The first MK (even if it was not breaking any real gameplay barriers) provided controversial fun for everyone with its painful moves, and gory finishes. People craved more, so Midway released the ultra-hyped MKII. It was more of the same with better graphics, more characters, and even more carnage candy. It an attempt to please the blood thirsty freaks, Ed Boon and John Tobias (the two responsible for the MK fame) whooped up another offering, even though a lot of people felt cheated by MK's third incarnation. It was a trilogy of 2D games and although the tricks might have worked way back then, MKIII was trapped in a competition with new technology. Midway, after the failure of the 3D fighting game War Gods, made a lot of people very uneasy when they said it was time for a polygonal Mortal Kombat. Well, MKIV is here, and here is the verdict....
Obviously the first thing to mention about the new MK is the graphics. No longer are the characters trapped in the realm of poor animation, choppy moves, and 2D environments. Crisp polygons make up the warriors, and it is a very welcome concept to the series. Although the PSX polys break up a bit and distort themselves every now and then, it is no worse than the average fighting game glitch ups. The backgrounds are creative but some of them come across poorly with sloppy texture mapping. The character animation is pretty smooth if not a little robotic, and the motion capture looks great. The use of polygons does not do a whole lot to benefit the gameplay though, as all you are given is an even more unresponsive version of Toshinden's strafe buttons. The PSX version has pretty nice FMV (voice actors and all) that is not really anything special when compared to other video, but stands well on its own. On a final graphical note, if your a fan of fatalities, you are going to love the bloody, camera view changing massacres in MKIV. Ridiculous but awesome in its own right.
The story is not much in the way of good reading, but it works well with the quirky series. Shao Kahn is defeated at the hands of earths warriors led by Lui Kang in MKIII. Unfortunately, an elder god that Raiden had banned to the Netherealm has returned to earth and he wants to kick Raiden's lightning covered butt. Shinnok declares war on earth and the fun begins. As I said, not the deepest stuff in the world but it works.
The music could have benefited immensely from a more adrenaline inducing soundtrack. Instead, developers went for a more "Shaolin monk" feel (I dunno if that means anything to you), and it doesn't rock at all. MK4 designers should have taken cue from Tekken 3, or even the MK movie and made it an all out blast in the ass (that's a good thing). The sound effects are the same as all MK sound effects, as in a lot of the characters have the same voice and you will be hearing a lot of painful yelping. The voices in the FMV are excellent though, but you can tell it is mostly the same voice for everyone with different distortions.
The game plays pretty good, but if you are looking for all new control features, look elsewhere. It is basically the same as every other MK when it comes down to the scheme of things. The moves for the returning characters are pretty much the same in execution as in previous titles in the series, and the new characters are not hard at all to master. Fatalities are also very easy to do thanks to the very tight controls. The game is also Dual Shock ready to go, so if you have Sony's cool controller, plug that baby in and feel it rumble. The newest thing to be added to the MK world as far as gameplay goes would have to be the inclusion of weapons that can be used during combat. Each fighter has his own and they all have bad ass effects.
MKIV's biggest fault that I can see is lack of game modes. It has typical MK stuff like Endurance, Tournaments, and Practice, but after just getting done with Tekken 3's extensive options, I cant help but to feel a little cheated. It did take one idea from Tekken 3 though, when it made all the endings viewable in the options after you get them.
Overall Mortal Kombat 4 is a cool game with some faults that make it kind of monotonous. Long load times (not unbearable but they break up the action), and a weak soundtrack weight down the sweet graphics and lightning fast gameplay but not enough to bring the score down more than a few notches. If your a MK fan who wants to see MK in the third dimension, go out and buy it! But if you hate MK, this game will surely not change your mind.
-Andrew the Game-Master