, up-close-and-personal character, feeling feral and uncontrolled in the best way possible, corresponding perfectly with the chip-on-her-shoulder story arc given to her in her klassic tower character ending (Shakespearean, MK11 is!).
Rambo, on the other hand, is… really something. He’s a slower bruiser of a character, CG-Stallone’s toned and sweaty muscles punching through their opponents like glass, overwhelming with Jax-like brute strength, and only occasionally busting out an M16 assault rifle to blast their enemy away (a special move that always prompted a guttural laugh from me). He’s not the type of character I prefer to play in MK11 (I go for more cruiserweight, quicker characters), but I can immediately understand his appeal and immersion within the game’s sense of balance. Plus, it is endlessly fascinating to see how John Rambo, a human Vietnam war veteran, blends into a word of other realms, magical fighters, and physics-defying fatalities (though I guess he gets there himself by the end of his franchise).
One of my favorite elements of MK11 is seeing the customized dialogue exchanged between literally every single character combination before a fight, and watching Rambo (and by extension, Academy Award-nominee Sylvester Stallone) try to make sense of a razor-toothed, claws-in-hands-wielding, monstrous demon like Baraka in a character-arc-attempting piece of pithy dialogue is a wondrous piece of absurdity to behold (conversely, Rambo’s exchanges with military characters like Cassie Cage feel surprisingly intuitive and emotional). And at the end of his klassic tower journey, Stallone plays Rambo’s destiny with committed, vulnerable, hard-earned, hard-fought pathos; it is no exaggeration to say that the character ending given to Rambo in MK11 is more emotionally satisfying than any other Rambo film. What a world, what a game!
Are there any flaws in MK11 Ultimate’s otherwise splendid package? Kronika, the end boss of every klassic tower journey whose goals and powers I adore in the story mode, is a fiendishly, unexpectedly, perhaps even unfairly difficult contender in this mode; better fighters than I may disagree, but I found the gulf in beatability to be wider than necessary. The customizing of characters, in which you can create different types of characters with different skins and move-sets, may appeal to someone looking to inject some RPG madness into their 2D fighter. For me, it still results in an overly complicated, unintuitive series of steps when sometimes you just want to pick all of the different skins available at the character select screen, where alternate skins have been for every other fighting game until now. And if I’m being truly picky, I think it’s kind of a bummer that the Friendships — a series of finishing moves in which our characters do something silly and positive instead of eviscerating their opponents — exist in solo vignettes; you need two for a friendship, and wouldn’t it have been more surprising and fun for the two fighters to suddenly engage in the vignette together?
Beyond these minor annoyances, I cannot stress how fun, how gut-punching, and how smoothly confident MK11 Ultimate is to play on a next-gen console. If this is the future of fighting video games, I cannot wait for more entries to get over here. Until then, this ultimate package will tide me over for some time to come.
Plus, Grant reflects on his experience working on ‘Cloud Atlas.’
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