At this point, discussing “Mortal Kombat’s”
rich history seems about as unnecessary as spelling the word
“Continue” with a “K,” but it’d be a
lie to say that the familiarity doesn’t play a role in the
series’ success. Indeed, seeing Baraka’s spiky teeth
and Scorpion’s yellow battle suit in “Mortal Kombat:
Deception” is like returning home.

The one thing that so many people know and love about the series
are Fatalities, the match-ending killing moves used to humiliate
opponents and offend parents. In “Deception,”
they’re as creative as they are gory: Kabal can spin his
opponent in a tornado and drive a hook through the twirling victim,
sending little pieces everywhere. Darrius uses a less fancy
approach — ripping the opponents’ arms off and using
them to slap away the head. As a defense, potential victims with
fast fingers can execute a Hara Kiri, a self-destructing Fatality,
to save face.

Fortunately, there’s gameplay beyond the blood and guts (a
heavily debated issue in earlier installments). For fighting game
purists, there are plenty of combos to memorize. For series
purists, the game still feels like “Mortal Kombat,”
eschewing senseless button-mashing and instead placing an emphasis
on using the right moves at the right times. Players can go far by
knowing when to sidestep, when to throw and when to launch an ice
ball. The inclusion of two bare-handed fighting styles and one
weapon for each character means that there’s a lot to learn,
and that no single move will lead to success.

Therefore, the novices will become easily separated from the
experts — a problem for matches with casual-gamer friends,
but a huge plus for online Kombat. The first thing that one will
notice when playing on Xbox Live — aside from nonexistent lag
— is that the average human opponent is pretty deadly. This
is a good thing because gamers can add worthy foes to their friends
list, hone their skills offline and return later for a rematch. The
motivation to keep improving for the sake of worldwide dominance
adds replay value that extends far beyond any single-player or
local two-player experience.

That’s not to say that the single-player aspect is
lacking. Aside from standard arcade fighting, the Konquest mode
that debuted in “MK: Deadly Alliance” has returned.
Konquest stars Shujinko, an aspiring martial artist who makes
“MK” history through his alliance with a mysterious
elder god. Part tutorial and part adventure, Konquest mode allows
players to unlock hundreds of bonuses like soundtracks, secret
characters and costumes.

There are other gameplay modes as well. Chess Kombat pits two
teams of players against each other on a chessboard with the goal
of defeating the king, or “Leader.” Puzzle Kombat is a
“Columns”-style puzzle game set in the MK universe.
It’s hard to ask for more with all that has been included,
but a more comprehensive Practice mode where players could actually
spar against a target that moves or fights back would have been
nice. As long as complaints are being made, it also would have been
nice to see cinematics instead of still frames with text upon
completing the arcade mode.

Admittedly, fighting game fans that don’t have online
support or a good buddy to fight with won’t have much keep
them interested. Online gamers, however, shouldn’t miss
“Deception,” especially if they have a soft spot for
Sub-Zero, excessive gore and words that start with
“K.”

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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