You shouldn't really laugh when someone is violently bisected using a spinning, razor-edged hat. Not if you want to maintain the illusion that you're a well-adjusted human being, anyway. And yes, this Mortal Kombat reboot is a remarkably gory game, with more claret spilt than in the last hour of a wine tasting day.
For all the blood and guts, though, Mortal Kombat is the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail rather than the emergency room on a Friday night. And that's why we don't feel too guilty guffawing when someone's head gets hoofed clean off their shoulders.
It's a gimmick, naturally, but don't assume there isn't an extremely solid fighting game beneath the torrents of haemoglobin-infused plasma. Mortal Kombat has never been about tournament play - this is a game where even beginners can cause crunching damage.
Take the X-ray moves, where all you have to do is magnanimously endure a sound thumping and then yank the triggers to unleash the kind of bone-splintering beatdown that's usually reserved for preening professionals in other fighting games. Some of the most hilarious and satisfying moves can be pulled off with zero coordination, as long as you get the timing right.
If you want to master the system, though, there's plenty to work on. The combo system is easily the most sophisticated in the series - and that's before you begin dabbling with tag combos. Also, whereas previous MK games were criticised for the similarities in how the characters played, every fighter here feels different enough to justify experimenting, yet familiar to long-time fans as well.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, given this is a back-to-basics Kombat title, is just how rammed the game is. Ladder is the standard single-player mode, but as with MK vs. DC Universe there's a story mode as well. Instead of clumsily combining two incompatible fictions, though, this is ultimate fan service for MK geeks.
It's full of alternative character versions, and series nuts will relish the opportunity to see, for example, Cyrax and Sektor as human assassins, before the Lin Kuei converted them into cyborgs. The entire thing flows seamlessly, switching up player characters, thrusting you into tag matches and performing a whirlwind tour of classic Kombat locations to boot.
The only thing missing is Fatalities, which don't feature in this mode because you can't very well be conversing with a bloodied stump in the post-bout cutscene.
In addition to story mode there's the Challenge Tower, which offers varied, bite-sized missions that toy with unconventional mechanics. There are the mini-games (see Getting Testy, top right) that range from entertaining to downright bizarre. Finally, every fight you complete earns you credits towards a huge heap of unlockables.
Concept art and background music aren't always tremendously exciting, but there are also extra Fatalities to be unlocked for every character - some of which are often even better than the default finisher. Certainly worth enduring the needlessly time-consuming 3D interface you have to delve into to unlock them.
It might not be the most sophisticated beat 'em up on the block, and is unlikely to tempt pro-am players away from Japanese fighting games, but there's enough drama here to appeal to fans who just want to wail on their mates.
The fact that it's designed for home rather than arcade means it boasts surprising depth and is sumptuously, disgustingly presented. Characters are impressively realised - particularly when chunks of their flesh start falling off - and the backdrops are varied and animated.
Mortal Kombat does what every good reboot should. It's a blood-soaked love letter to the original series but hauls everything else up to date, making it a tasty treat for newcomers and a nine-course medieval banquet for fans.
Not quite flawless, but definitely a victory
- Pretty, in an icky sort of way
- Every blow feels painful
- Brilliant X-ray moves and Fatalities
- Loads to unlock...
- ...but only via an awful interface