DLC Review: Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath

Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath Kollection Pre-Orders Are Live

Well I for one didn’t see this coming. I thought that, as is standard for the genre these days, MK11’s DLC would consist entirely of characters delivered via season passes, but here we are with extra story chapters. In my opinion MK11’s story ended quite well and didn’t need a follow up, but here we are. Aftermath as a piece of DLC includes five new story chapters and three new characters: Wind God Fujin, Shokan Queen Sheeva and Robocop. I’m no expert on fighting games so I won’t be going into full technical details on the characters but I will give some brief thoughts on them, after I talk about the new story content.

So Kronika is dead, Raiden’s mortal now and the new god of thunder and fire Liu Kang is ready to forge a new timeline. He’s interrupted by the arrival of Shang Tsung, Fujin and Night Wolf, who explain that they were trapped in a void after refusing to work with Kronika, and that Liu Kang cannot forge a new timeline without her crown. Shang Tsung plans to travel back in time to the point in MK11 when the past characters first arrived, nip off to his island and steal the crown before everything kicks off. It’s made clear that going back and interfering directly with other people and events will mess up the timeline, but somehow stealing the crown won’t do that? The time travel stuff in the main story was kept largely simple I thought, but this time travelling within time travelling just seems to confuse matters. Anyway things obviously go wrong and Shang Tsung, Fujin and Night Wolf travel back to a later point by accident, and faced with potentially insurmountable opposition the sorcerer suggests they revive Sindel, with the help of Sheeva, to deal with Cetrion should she try to intercept them. It’s quite a short story so I won’t spoil anything, but they don’t play it safe; when things go wrong they really go wrong, and by the end of it the MK11 timeline is ablaze and lying in a pool of its own blood. The stand-out in all this is Shang Tsung, who effortlessly steals every scene he’s in with something as simple as a single word or smile. Everyone hates him because he’s an untrustworthy scumbag and whenever they bring that up his response is always a “Who, me?” smile, like he just bloody loves being an evil sorcerer and has already planned ten different ways to betray and kill everyone else in the room. There’s some strong character work throughout; Sheeva and Kitana have some lovely moments focused on their relationships with Sindel, Erron Black gets to have a cool showdown with the heroes (and Shang Tsung) in the Dead Pool, complete with a funny moment where a Tarkatan gets knocked into the acid and everyone stops to watch him die, there’s a pause and then Shang Tsung apologises. Fujin is the weak link here; he has some good moments in his fight intros and his ladder ending is neat, but in the story content he doesn’t really add anything. It has multiple endings, and the “Good” one potentially sets up a new game or even series of Mortal Kombat games in a different time period, which would be interesting. That’s all I can say really; there’s a lot I don’t want to spoil but the story is good, it shakes things up for the home stretch and although the time travel stuff can become confused, its character work is great.

As for the characters, Robocop is a stand-out for me, because Robocop is my hero and putting the original, classic version in a game, having him be voiced by Peter Weller and looking amazing is a sure-fire way to get me on side. He’s got some new gear; a built-in grenade launcher, flamethrower and a shield that parries attacks without having to be activated within a small window. All three of the characters aren’t ones I’d usually play has; Scorpion is my main and I like Frost a lot, so I’m used to having a high number of flowing melee combos. Having said that, Robocop and Sheeva are both fun to play as, and I’m glad the latter is playable after I loved her re-design in the main story. Robocop is inserted into the story surprisingly well, too; far better than The Terminator was. Murphy’s mixed up in all this because he’s after Kano for dealing guns in Old Detroit, and his fight intros make it clear he’s ingratiated himself with the good guys in a friendly, give-and-take relationship and is out to arrest any villains he comes across. Finally we have Fujin, who like I said before has some good intros and a neat ladder ending; unlike his brother Raiden he’s looser and more easy-going, and has spent a lot of time living among mortals in an attempt to understand their lives and struggles. He’s not as fun to play as, but he has some interesting normals and special moves, which are something I don’t usually bother with; I’m more combo focused in MK.

So that’s Aftermath; it’s definitely good, but I think it’s currently too expensive for what it is. I traded in my physical copy of MK11 and the only DLC I bought was Shang Tsung, so I got a good deal paying £50 for the game, the Kombat pass and Aftermath. But at £35 for the three characters and five chapters if you already own the other two parts, that’s too much for this. If you like MK11 and you’re still playing it then definitely get this, but wait for a price drop. If you don’t own MK11 or its DLC, this is the version to get; it’s basically the Game of the Year version.

