The original “Mortal Kombat,” with its unprecedented level of over-the-top blood, gore and ingenious fatalities, opened the gate for a new breed of videogames aimed at mature audiences. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine games like “Grand Theft Auto” or “Resident Evil” existing without the landmark “Mortal Kombat.”

Three sequels, two horrible spinoffs and seven years later, the series is back and has really grown up. “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” is hands down the most sophisticated and best game in the series so far.

The gore is still outrageous and the fatalities still ridiculous, but the gameplay in “Deadly Alliance” is surprisingly complex. Kombat now takes place in fully 3-D environments, where sidestepping, blocking and reversals play a major role in fighting strategy. Remarkably, each of the 23 characters has three distinct fighting styles that players can alternate between during battle. The styles are based on authentic martial arts and their depth allows experienced players to pull off some incredible combos. While two stances are hand to hand, each character also has a weapon, such as a sword or staff, that adds a touch of “Soul Calibur” to “Deadly Alliance.”

Special moves and fatalities in this installment involve fewer movements, and are therefore easier to perform than ever before. To make learning the ropes easier, Midway has even incorporated a tutorial system into “DA,” which makes mastering techniques more of a challenge than a guessing game.

“Deadly Alliance” looks great too, even if it’s not eye-popping.

“Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” represents a new chapter for the series. The numerous improvements in this game have revitalized a franchise that skeptics may have dismissed as a novelty game that had finally worn out its welcome. This latest incarnation of “Mortal Kombat” is innovative in more than just its attitude. The complex gameplay of “Deadly Alliance” rivals “Tekken 4,” and puts the franchise among the best fighting games of this generation.

Rating: 4 Stars.

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