Review: Mortal Kombat – Deadly Alliance

The Mortal Kombat games have long been arcade staples. Next to the Street Fighter series, there’s very few arcade brawlers that could hold a candle to Mortal Kombat. I suppose that’s why the gaming industry took notice when Midway announced that the fifth entry in the Mortal Kombat series was going to be a home console exclusive. And true to their word, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was released simultaneously for the PS2, GameCube, and Xbox but was completely absent from arcades worldwide.

These days, this change might not seem like a big deal. But keep in mind that back in 2002, Internet multiplayer was still an emerging technology and home consoles weren’t exactly known for their online connectivity. For a game like Mortal Kombat, which thrives on multiplayer, it was a big gamble to hope that local multiplayer on a console would be enough for players to stay invested in the franchise. In order to pull it off, some big changes were going to have to be made to the gameplay in this chapter. What remained to be seen at the time of release, was how these changes were going to be accepted by fans.

Having never played this game during its original release, I was excited to see the series’ new direction for myself. However, first I had to decide which console I was going to play the game on. One of the first things you should know if you want to play this game is that you’re going to need either a PS2, Xbox, or GameCube/Wii. At the time of this writing, Deadly Alliance has not been made available digitally on any modern platform. Thankfully, it really doesn’t matter which version of the game you decide to play. The contents are identical regardless of platform. Also, the controls and performance are on par no matter which version you play. I’ve seen it argued that the Xbox release actually has a slight technical edge when it comes to graphics. But, from my own research, I’ve not been able to detect any noticeable visual differences. For my playthrough, I went with the PS2 release simply because I was able to find it a good price.

Before diving into the gameplay, let’s take a moment to catch up on the game’s story. Deadly Alliance uses Scorpion’s ending from Mortal Kombat 4 as a canon start to its story. In this ending, the character of Quan Chi is revealed to be the one who murdered Scorpion’s family. In a moment of rage, Scorpion grabs Quan Chi and and drags him through a portal to the Netherrealm. However, thanks to a magical charm he acquired from Shinnok, Quan Chi was able to escape to the Outworld. After escaping, he uncovers the remains of a long forgotten army. Legends say that if one can capture enough souls to bring the army back to life, that person will be able to command this invincible army and conquer any battle. Using this knowledge, Quan Chi teams up with Shang Tsung in hopes that together they will be able to capture enough souls and take over the Earthrealm. Working together, the pair manages to kill both Shao Kahn and Liu Kang – the two men mostly likely to thwart their plot. Upon seeing this, the god Raiden summons togethers a group of the mightiest warriors in hopes to put an end to the deadly alliance of Quan Chi and Shang Tsung.

Deadly Alliance features the biggest roster of playable characters so far. But a great number of them are unavailable to play when you first start the game. The following classic characters are available from the beginning of the game: Shang Tsung, Quan Chi, Scorpion, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Sub-Zero, Kano, and Kung-Lao.

The following new characters are also available from the start:

Bo’ Rai Cho – A Kung-Fu master from the outworld and the secret teacher of Liu Kang. He has answered the call to fight against the deadly alliance.
Li Mei – An outworld native and slave of the alliance. After attempting to rebel, she was caught by Quan Chi and offered a chance at freedom if she would fight for the alliance.
Kenshi – A warrior tasked with defeating Shang Tsung and freeing the captured souls of his people.
Mavado – A lifelong enemy of Kano and leader of the Red Dragon clan. He has come to the battle in hopes of defeating Kano.

Many characters in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance are initially locked from play. After meeting certain conditions, players can unlock them and select them from the roster of active fighters. The following classic characters must be unlocked: Cyrax, Jax, Kitana, Raiden, Reptile.

A handful of new bonus characters are also initially locked-out and must be unlocked before they can be used:

Drahmin – A demon who helped Quan Chi escape from the Netherrealm.
Frost – A student of Sub-Zero. Frost joins the fight alongside Sub-Zero.
Hsu Hao – A member of the Red Dragon clan and soldier under Mavado’s command.
Nitara – A demonic vampire that wants nothing more than to free her kingdom from the Outworld.

Blaze – An elemental being that was briefly seen in the background of “The Pit II” level from MKII. To play this secret character, players must complete Konquest mode.
Mokap – This character is a bit of a joke, as he fights while wearing a motion capture suit (hence the name). In story, he is a friend of Johnny Cage and does motion capture work for his movies. To play this secret character, players must complete Konquest mode.

I mentioned above that this entry in the series contains some pretty drastic changes in terms of gameplay. Yes, it’s still a one-on-one fighting game. But many of the core mechanics have been changed. For starters, each character has three unique methods of attack. The first two are always different styles of fighting. While the third involves attacking with a weapon. Players can switch their attack style at will depending on their needs at the moment. Some methods of attack are better in close quarters, while others are allow players to strike faster. Weapons tend to hit the hardest, but often leave the player open to taking more damage. Learning what fighting styles to use in what situation is a big part of the gameplay in Deadly Alliance.

Another thing that fans of the series will notice right away is that players are no longer able to dash around the screen and the classic uppercut move is a thing of the past.. But of course, not everything is different. Each character still has a number of special moves (although now the moves will vary depending on the fighting style being used) and each character still has a unique finishing move as well.

