As a 12 year old kid, playing Mortal Kombat felt dangerous - like playing truant or sipping booze for the first time - that was part of its charm and perhaps one of the major reasons why it was so successful. So it's strange that, as a result of coincidence and circumstance, going hands-on with the new Mortal Kombat elicits that precise same feeling all over again - the feeling that I'm doing something I'm not supposed to. This is Mortal Kombat, it's gone full circle, and this is the way it's supposed to be played.
"This game is sort of an evolution of the series," claims Erin Piepergerdes, Associate Producer on Mortal Kombat, and our guide for this hands-on session. "Last time we did MK vs DC Universe and it was a teen rated title, so it didn’t feature the fatalities - it didn’t have the blood and the gore. We had some great iconic characters in it, but our fans really wanted us to go back to our roots. So that’s exactly what we did."
Mortal Kombat goes directly to the core of what made it successful to begin with - a combination of stylised violence and a control scheme that is almost nostalgically clumsy - the team seems to have abandoned attempts to reinvent Mortal Kombat, and instead worked towards recreating the original and polishing it to a point where it feels like you're indulging in your own rose-tinted memories of the franchise. It's better than the originals could ever hope to be, but still tied to that history.
It's a smart change of direction for the series, and one that was partly inspired by negative reaction to the Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe.
"The fans, while they enjoyed the game, wanted to get the chance to pull off fatalities," claims Erin, "to them it wasn’t really a Mortal Kombat game, it was just a fighter, so that inspired us to go back to our roots."
Fatalities - they're the direct reason why Mortal Kombat has been refused classification in this country, but at the same time no one wants to play a Mortal Kombat game without them. This is something the team seems to understand implicitly - a significant period of development was spent simply brainstorming and polishing the numerous ways in which characters can dismember and brutalise one another.
"Obviously the new consoles provide us with a lot a lot of opportunities to do really over the top things," begins Erin. "We have design meetings where people get together and just start brainstorming the craziest things you can imagine so that we can develop these fatalities and put them in the game. So it’s a long evolving process.
"It usually starts off with some sketches from Ed Boon himself. Then we start talking about it and refining it. Some of the fatalities are going with the theme of the game – modern takes on some of the classic fatalities – Kung Lao is is a good example because one of his fatalities is a combination of his fatalities from MK2 and MK3. So there are new ones, and a couple where you’ll recognise some aspects of it. So yeah – it’s starts with Ed and we get together and go from there. If you could be a fly on the wall in those meetings…"
Ironically, Mortal Kombat's violence has always represented a child-like hyper-stylised view of violence. It's gory, obviously, but hardly realistic and in that regard playing Mortal Kombat almost requires that you play from the perspective of a mischievious, giggling child. It's Axe Cop style violence, and it has a certain kind of naive charm. We completely understand why the Classification Board has banned Mortal Kombat, considering the guidelines they have to follow, but there is a sense that we might be overreacting here.
That being said, Mortal Kombat, from day one, was designed as a game for adults.
"Well we’re disappointed," says Erin, when discussing Mortal Kombat being refused classification in Australia. "We’re making a game that we want as many people to play as possible - but we knew what we were getting into. We’re designing it to be M-rated here in the States and that isn’t necessarily going to fly in Australia. We knew it might happen, but the reality is that we can’t really remove features from the game without giving people a game that we feel is not complete."
The tragedy of the whole situation is this - Australians, fully grown adult Australians, will be forced to either import or indulge in piracy if they want to play Mortal Kombat. Our rating system is treating us like children - literally. They've placed Mortal Kombat on the highest shelf like some bizarre, twisted Cookie Jar, conveniently forgetting that it's all too easy for us to drag a step ladder from the kitchen and munch on the forbidden fruit regardless.
The sooner we start getting treated like adults the better.