reviews\ Dec 13, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance - PS2 - Review

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance plays like a wedding between Mortal Kombat and a Tekken-style fighting game.  There's something old, something new (characters, combos and fighting styles); something borrowed (gameplay elements) and (fatalities).  The commercial alone revealed a lot of familiar faces, and gamers could imagine what 3D fatalities would be like.  However, very little was known about the gameplay and how much different it was from the previous games.  The promise of over 60 different fighting styles (three per character) sounded cool, but that didn't tell us how it would change the series.

Now that the game is out, so is the secret.  The fighting styles aren't exactly revolutionary, but they are very clever, and add a good amount of depth to an increasingly shallow genre.  Case in point: each character has a number of standard punch and kick moves.  Aside from pressing square, triangle, X and circle individually, each of those buttons can be pressed while holding down one of the directional buttons to perform a different attack (such as a jab, throw, foot-sweep, uppercut, karate chop, etc.).  All of these moves change with each fighting style.  So while a foot-sweep may be performed by pressing back+circle in one style, that button combination may trigger a completely different attack while using another.  This gives Deadly Alliance a greater number of moves than every fighting game out there except for Tekken Tag Tournament.

In addition to the hundreds of simple, one-hit attacks, Deadly Alliance has several combos, both flexible and pre-determined.  The pre-determined combos are the fast, button-tapping wonders that you either love or hate.  Introduced in the first Virtua Fighter game, button-tapping combos linked a series of kicks and punches together whenever the player inputted the proper button combination (such as "punch, punch, kick").  Mortal Kombat 3 took that concept and expanded on it greatly with a much wider variety in combos, along with the extremely flexible juggle combos.  Once again, the Mortal Kombat series moves the genre further.  Although Mortal Kombat 2-lovers will not want to hear this, Deadly Alliance's combo system is an expansion of the one used in Mortal Kombat 3.  As many as 11 hits can be inflicted on an opponent just from one hefty pre-determined combo.  With flexible combos (juggles), the number of hits varies depending on your speed and skill.  Many combos are listed on the in-game move list, but most of the juggle combos are not.  Finding the best way to juggle an opponent is one of the things that'll keep players engrossed in this game for a very long time.

Switching fighting styles is really easy.  Press L1 at any time (even while jumping) to switch styles.

For the most part, each fighting style suits its respective character well.  They seemed odd at first (Sonya no longer feels like Sonya), but they grew on me pretty quickly.  Shang Tsung has one of the best mixtures of fighting styles: snake, crane and straight sword.  Snake should look familiar to Tekken fans, since Lei has a very similar fighting stance (styles and stances are not to be confused -- there is a significant difference between the two).  While using the snake style, Shang Tsung uses short quick attacks.  This style also puts Shang Tsung in a stance that allows him to evade attacks much faster.  His best snake combo knocks his opponent into the air and automatically switches the crane style, which has a lot of hard-hitting kick attacks.  While his opponent is still in the air, Shang Tsung can punch the defenseless body three times and quickly whip out his sword to finish off the eight-hit combo (it's only eight hits if ALL of the hits connect).

Even if you don't like the Mortal Kombat series, Ed Boon and his team must be commended for one amazing innovation: perfect 3D controls.  Countless games tried to do it, including Tekken, Virtua Fighter and Dead or Alive.  Even Mortal Kombat 4 tried and failed.  But Deadly Alliance hits the nail on the head, pounds it through its opponent's left eye and listens as a deep voice loudly says, "Fatality!"  Every arena is a large, beautifully designed circle.  It may not look like a circle, but that's essentially what it is.  You can move wherever you want in that "circle" just by pressing any of the four directional buttons.  While standing left of your opponent, Up always moves you to the left, while Down always moves you to the right.  The player circles his/her opponent in a Soul Calibur-like fashion, only it feels much more natural.  Projectiles can be dodged just by walking around.

Best of all, Ed Boon solved the annoying jumping problem that plagues all 3D fighters.  The top directional button has always been dedicated to the characters jumping movement, so when the third dimension was thrown into the mix, game developers had to compensate by making the player press up twice to side-step, dodge or walk in 3D.  Or worse yet, they'd add a special "evade" button.  This never, ever worked well at all.  In Deadly Alliance, the top directional button (Up) is always used to circle your opponent.  The same is true for the bottom direction button (Down).  To jump, simply press Up+Forward (right corner).  To crouch, press Down+Left (left corner).  This simple innovation makes character movement a seamless breeze.  By the year 2004, every fighting game will have adopted this control style.

Since this is the first console-exclusive MK game, Ed Boon wanted to make the single-player experience much more involving.  To do this, he created The Krypt, an alphabetical listing of locked coffins.  Each coffin has a number on it, indicating the number of coins it takes to unlock it.  You earn coins by beating the game and by playing Konquest (Mortal Kombat's fun version of a training mode).  Coins come in several different styles, including Jade, Ruby, Onyx, Sapphire and Platinum.  Unlocked coffins will reveal many wonderful prizes, such as hidden characters (Frost, Jax, Cyrax, Kitana, etc.), new costumes, conceptual character/arena designs, mock promotional items and other cool things that only a Mortal Kombat fan will appreciate.  This makes the game very, VERY time-consuming, since it'll take you a millennium to unlock each and very coffin.  And unless you cheat by surfing the Web to find out which coffins contain hidden characters, you'll spend at least a few weeks doing that alone.  A lot of gamers will be on Christmas break soon, so now is the perfect time to sink your teeth into this entertaining time-eater.