By James Lambert

John Wick Hex Review

Strategy shooter John Wick Hex announced - Gamersyde

A John Wick videogame seems like a bad idea to me. Don’t get me wrong; I adore the man and his three films, really I do, but Wick’s style of combat doesn’t lend itself well to a free-movement action game where the player can act, for lack of a better term, out of character (See Payday 2). So John Wick Hex caught my eye when it was released last year on PC: a grid-based, tactical action puzzle game, with limits on actions and movement as a key gameplay mechanic. It came out on PS4 recently so I finally got to give a go.

Winston and Charon have been kidnapped by the titular Hex: a mysterious, powerful underworld figure with a vendetta against The High Table, who plans to kill the two on the steps of the Continental to show off his power. This is in retaliation for The High Table killing his Father, an act Winston vocally deems entirely justified. Hex chatting with his captives acts as a framing device for flashbacks of John moving from location to location seeking info on his captive friends, dismantling Hex’s empire in the process. That’s it really. No one speaks during levels except Charon, Winston and Hex discussing something pertinent to that location; John remains silent for the whole affair, and the game ends on a brief, unfulfilling note. The idea of an individual potentially able to rival The High Table is an interesting one, but they don’t do enough with it; he’s just a big villain John can kill while still in the employ of The High Table, rather than have him fight other assassins as he does in the films.

Fortunately, the gameplay has a lot more to offer. John moves on a grid made up of dots rather than large squares, and crucially rather than a turn system, everything instead takes time. Enemies act at the same time as you; they take time to move, aim and shoot, as does John. This is used to your advantage with a variety of moves you can pull off: crouching to present a smaller target and improve your accuracy, rolling, parrying, striking and performing takedowns on enemies as well as pushing them forward; it’s up to you to decide what the best action is at any given time. These actions all use up your Focus bar; refilling it is a brief action but still takes time, and running out of focus by performing the more elaborate melee moves or getting melee’d yourself leaves you only able to shoot. Firing a gun takes an amount of time relative to the type of gun and model; pistols quickly fire twice for low damage, revolvers take longer for more damage, machine pistols and SMGs fire five times and take a while, powerful shotguns and carbines take a second to line up the shot but hit for high damage. It all comes down to positioning and timing; popping into cover as an enemy’s about to fire, stepping out to cap them when they’ve broken their aim to reposition, performing takedowns when you’re close enough and parrying enemies with a quick chop to the throat when they’re about to attack. There are melee-only enemies too, and both they and their armed colleagues increase in health and damage as the game goes on. John always starts with a handgun and two full magazines, but apart from any guns smuggled in by The Continental all guns only have their current ammo available, and must be swapped out when empty. This does punch a hole in John’s propensity for planning, but it’s a gameplay mechanic so I’ll let it slide. I do have a few bigger issues though: some of the time requirements don’t seem to make much sense and are only there for gameplay reasons, namely some guns taking longer to fire than others, when in the films John is lightning quick with any and everything he uses. Revolvers in particular take a lot longer to fire than pistols despite them both being handguns, to the point where I was reticent to use them. Some guns will also fire a set number of bullets regardless of which one kills your target: SMGs and Machine Pistols might kill an enemy with the first shot then let off four additional ones at nothing, costing you precious ammo as a martial artist strides up behind you planning to judo throw you. Also you can’t run, so when you step out into one of many ambushes and want to retreat to a safe spot you have to waddle away like you’ve shat yourself as a conga line of enemies follow at a similar pace. Each level ends with a boss who takes and gives a lot of punishment, but can easily be felled by just repeatedly twatting them until they run out of focus (strikes cost nothing), shoot them while they wander off to refocus then take them down so they’re defenceless for more shots. I beat the final boss that way, it was pretty anticlimactic really.

Having said all that, the game does do a good job of making you feel like John Wick, particularly when things are flowing well. The movement, shooting and melee attacks all feel as authentic to the films as they can given the limitations put on John to serve the gameplay. It’s my favourite kind of puzzle game; one where every puzzle is “These people are alive” and every solution is murder. I’m a big fan of John Wick and despite some frustrating elements I think this game does a good job of putting you in his shoes. It’s just a shame the gameplay isn’t matched by its story, which introduces interesting elements that are all just thrown over a balcony at the end. If you want a puzzle game based around timing and position in combat, and if you’re a fan of the films, give this a go.

