Working from NetherRealm Studios -- owned by Mortal Kombat's new custodian, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment -- Ed Boon doesn't limit his interaction with fans to chance encounters. The upcoming reboot is being driven by three major requests from series fans, which Boon calls his "marching orders." They've suggested a return to the M-rated presentation following 2008's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (check), a deeper fighting system (check) and, of course, a new set of outrageous fatalities (check out that perforated spleen).
Boon claims that every combatant's interior, from the soon-to-be-shattered bones to the sickeningly squishy internal organs, has been modeled. It's not often that you get to literally see an artist's blood, sweat and tears in a game, but Boon assures me that when attacks find their mark, all "that shit pours out of them."
I was impressed by the game's unflinching framerate, as well as the detail granted to characters like Sub-Zero, Kung Lao and Sektor (who compose a total of 26 characters, with more slated for DLC). As in Street Fighter IV, their exaggerated movements remain locked to a 2D plane, with classic stages like The Living Forest, The Pit and The Dead Pool providing some depth (and some death, courtesy of stage-specific fatalities) in the background.
There are a couple of new strategic twists to the fighting system in the form of a "breaker" counter-attack (mainly used to interrupt combos) and a three-segment special attack bar situated at the bottom of the screen. If you want to dish out some damage sooner rather than later, you can choose to expend a segment in order to enhance any of your special attacks (think: "Ex" moves in Street Fighter IV). For example, the enhanced version of Reptile's slime-ball projectile increases its size, thus making it harder to avoid. If, on the other hand, you let attacks fill up the bar completely, you can unleash one of Mortal Kombat's new "X-Ray" moves by double-tapping RB and RT (one of the awkward Xbox 360 control choices that I hope is reconsidered later in the game's development). As the name implies, the dreadful X-Ray combo shows some real, up-close damage as you see an inside view of your opponent's ribs cracking and jaws fracturing. It's nasty.
And right now, Mortal Kombat works as an immediately gratifying, lightweight arcade experience. If your friends don't know or don't care about the difference between a cool combo and a Focus Attack Dash Cancel, I suspect this will be an entertaining choice for a few rounds of ultra-violent mayhem. It's nice to think that after almost 20 years, there's still a bit of excitement in the air as you wait to see whether the other guy can enter the fatality code quickly enough.