Deadly Alliance features a number of gameplay modes to choose from. As expected, there is the usual Arcade mode. In this mode of play, you select a character and fight against a list of CPU-controlled opponents. This mode serves as the main “story” for the game. Of course there’s still a Versus mode for local multiplayer and a Practice mode for mastering special moves and combos.

The new big thing in Deadly Alliance is the inclusion of Konquest mode. Konquest mode serves a bit like a tutorial for all of the different characters. It consists of a number of different missions. Some of these are as simple hitting your opponent with a certain type of attack, while others focus on executing certain combos or defeating your opponent using a special move. Successful completion of each mission will result in the player being rewarded with different types of “Koins”. Koins are a virtual currency that players can use to unlock a variety of different things. Unlockables are obtained in the Krypt.

The Krypt isn’t exactly a mode of gameplay. But it does appear in the game’s main menu. The Krypt consists of a big graveyard, each tombstone has a certain cost etched on it. Players can spend their Koins here to unearth specific “Koffins”, Koffins can contain anything from new characters, levels, costumes, or even promotional artwork. At this point, the new gameplay direction should be pretty obvious. Players can focus their single player game on working through Konquest mode and Arcade mode with different characters, so as to earn Koins that can be used to obtain unlockables. Characters and outfits that are unlocked in single player mode do carry over to Versus mode.

Personally, I think the new model works quite well. The introduction the Krypt and the Koin system gives the player a visible goal to work towards while also teaching them how to master the game. I found it to be lots of fun and it helped to keep my attention. I will admit that I didn’t feel compelled to open every single Koffin in the Krypt. But I did keep at it until I had every character and arena available to me. Once I reached that point, I found that most of my enjoyment came playing my friends or family members in Versus mode.

As a whole, I think the new direction of Mortal Kombat ended up being pretty successful. I can certainly see what the developers had in mind with this game and I’m eager to try out the next chapter. Keep in mind, at the time of this writing I’ve not played any of the modern MK releases. I do know that these new games do incorporate online play and I really hope that things like Konquest mode and the Krypt are still present in the modern series. I think using the single player mode to build both your roster and skill is a great way to introduce players to competitive play.  While I do miss some of the nostalgia that the first three games tend to invoke, I have to admit that as far as gameplay goes, Deadly Alliance has probably been my favorite Mortal Kombat game thus far.

Version Reviewed: PS2

Difficulty: Variable –  There are five different difficulty options available to choose from; Novice, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Max. For the most part, I’d say these are aptly named and accurate. I played through the game using the Normal setting and found that early arcade fights were pretty easy, but the difficulty ramped up considerably as you got to the end of the ladder. Of course, when playing against a real world opponent, the difficulty will vary depending on the skill of the other player.

Multiplayer: Local

Story: The storyline in Deadly Alliance seemed to be a step above what has been seen before. The killing of Liu Kang in the game’s introduction was pretty shocking. But it served it’s purpose in terms of lore. As has been the case in previous games, each character has their own background story that unfolds as you complete the game with that character.

Originality: This game could be considered a soft reboot of the series. It includes a number of new mechanics and gimmicks and for the most part, they all work quite well. It’s safe to say that this game succeeds at where Mortal Kombat 4 failed.

Soundtrack: As usual, each level features its own background music. The music is well composed and fitting for this type of game. The game includes a song “Immortal” by the band Adema. It’s a Nu Metal tune, and it’s not bad if you like that sort of thing. But it doesn’t really have a place in the game itself.  The voice acting is familiar and well done.

Fun: I enjoyed this game much more than I expected to. The collection aspect that comes along with the Krypt content was a big part of my enjoyment. But I also found the the new fighting mechanics added quite a bit of enjoyable complexity to the game as well.

Graphics: This game really does a good job of nailing a fully 3D rendered Mortal Kombat. Some of the character faces still look a bit odd at times, but it’s a vast improvement over the last game. As far as the background art and the arenas are concerned, all of it looks amazing.

Playcontrol: I played the game using a PS2 controller and found no issues of concern. In fact, as far as playcontrol goes, this is probably the smoothest Mortal Kombat game yet. I can’t speak for the Xbox or GameCube controller as I didn’t get a chance to try either of those versions. But, from what I’ve heard, there’s no real issues with either platform. I would say, if you’re going to play the GC version on a Wii, a pro controller would be a must-have.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content:  Extreme gore and violence.

Value: At the time of this writing, Deadly Alliance is not available digitally on a modern system. If you want to play this game, you’re going to need to find an original copy. Unopened copies are extremely rare and expensive, regardless of platform. But used copies are still plentiful and usually available for around $15 – a fair price for the amount of content in the game.

Overall score (1-100): 95 – I found this game to be a considerable improvement over the last two MK titles. My only real issues with the game came from some balancing issues with the single player AI, and some of the essentially worthless content in the Krypt. But, in the grand scheme of things, these are very minor complaints. All in all, a solid game.

Original System: PS2, Xbox, GameCube

Available today on:  Currently unavailable  – (Updated as of Summer 2022)

Best Experience: PS2, Xbox, GameCube/Wii – (Updated as of Summer 2022)

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Mortal Kombat  –   Mortal Kombat II   –   Mortal Kombat 3   –   Mortal Kombat 4   –   Deadly Alliance   –   Deception  –    Armageddon  –   Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe  

Mortal Kombat (2011)   –   Mortal Kombat X   –   Mortal Kombat 11

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