By James Lambert

Streets of Rage 4 Review

Streets of Rage 4 | Nintendo Switch download software | Games ...

Sidescrolling beat ’em ups are a genre of games I don’t have a whole lot of experience with, but I do enjoy them. I loved Mother Russia Bleeds, I like the original Final Fight and I adored the Scott Pilgrim game back before it fell off the face of the Earth. I’ve been meaning to try River City Girls for a while now, but before that I decided to give Streets of Rage 4 a go: the latest instalment in a beloved series I’ve merely dipped my toes in before, with an art style that drew me in, high praise from Jim Sterling and a pedigree that offers a degree of safety.

Ten years after “Mr X” was defeated, his children; the white-haired, white-clad Y Twins are planning to control the minds of everyone in Wood Oak City, enlisting the help of a corrupt police force. A collection of brawlers stand in their way; ex-detectives Blaze and Axel (the two all-rounders), young rock star Cherry (the quick but weak one) and big, mechanical armed Floyd (the slow but strong one) with a fifth unlocking partway through: Cherry’s Dad and Axel’s old friend Adam (also an all-rounder). The story is kept entirely in voiceless slideshows between missions, but that’s all the game needs really, and the environments and enemies do a lot of the heavy lifting. The game’s aesthetic is a sort of 80s Cyberpunk type thing; there are robotics and high technology but they’re used sparingly, and there’s a definite layer of grime on most areas but they’re far from dilapidated. Oak Wood City feels like a place normal people live that’s also in the grip of a criminal empire. It’s vague enough to feel timeless but its aesthetic is familiar enough to enhance everything that’s going on. The art style is lovely, too; it’s an animated, cartoony art style with really sharp, high-res character models and a lot of detail on top of being bright and colourful. The locations vary from sewers, a police station and a cargo ship to an art gallery, a fight on top of a train and a jaunt through Chinatown culminating in a boss fight on a roof top terrace. It looks great, it sounds great, and it has that nice, simple beat ’em up plot of taking to the streets to beat up criminals until you get to their boss.

Gameplay wise, it’s quite a simple affair. You can do a combo, you can grab enemies by getting close to them and then attack, throw or slam them based on your position, which can be changed with the jump button. You can use weapons and you have three types of special move. Firstly you can double-tap a direction and attack, secondly you can press a dedicated button either by itself or with a direction, which drains your health but you can reclaim it by attacking enemies, Bloodborne-style, and finally you can use stars found in levels to use big, unblockable AOE supers. Unfortunately it doesn’t go for some of the modern conveniences found in other beat ’em ups; you can’t dodge or block; the only way to avoid attacks is to just move out of the way, either left or right or away or towards the screen. Cherry is the only character who can sprint, so everyone else has to slowly walk around to avoid threats, and the use of planes to dictate enemy placement means that I would often be swinging at an enemy, realise they weren’t on the same plane as me, try to move then attack but the game only recognised the second input so I’d just continue swinging in grand futility until the enemy in question jump kicked me. It’s frustrating, but once you get used to it it stops being a problem. It’s also eased by the combat itself being so crunchy and satisfying, even when you’re doing the same combo repeatedly. Also worth mentioning is the game’s approach to lives and checkpoints: you start with two in most levels and can earn more by reaching certain score milestones, both by picking up items and beating enemies. There are plenty of health pick ups, but there are no checkpoints; you die, you restart the level. This can be annoying if you’re stuck on a tough section or boss, but is mitigated by two factors: firstly most of the levels are short, secondly you can choose to restart the level at any time with more lives and starts in exchange for your score being decreased. As tough as things got I never had to take that option; I did get stuck now and then but it has that “One more go” quality that the best difficult games have.

So that’s Streets of Rage 4: frustrating at times, but a satisfying beat ’em up that looks great and is, crucially, fun to play.

UPDATE: Just quickly; one thing I forgot to mention and one correction to make. Firstly there’s an enemy type that holds a knife out in front of them and charges at you; they’re really annoying and there’s a room full of them in the chinatown level that’s utterly hellish. They don’t ruin the game or anything but they’re never fun to fight. Secondly I was wrong about there not being a dodge: there is one but only Adam can do it. I’d only played as him once so I’d forgotten, but as I write this I’m replaying levels, gave him a go and realised. So my bad.

By James Lambert