The first Mortal Kombat had incredible graphics that blew away every other fighting game.  Polygons have taken over now, eliminating the need for digitization, but that hasn't stopped Boon and his crew from finding a way to beat the competition.  Deadly Alliance may not look as realistic as Dead or Alive 3, but it has several times as much detail.  Faces are visibly damaged when they get hit; blood splatters everywhere and stays wherever it lands; and clothes and hair smoothly move in the proper direction as the fighters battle.  The textures are very realistic -- most of the surfaces appear as though you could reach out and touch them.  Shadows continually get refined in games, but I never expected to see Deadly Alliance take them as far as they did.  It's a subtle, less-obvious effect, but watch the shadows closely as you battle.  They have a slightly fuzzy appearance, making them look much more realistic than the solid black shadows featured in most video games.  The movement is perfect.  Shadows don't just mimic what the characters are doing, they move perfectly in-sync with every action.  Beyond that, there's Midway's most obvious graphical achievement: the characters.  Not all of the characters look as "cool" as I had hoped (Scorpion's costume isn't as different as Ed Boon said it'd be), but their designs are incredible.  It's almost hard for me to believe that this is a PlayStation 2 game.  Not that I thought that Sony's console couldn't handle it, but take a gander at Tekken 4 -- there's no comparison!  Deadly Alliance's graphics are light-years ahead of that game.

Most of the new fatalities are great, but there is only one fatality per fighter.  This is kind of disappointing, since all of the other MK games had at least two fatalities per character.

One flaw this game has that seems to be a part of all fighting games is repetition.  Scorpion and Kenshi's sword fighting moves are exactly the same!  Speaking of Kenshi, he may be blind, but he is basically Ermac with a different set of standard attack moves.  Johnny Cage has a jump kick move that rips off one of Tekken's trademark characters (Law).  Most of Li Mei's moves are reminiscent of Mileena, who is not in Deadly Alliance.  The list goes on and on.  These rehashes are to be expected -- after all, Tekken Tag Tournament had at least three Gun Jack's and a sumo wrestler with identical moves (there were a few differences, but not many).  There were also two Eddy Gordo's, two bears, Anna (Nina's sister) and a number of other character copycats that served no purpose whatsoever.  It is for that reason that I will not degrade Deadly Alliance much for being less original.  In the future, fighting game developers must move away from this rehash trend and create only unique, original fighters that people will enjoy using.  A character rehash is pointless, especially when it's used just for the sake of adding another character to the roster.  If nobody bothers using it, what's the point?

I must also bring up the point of character usefulness.  If a character is useless, scrap him.  Drahmin has no combos, and all of his moves are similar.  Even the fighting styles are pretty much the same.  Instead of creating him, the developers should have added an extra move to all of the other characters.  Or more fatalities!

Those things aside, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is the Mortal Kombat game I've been waiting for.  Diehard MK fans will surely love it, and all of my casual gamer friends think it's one of the best fighting games ever made.  I'm a hardcore player, but I have to agree.  Deadly Alliance is exactly what Mortal Kombat 4 should have been. 

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 9
If you thought the Mortal Kombat series had lost all of its blood, think again.  Deadly Alliance is the best fighting game released since Tekken 3.  It's deep, extremely engrossing and includes a ton of new special moves and combos to master.

Graphics: 9.2 
Your eyes will never get tired of watching these fighters senselessly beat each other to death.

Sound: 9
Deadly Alliance's sound is amazing.  The composition is just about perfect, featuring subtle sounds and dark, deep, involving music that really enhances the experience.

Difficulty: Medium
I think it's pretty safe to say that Deadly Alliance will challenge all gamers in one way or another.  New players will be challenged because they have to get used to the Mortal Kombat gameplay style, whereas MK veterans will be challenged by all of the new additions to the series.  You can't master this game -- or any good fighter -- in a short period of time.  You may memorize each and every move, but it'll take you months, maybe even a year before you get to the point where you can play and defeat almost every human player.  Even then, there will always be someone better.  But it's that ongoing challenge that makes a great fighter last well beyond the average lifespan of a game.

Koncept: 8 
There isn't as much originality here as I had hoped, but almost everything that this game does is done well.

Multiplayer: 9.5
Here's a rarity: a game with a multiplayer mode that is half a point higher than the gameplay.  How is this possible?  Because the gameplay -- which is stellar on its own -- becomes much more fun when you have a lot of human players to battle.

Overall: 9.1
I'm so glad that there is finally a new Mortal Kombat game to master!  It may be deadly, but it won't kill time.  Yes, it will eliminate time from your life, but this is not merely a time-killer.  Deadly Alliance is always an entertaining game.  It takes some getting used to, especially if you haven't played Mortal Kombat 3 or 4 in a really long time.  Give it a few hours and the magic of the past will return.


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