Move over Street Fighter 6, Mortal Kombat 1 is here to finish you

Mortal Kombat 1 is a serious contender for fighting game of the year thanks to its revamped world, stunning combat, new mechanics, and stellar cast.

Mortal Kombat 1 preview - Kung Lao in front of a fading Shao Khan

At five years old, I got a Sega Mega Drive from my mum, and it just so happened to come with a copy of Mortal Kombat. Sure, some parents might not have been keen on their child playing MK at that age, but my mum was happy for me to have it and even had some fights with me. Since then, I’ve held a deep love for the franchise. Suffice to say that getting the opportunity to preview Mortal Kombat 1 at Gamescom is a dream come true.

MK1 is quite a special entry as it serves as a complete reboot for the string of videogames. Following the events of Mortal Kombat 11, Liu Kang, now a fire god, chose to create a new universe, and that’s where MK1 takes place. It’s as though the story from previous games never happened. For some, a change of this magnitude might be intimidating, given the story of Mortal Kombat is tough to explain at the best of times, but I think the changes in MK1 create an intriguing world full of possibilities that I previously thought to be impossible.

As far as the story goes, I was able to play through and complete the first chapter of the game, which happens to put you in the shoes of Kung Lao. He’s no longer a Shaolin Monk and is actually childhood friends with Raiden. Yes, Liu Kang wiped Raiden’s history as the Thunder God. Or has he? I suspect those electrifying abilities are due to appear at some point. Furthermore, out of the two, it seems as though Kung Lao is the more accomplished fighter of the two, as he says that Raiden has never beaten him when they cross fists in the first fight of the chapter.

It sets the tone of the story quite nicely when you combine it with the arrival of the Lin Kuei. You go from a jovial bout to determine who pays for dinner to fighting three ninjas who want to cause harm to Kung Lao and Raiden’s sensei, village, and home. The lightheartedness of mere moments ago is gone, but now you come face to face with three popular Mortal Kombat characters.

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The second fight of the chapter is with Smoke, a character we’ve not seen in a Mortal Kombat game since Mortal Kombat 2011 (as a playable character). After more than a decade away, he’s back with a vengeance as a member of the Lin Kuei alongside one of the most iconic videogame characters of all time – Mortal Kombat’s Sub-Zero. This is hardly surprising given we all know that the master of ice is the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei. However, what might surprise you is that the third ninja Kung Lao must fight is Scorpion, Sub-Zero’s longtime nemesis. Except in this game, they’re brothers – that’s quite the twist, Liu Kang. I applaud your imagination.

I can’t say anything about where the story goes after Kung Lao makes the ninjas pay for their sheer disrespect of his sensei and village, but Liu Kang is there for the whole thing, for before the Lin Kuei show up, he’s sat alone at a table enjoying his meal. I think it’s fair to assume that he makes himself known to the combatants after all the fighting is done. I get it. I’d also watch the free show before getting down to business. Mortal Kombat 1’s story has a strong start with Kung Lao’s chapter, and I certainly can’t wait to see who we take control of in subsequent chapters of the game.

Speaking of controls, the game is as smooth as ever, however, I did play this chapter on PC with a controller, so can’t comment on Nintendo Switch performance just yet. Each button entry causes an instantaneous attack, though if you delay even the slightest in completing a button mash combo, you may just fall short and not get the last hit in. That’s your punishment for hesitating. You’re in a fight with beings that are lethal weapons in their own right. Hesitation can cause death. You also can’t forget about the famous fatalities, which are just as gory, impressive, and morbidly mesmerizing as ever.

Mortal Kombat 1 preview - Kung Lao shrugging his shoulders

I didn’t get to perform any fatalities as Kung Lao, for that would stop the story short if you could kill the characters. However, not only did I get to experience MK1’s first chapter, but I also got to give the new invasions game mode a go, and that’s where I got a taste of a couple of the fatalities. I first played as Kitana, who’s just as ethereal as I remember, with purposeful yet delicate movements that make fighting with her feel like a dance. Naturally, she has an impressive fatality that I don’t want to spoil (I’d argue it’s better than her MK11 finishers), and I also punched someone’s head off their shoulders courtesy of the returning brutality mechanic.

The second character I played in invasions was Kenshi. Oh how I missed him in MK11, it was a joy to take control of the blind swordmaster once more. He has some easy-to-nail combos that are sure to help beginners out. The same can be said for Kung Lao. Anyway, Kenshi’s fatality is beyond brutal. It had me thinking, ‘ew, that’s barbaric. I must see it again.’

Beyond my love of the characters I grew up with as a lifelong MK fan, testing out the invasions game mode was interesting. Essentially, it’s a revamped version of the krypt, except you don’t just run around aimlessly opening boxes. Instead, you have to fight your way to your destination via various encounters. You still get to choose the direction you take, but to progress, you need to win a fight. These battles can be with the characters, tarkatan warriors, and more.

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For winning, you unlock various rewards such as bonuses for your next fight, currency, profile banners, and you even pick up skins and gear for your favorite fighter. During my time with this mode, I spent half an hour fighting my way through Johnny Cage’s home, and while that was fun, I can see the invasion mode being a bit tiresome for some. In my brief time, it seemed fun and like something I’d happily do in small bursts between towers, online, and the story mode. However, some of you may find it tedious which is a shame given the rewards you get from it.

At this point, you might think, ‘she’s talked about combat numerous times yet hasn’t mentioned kameo fighters.’ Well, here we go. Let’s discuss the new gameplay mechanic. From day one, kameo fighters have been a constant intrigue for me, and it thrills me to say that it’s a much-welcome addition that adds new depth to fights. In the story, Raiden served as my kameo fighter, whereas Frost and Sonya filled that role when using Kitana and Kenshi, respectively.

There were multiple characters to choose from in invasions (you choose your kameo after selecting your fighter), and it’s worth considering your pick carefully. Kitana, for instance, has some devastating combos, but due to being a little long-winded, you might suffer from a counterattack. Using Frost, you can freeze your opponent for a few seconds, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Sonya, meanwhile, is perfect for interrupting the attacks of your foes thanks to her energy bracelets. I can’t wait to see what devastating combos I can make when the game fully releases.

I know there’s going to be so much more for me to talk about when the game fully releases, but for now, that’s all I can discuss. I’ll forever cherish my time with MK1 at Gamescom and will patiently await those two iconic words. FINISH HIM!